118. Overcoming as an Overachiever with Holly Bertone

A lot of us have a story about that time we hit rock bottom.

For some of us, we find out there’s yet another rock bottom when the floor bursts out from the one we’re on.

Then another.

What happens when you’re looking for the safety net, like someone in a freefall, and it doesn’t appear?

How does it feel when you have values but are physically incapable of living up to them – especially as an overachiever?

Holly Bertone was raised to put the values of honesty and integrity first. When she had the chance to go partying with her friends but she had a commitment, like a babysitting gig, her answer was obvious and did not require any thought. Her dad had a sign in his office that said “If you don’t do, you don’t get” and this simple mantra had a deep impact on her.

In school, she did a project studying the psychology of Charles Manson and became fascinated by how the human mind works. She dreamed of working for the FBI and chasing serial killers.

It took a few steps, but she got there – she became a chief of staff at the FBI.

Her career and her life were going fine – but Fine is a 4-Letter Word.

As an overachiever, she found out that when you raise yourself to that level, the falls that happen when events beyond your control intervene can be especially debilitating.

In 2010, she was diagnosed with cancer, and eventually developed Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder we’ve discussed on the show before.

In 2017, a series of events led to her forced resignation from the FBI.

She started a coaching practice, and just when she was getting traction, her divorce went into a whirlpool, and she couldn’t even take on new clients.

When honesty and integrity and the belief “if you don’t do, you don’t get” are your core principles, yet you’re so mentally and physically debilitated you can’t get out of bed, that’s a long, hard fall, especially for an overachiever.

In a moment, when you meet Holly, you’ll discover how it felt for her to be in a seemingly endless freefall asking, “what now”?

Discovering how to reconcile when events beyond her control conflict with her core beliefs has been a journey. And these events have required her to center herself around keeping going, never giving up, knowing her life is still a work in progress.

You’ll also find out how much of it can be helped by brain chemicals.

Holly’s hype song is “Now That We Found Love” by Heavy D & The Boyz.


Invitation from Lori:

Like Holly, you may reach a point where you feel you’ve achieved your dreams through a combination of honesty, integrity, and fortitude.

Then, life steps in and makes it physically impossible to continue.

At some level, you may know you need to take a step back to evaluate where everything’s headed. But too many other things keep showing up and knocking you down and you can’t get even a moment to gather yourself. So, what now?

The first step is to go to https://zenrabbit.com right now and download the 5 Easy Ways to Start Living The Sabbatical Life guide.

Once you read it, you may see a new point of view that helps you understand and embrace things that, up until now, have not made sense to you. It’s only 7 pages, so it won’t take you long to get through. And the five tactics are pretty simple, but once you follow even ONE of them, you’re in for a profound change.

When you’re ready to say F*ck Being Fine, then this guide is the place to start. It’s time to blaze a new trail and chart a new course!


Lori: Hello, and welcome to FINE is a 4-Letter Word. My guest today, Holly Bertone. Welcome to the show.

Holly: Thanks, Lori, for having me on. You have been such an influential factor in my life, and "Fine is a 4-Letter Word" has meant so much to me, so I'm super excited to be here on the show and to chat with you and to connect with your listeners.

Lori: Awesome. Yeah, where did we reconnect? Was it in Sabrina's group? No, it was a podcast group on Facebook where you had posted something about being on shows. And we've known each other for several years.

Holly: Yeah.

Lori: I don't even remember how we originally met. And you posted something, and I was like, "Wait a second. How come you haven't ever been on my show? We need to fix that."

Holly: And I actually thought that I had been because we had known each other for so long.

Lori: I know. So did I. Yeah, before I responded, I had to look back at past episodes. And I'm like, "Wait. Has she been on? No, she hasn't." And you're, like, a queen of gratitude as well. So, yeah, we share that in common—

Holly: Soul sisters.

Lori: —about spreading the word of gratitude.

Holly: Yes.

Lori: And we're going to talk more about that today. But let's get, first, into what are the core values and beliefs that you were raised with that contributed to who you've become?

Holly: Oh, my goodness. That's such a great question, Lori. Really, I think integrity. Honesty and integrity can be the top two. It was one of those dance-with-the-girl-that-brung-you kind of philosophies, and especially as a teenager growing up. I would babysit to make money, and if I got invited to a party or my friends wanted me to go somewhere, I'm like, "No. I've got to babysit." And I held steadfast to those commitments. So I think those are the top two.

My mother's life mantra growing up was, "It builds fortitude." And we can get into that later into the podcast. That's got its whole backstory. And then my father's mantra was, "If you don't go, you don't get." So I think that's just the perfect complement of growing up and being in that place of honesty, integrity, the grit, the mental strength, and then just chasing after your dreams, just go on for it.

Lori: Tell me more about that, "If you don't go, you don't get." What does that mean?

Holly: It was a little poem that he had on his wall in his office. So anytime I get a chance to visit his office at work, it's like when the little kid goes to the office. It's like, ooh, it's grown-up time, and you've got to be on your best behavior.

Lori: And that was in the days before Bring Your Child to Work.

Holly: Right. And it was just a story about this man taking people on a rowboat to the other side of the river. And that's all that it was. And it's basically, like, the more people he took over across the river, the more money he made because if you don't go, you don't get.

Lori: Okay, got it.

Holly: So it was just a simple little story, but just something that carried with me my entire life. And especially now. I'm into a lot of the spiritual stuff and manifestation and visualizations. You can visualize and manifest all you want. You can sit there and wish and pray and hope and do all the things, but a million dollars isn't going to land on your lap. You've still got to do the work to get it.

Lori: Right, exactly. And we talk about that on the show a lot, but it's about inspired action instead of just frantic spinning/doing just because, for being busy.

Holly: Absolutely. I was going to say you call it inspired action. I call it aligned action. It is absolutely identical. It's the same thing. It's not just running around, you know, the chicken with the head cut off. Just kind of run around all crazy like, "I've just got to do everything." No, it's the actual that's aligned with your true self that creates the results.

Lori: Yeah, exactly. Okay, so integrity. It builds fortitude. If you don't go, you don't get. So you had all of these beliefs instilled in you. And then what did that lead you to do as you were growing up or as you were a young adult and as you got to this point in life?

Holly: Well, it actually does connect the dots. When I was a senior in high school—and this was back in the '80s, so this was four years, I think, before "Silence of the Lamb" came out. I took a psychology class, and I was absolutely thrilled and fascinated with how the mind works. And I did my senior high school thesis term paper, I did a behavioral profile of Charles Manson because I found—

Lori: Oh, wow.

Holly: Just growing up, especially the '80s, everything was so innocent. We weren't exposed to the things that kids are today. And just not grasping how much evil is in the world, I'm like, "What on earth would make someone tick like that?" And it just really stuck with me. I majored in psychology, and it really was my dream for years to work for the FBI. But, you know, a small-town girl, and who am I to ever work for the FBI? Crazy how life turned out, but really just never giving up on my dreams and being able to chase them, I ended up being the chief of staff. I worked there for 13 years, which was crazy. And just—

Lori: Wait. Chief of staff where?

Holly: At the FBI.

Lori: Oh, okay.

Holly: Yeah, yeah.

Lori: Okay, yeah.

Holly: So the dream did come true. I don't always talk about the exact location, but since we're talking about it, it's one of those three-letter federal government agencies they make TV shows about. You can fill in the blanks. But, yes, I was there for 13 years, and it was just such an amazing career.

But everything really hit the fan in 2017. I was going through some health crisis, and we can get into that, too, later. But, yeah, 13 years is a great career and, really, proof that dreams do come true.

Lori: Yeah. So 13 years. I mean, you graduated, obviously, more than 13 years before that.

Holly: Oh, yeah.

Lori: So were you always thinking, "I want to work for the FBI, but not yet." How did that come about? How did you get into following your dream?

Holly: Yeah, it was always one of those dreams, but I never really—I don't know. I never pursued it at all. I always just thought, you know, I was living in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, and, just, "How on earth am I ever going to get anywhere where the FBI would hire me?" It's not like today. We did not have the Internet. We did not have—

Lori: Right. Yeah, you had no physical proximity to it.

Holly: Right. It was just a whole different time, so you can't just Google a location, show up, get on a job board or anything like that. So I ended up working for Booz Allen, which is a consulting firm. And then 9/11 happened, and then they asked me to get my security clearance. And then one of the managers who I used to work for brought me on board, so that's how it all happened. It was just a divine level of one event leading to another.

Lori: I think one of the key takeaways here is that there's always a way, but it might not be the way you think it's going to look. And then when you want it badly enough, there's always some kind of back door entrance somehow, if you look for it. Like, you weren't necessarily looking for it, but it showed up for you. But I think the key takeaway is, even if you can't walk in the front door, you can figure out another way in.

Holly: So I've got actually two sayings, two phrases that I live by, exactly. That's what it is. We're just soul sisters. We're, like, finishing each other's sentences.

So the first one I like to say is, "The path is not the path, but the path is the path." Meaning we can be down a path that we're like, "Why am I going down this way? This doesn't make sense."

And back to adversity. Right?

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: Adversity, difficult times, the crappy stuff that falls into our lap. And they're like, "Why did this happen to me?" And we go down this path and realize, oh, there's a reason. Right? So the path is not the path, but the path is always the path.

And I forget the other one. We can come back to that one.

Lori: It'll come as we continue talking. I know, yeah, it always does.

Holly: I remember. It's the Pareto principle, the 80/20. I'm very structured. I'm very analytical. I like to have 80% of anything in a place of structure. And then 20%, leave room for magic because, really, the magic is where it happens.

Lori: Right. But the structure is where you feel comfortable. Like, "All right, I have some control here." Even though it's an illusion, it feels like you have control. And most people want to feel like they have some control. It's a sense of safety, a sense of, "Okay, I got this."

Holly: Yeah.

Lori: Yeah. Okay, so, yeah, that was how you got in. Cool. And then 2017. Do you want to talk about what happened there? Because, obviously, that was not something that you could have foreseen happening on your path.

Holly: Right. I like to tease. I was such an overachiever that I didn't hit rock bottom once or twice. I actually hit rock bottom three times, because that's what overachievers do. We just keep going, and we don't stop. And it's not until—

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: It's the brick wall that literally takes us down.

Lori: Did you know you were at rock bottom the first two times—

Holly: No.

Lori: —or were you just, like, "No, I don't even see rock bottom. I'll just keep going"?

Holly: Oh, yeah. So I'm the chief of staff. I've got this, basically, dream career. I'm racing in XTERRA triathlons and mountain bike races, standing on podiums, getting a medal around my neck. I'm traveling all over with my girlfriends and drinking margaritas and just living what I thought was the perfect life.

And in 2010 was actually where it all began, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I went through surgery and then chemo and then radiation, but I never got better. I kept getting sicker and sicker. And a year later was when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which is an immune condition.

Lori: And we actually talked about that on the podcast episode that published this week with Dr. Dave.

Holly: Yeah. I was going to say Episode 113, Dr. Dave. There's a few differences. I was like, "Oh, my goodness. He's, like, the male version of me. This is kind of crazy."

Lori: Go on.

Holly: I was like, "This is the perfect coincidence to have me on right after him." But the thing was that it wasn't just the autoimmune. It was the debilitating fatigue that got me down. And when I went through cancer treatment, I just kept going. I didn't realize cancer is the time to stop, to rest, to take care of yourself, to redefine some of these priorities, redefine the stressful adrenaline-junkie life that I was living. I mean, none of that. And I just kept going. I was newly married. I had a young stepson that I was raising, and I just kept going.

And then the autoimmune. I'm like, "Okay. I'll just take a pill, and I'm fine." And I wasn't fine. Fine is a four-letter word. And I kept going, not realizing. And the fatigue just kept getting worse and worse and worse until I was—I say all but bedridden. I view bedridden as a very specific destination that you physically can't get up. I was at a place where I was functioning several hours just by sheer grit, and that was it. By sheer willpower was the only reason why I was functioning. But, yeah, it got so bad I was actually forced to resign from my dream job.

Lori: Oh, wow.

Holly: And it was, I think, as dark of a place. Cancer was huge. Right? Cancer was huge, but this was, I mean, there was no comparison. This was the worst because with cancer, I lost my hair, I got lopsided, I was pushed into early menopause and smelled like chemo funk and all the things, but I just kept going. I tried to keep life as normal as possible.

But when this happened, I lost my identity as a successful career woman, as someone who always achieves, as someone who is always successful. I was forced to resign, so I didn't have my job. And then I could barely function as a wife and as a stepmother. So all of these identities that I had placed on myself were gone.

Lori: Right. You were forced to give up who you thought you were.

Holly: Exactly. Oh, my goodness. All these years, I've been telling the story. You nailed it on the head better than I've ever articulated. I was—

Lori: Because that's not truly who we are at our core. But you had accumulated all of these labels and identities and had to give up, like I said, who you thought you were.

Holly: Right. Oh, my goodness. I sit in that for a second. That's just juicy. Thanks, Lori.

Lori: You're welcome.

Holly: I'm going to have to go back and listen to the episode when it airs because that was really juicy. But, yeah, that was a really dark place. And I marinated in my own misery for months because it was so dark because I felt like a failure. I had no purpose anymore, and I had no identity. And I'm like, "I'm here. I can't function. I can't get out of bed. What's the point at this point?" And, yeah, that was a really dark, dark rock bottom.

Lori: I hope that when you look back at that, you don't do it with a sense of shame.

Holly: No. And here's the thing. And this is why I teach, why I coach, why I speak, why I do the things that I do. Because we all have those places. They might not be as deep; they might not be as wide. But we all have those places. They might be deeper or wider. Right?

Lori: Right.

Holly: At the time, it was the absolute worst thing that I had ever gone through, even worse than cancer. Now looking back, the path was not the path, but the path was the path. And it was a gift because if I hadn't gone through all of the adversities that I have gone through, I wouldn't be where I am today.

Lori: Right.

Holly: And I would have a great, successful career, and my life would be fine. And fine is a four-letter word.

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: And now I can look back. And I was like, "This is for a reason." I hit that rock bottom for a reason. And I didn't know it, I didn't see it. But now it's literally living the life that I know that I'm supposed to live. I'm in alignment with exactly my passion and my purpose in everything that I do.

Lori: That's why it's so important when you are in the moment, whatever the moment is, to be grateful for it and to recognize that this is where you are right now, for some reason, even if you don't know what the reason is. And I can't remember where I originally heard, but that you can only piece together the path in hindsight.

Holly: Absolutely.

Lori: Like how the pieces of the puzzle that come together to bring you to who you are now, only in hindsight. And in 20 years from now, we will look back at the past 20 years and be able to put the puzzle pieces together. But where you are right now, I don't know where it's leading. I'm out on this nomad life.

I was talking to somebody last night, and she was like, "So how long do you think you're going to do this? What's the end game here? Where do you think you're going to end up?" And I'm like, "I don't know. I'm just doing this for now. I have no idea." And I'm okay with that.

Holly: I love that.

Lori: Yeah. So this is where, yeah, you brought to this point. But you mentioned 2017.

Holly: Yeah, yeah. This all happened in 2017 where I was forced to resign.

Lori: Oh, okay. I don't know why I thought there was something additional coming in 2017.

Holly: Oh, yeah. No.

Lori: That all wasn't enough.

Holly: That wasn't enough, yeah. That was the big thing. But here's where it got really interesting, is this past year—so I'm coming up on a year now—is when my marriage crumbled, and we got divorced. So since then, I had started building a business and coaching and doing all the things. And when I was going through my divorce, I got to look back at everything—number one, everything that I had already gone through and to take all these great lessons—but then also everything that I teach and I coach with my clients and everything, to create a no-conflict divorce.

And I know so many women. There are so many high-conflict divorces. And some situations, obviously, can't be avoided. But when we spiral into that place of the blaming, the resentment, the judgment, the victim, the stabbing the knife, you know, all of these emotions that come up, all of these really big emotions. And we don't know where to place them. We don't know what to do with them.

When I saw things crumbling, I went into it from that place of gratitude, from a place of looking at another adversity in my life, saying, "Okay, why is this happening?" Not in a bad way. Not a, "Why me?" But in a, "What are the lessons that I get to learn out of this? Who do I get to become?"

So I actually—because of my past, because of my adversity, because of what I've learned, because of what I teach and coach—when I saw this, you know, the situation's the situation. The divorce is a divorce. Yeah, there's still the tears. There's still the grief. There's still all of the big emotions in the processing. But it came from a place of loving compassion rather than a place of anger and resentment. And from a place of not just, "I get to learn all of the lessons," but, "Who do I get to be through this, and how do I get to show up in my best self throughout this whole process?" And it changed the game.

Lori: Absolutely. So we were talking earlier about intentional action. This is intentional ... I don't know what the next word is. But you being intentional about how you are approaching a situation so that you could respond to things instead of react, which is where most people come from.

Holly: And, Lori, that's really where, as things were going downhill, your mantra of "fine is a 4-letter word" was in my head, realizing that the train was heading off the cliff. Right? There's no denying that it's going to happen. But I kept hearing your words and realizing, "Okay, I was in a marriage that was fine, but this is opening the doors for something that's more, for something that's bigger." And it left me with so much peace. So thank you for that gift.

Lori: Oh, wow. My honor. I didn't even know, and I truly am honored when I hear things like that. And again, it comes back to having faith and trust that, yes, we're flying off a cliff and some parachute is going to open somewhere.

Holly: Yeah.

Lori: It will. It's going to feel like a free-fall for a minute, and then a parachute, and then I'm not going to crash to my death at the bottom.

Holly: And it was interesting, too, because there is a phrase, what is it—leap and the net will appear.

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: Right? Well, my business had just started to hit that trajectory when the divorce went thermonuclear. I was like—again, back to integrity—I can't show up with integrity with my clients when I'm going through this. So I didn't take on any new clients. The ones that I did have, they ended their contract whenever it was supposed to end. But I pretty much shut down my business for four or five months because I couldn't, in good integrity and good faith, I could not show up and serve my clients while I was going through that.

And I needed to be focused on getting to the other side and to have that faith to leap and the net will appear. Well, I just kind of jumped and prayed for wings because going out on my own and not having the support of a husband, there was a lot of peace around a lot of chaos. And I worked hard to get to that place. And I think had I not been through everything that I went through, the divorce would have looked a lot different.

Lori: Yeah. And I was going to say, too, having been through what you had been through, you now, stepping away from taking clients because you would learn the lesson of pushing through and saw, "Oh, this is a time where I need to take care of me so that I don't go rock bottom again."

Holly: Yeah. And was there—yeah, there was some worry. It's human nature. On a scale of 1-10, though, it was probably a 2 or a 3. It was there. I was aware of it, but I didn't live in that fear. I didn't live in the anxiety. I didn't live in the, "How am I going to support myself?" I just like, "Okay, I've got a lot of peace, and I'm going to figure it out."

Lori: Right. Yeah. All good. Let's talk about some gratitude because—

Holly: Yay.

Lori: —that's your thing. I'm surprised you're not wearing the T-shirt today, but it is a cold day as we're recording this.

Holly: It is cold, yeah.

Lori: Yeah. But you're all about gratitude, as I am. And I see you on social all the time sharing gratitude.

Holly: Yeah. And I really like to say that we've been so programmed to think that gratitude is supposed to be a list of three things. Or it's this pie-in-the-sky, puppy kisses, and lollipops, and all things sunshine. It really does a disservice. You'll read a article and it's, "Oh, make a list of three things." And that's it. And the experts walk away, and you're like, "Okay, I made a list of three things. Why am I not grateful?" It doesn't work or it's—

Lori: Right. Or, November is gratitude month, as if there's only one time of year that we can be grateful.

Holly: Right, right. You get however many days. What, 30 days?

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: Thankful, grateful, blessed. Yeah. I think, really, the experts out there have really done a disservice in minimizing what gratitude can do for us and the amazing powers that it has. And the way that I like to view it in terms of looking at it, especially looking at it from the adversity perspective and from creating your comeback story, is when you're in that dark place, the neurons in our brain that fire together, wire together.

So when you're in that dark place, and you're focused on the problem, that's all you can think about. And it's just, like, on replay over and over and over in our brains. Just on automatic replay. We ruminate about it. We talk to everyone. We get off the phone with one friend, we pick up the phone and dial another friend. And we think that by replaying the story over and over and over again, that we're going to feel better somehow.

Lori: And that we're working through it.

Holly: And that we're working through it. Yes, bingo. But we're not. It's actually doing us a disservice because when it's the last thing that you think about at night before you go to bed, it's imprinted into your brain. It's then the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning, and then it's imprinted in your entire day. And it becomes the scary monster under the bed.

Lori: Right. And every day moving forward is the same as the previous days. You're not changing any situation. You're living the same thing. It's like "Groundhog Day."

Holly: Right. Only, it's getting worse because the myelin is just getting thicker and thicker. And then what happens is—and I call it the suffer cycle—our body goes from, like, we have this event. And then what happens is that our body goes into the—I'm sure you've heard the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. So it starts to talk to us. Again, things I totally ignored back in the day.

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: It starts to talk to us. We have a shorter temper. We get angrier more often. We go right into the silent treatment. We fidget. We bite our nails. We become overachievers. We numb ourselves with food, alcohol, athletics, hobbies, work. We become people pleasers. All of these traits that we see, that we have, it's our body saying, "Something's not quite right."

Lori: Yes.

Holly: But we don't know that. We've never been taught that. It's not a class that we learn in school. It's not something that we talk about over coffee with our best friend. And it happens so slowly that it just kind of creeps up on us, and we don't know that it's there.

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: And what happens—

Lori: And then after, when you get to 50 years old—45, 40, 50, 55—now it's accumulated and starts showing up in physical.

Holly: It starts showing up as a disease. As migraines, as anxiety, depression, IBS, cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes. You name it. Right? The stress causes the inflammation causes ... It's a whole—we could talk for hours. Right?

Lori: Yes.

Holly: I'm just giving you the condensed version. But this is a cycle that we don't know we're in. But what happens here, because this is where it gets worse, is that when we're in this place, we own it, and then it owns us. So it's "my" migraine.

Lori: Right.

Holly: And then that migraine owns you. That migraine owns your entire day. That migraine dictates what your day is going to look like. "My" depression, "my" anxiety. That owns you. When you wake up and you claim your anxiety, your depression, then it owns you. It owns your day. It is going to dictate what your day looks like.

Lori: Wow, yeah.

Holly: And again, it is 1% every single day. And we don't know we're on this suffer cycle until it gets to the point where things are so bad. Again, Exhibit A, right here. I went through it all.

Lori: Right, yeah. There were two points I wanted to take out of that. One of them was: why it's so important to have a coach. And secondly, you mentioned the 1%. It works the other way around, too.

Holly: Yes.

Lori: 1% better.

Holly: That's what I was getting to.

Lori: Yeah, okay.

Holly: Yeah. So for me, gratitude is at the top of the food chain. It could be any kind of mindset modality. Right? For me, it's gratitude. And, really, I think that gratitude is the easiest door opener to reverse the sufferer cycle because what happens is that when gratitude shows up—and I'm talking real gratitude. Real gratitude that you feel. Not a list of three things. Not a fluffy pie in the sky. I'm talking real, true gratitude.

When that becomes a part of your being, it brings the happy hormone squad—the dopamine, the endorphins, the serotonin, the oxytocin—which then gives your body what it needs. So instead of numbing yourself with the alcohol, food, exercise, overworking, even hobbies—right—all the things, the gratitude, the love. It's self-regulating itself in your body, and you don't need all of the outside stuff.

Lori: Right. It starts reversing the other stuff.

Holly: Yes, 100%.

Lori: And you mentioned about feeling. And that is a key point about gratitude because I don't keep a gratitude journal, which surprises a lot of people since I talk about it so much.

Holly: I don't either.

Lori: But for the reason that you're saying. Right? It's not about a list. It's about feeling the gratitude. And then I get asked a lot, "Well, what does gratitude feel like?" What would you say to that? Because I have an answer, but what would you say?

Holly: Wow. I don't know if I've ever been asked that. And I want to get into something else, but let me answer this first. I would say peace of mind. Peace of mind knowing that I can be grateful for it all—the good, the bad, the ugly, everything. I can be equally as grateful for the crappy things in life as I can for the beautiful things in life. And that, to me, is peace of mind. Because I'm not worried about the past. I'm not worried about the future. I'm just very present in the peace.

What's your answer?

Lori: Joy. It feels like joy.

Holly: Ooh, yeah.

Lori: So both of those things, peace of mind and joy, are easier emotions, I think, for people to tap into when they don't know what gratitude feels like. But going to either one of those, now you're feeling gratitude. They're on the same energetic vibration.

Holly: Yes. And to me, gratitude and love is the same thing.

Lori: Yes.

Holly: I know they're different, but to me, they're synonymous.

Lori: Well, again, energetic vibration—joy, gratitude, love. They're all up there at the top.

Holly: So, one more brain science-y thing.

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: And again, I don't get into the super technical stuff. I am not a brain scientist.

Lori: Yeah, me either.

Holly: I like to tell stories because if you—

Lori: And it's cool.

Holly: If you want to get into the super brain science-y stuff, you could have someone else. So I like to think of it like the bear attacking us. Right? The bear is chasing us. So we have two employees in our brain. We actually have more, but for example, we have two employees. The one employee is the primitive part of your brain, the reptilian part of the brain. This is your identity part of your brain. Right? This is what happens unconsciously or subconsciously in how you go about your life and make decisions. So for example, if you do not smoke and someone offers you a cigarette, you don't have to think about it. You're just like, "No, I'm good." Right?

Lori: Yeah.

Holly: You're not a smoker.

Lori: That's not who I am.

Holly: That's just not who I am. So that's employee number one. So when employee number one works and the bear is chasing you, employee number one operates from that place of the subconscious and the unconscious level. That employee—run, run, run. Run far. Run fast. Run. That's its job.

Employee number two is your prefrontal cortex. This is the analytical part of the brain. The brain that is constantly overthinking. So this employee, when the bear is chasing you, this employee is, "Oh, let's make some smart goals." It's specific. "Okay, there's a bear chasing me. It's measurable. I need to run half a mile away." And then it's like, "Oh, you know what? Maybe I should make a list of pros and cons, like how I should run from the bear and which way is better, and pros and cons."

And then this part of the brain also wants to procrastinate. "You know what? Maybe I should go buy a pair of shoes. I should go buy a new pair of running shoes, and I'm going to do that tomorrow. But then it's Friday, and I've got the weekend. You know what? I'm just going to start running on Monday. Monday, I'm going to start running from the bear." And by that point, the bear's already caught you, and you're dead. Okay?

Lori: Yes.

Holly: So this is the two parts of—again, there's more. But for purposes of telling a story. So when I think of gratitude and I think of the way that gratitude is taught, we're taught gratitude by the second employee. Right? Like, we're going to make a list of three things. It's a list. It is a tactical—

Lori: The logical.

Holly: A logical—check, check, check. It doesn't work. Or I'm supposed to say my thankful blessings at the Thanksgiving table. Or I'm supposed to wear a T-shirt during the month of November, whatever that looks like. And it becomes something that we think about, and it becomes something very cerebral and something very logical and analytical. And it's a thing. It's a thing that we do.

But where gratitude becomes this superpower is when it's that first employee. When it's that unconscious and subconscious that it is at the identity level, and it is who you are. So now when that bear is chasing you, gratitude is running the show. Gratitude's the employee. Gratitude's got that parking spot that's, like, Employee of the Month. And that bear is chasing you, and gratitude's like, "It's good. We got love. We got peace." And it's not from a place of "Hollyanna," as I've been called, that fake positivity. It is from that place of love and joy and peace and just being centered and being aligned and knowing that it is going to be okay even though I'm being chased by the bear.

Lori: Yes. And I feel compelled to mention here that you can learn this.

Holly: Yes.

Lori: Even if you do not feel like you are naturally grateful, it can be learned and practiced. And then it becomes second-nature to you.

Holly: Yes, 100%. When my mother passed away in 2019, I was already on the gratitude train in terms of learning the psychoneuroimmunology and then neuroplasticity, and I was, like, full-on "gratitude's my jam." And my mother passed away, so it was almost like the angel and the devil on my shoulder.

"You should be grateful."

"I don't want to be grateful."

"You should be grateful."

"I don't want to be grateful. My mother just died. I don't want to be grateful."

"Yeah, but you're doing this whole gratitude thing."

And it was like the angel and the devil. And what happened was—what do they say—that small hinges open big doors. And I remember laying in bed just in epic boatloads of tears, crying in bed. And I remember thinking about ...

I had this little, yellow, mechanical pencil. Just, like, 99 cents at Target. I don't know. A little, yellow, mechanical pencil. And I remember thinking how much I love that little, yellow, mechanical pencil, and how grateful I was that it was my favorite pencil. It is a stupid little pencil, but it opened the door. And it wasn't forced. It just was. And it helped me to see beyond my grief.

Lori: I love it. So good. We could have this conversation all afternoon because, like you said, we are so on the same page. And maybe we'll do another episode where we can dig in even more to gratitude, specifically.

Holly: Absolutely, yeah.

Lori: That would be fun. Yeah. Before we go, though, what is the song you listen to when you need that extra boost of energy or maybe an extra boost of gratitude? I don't know. But, yeah, what is it?

Holly: Do we have time to tell a really quick backstory?

Lori: Yes.

Holly: Okay, awesome.

Lori: We don't, but we're going to take it anyway.

Holly: Oh, you're the best. When I was going through cancer treatment, one of my dearest friends from childhood was also going through—he had brain cancer. And he ended up passing away. He got it twice and just couldn't recover. But our mothers were best friends. We had been just the best of friends from tiny, up. And Heavy D & the Boyz, "now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it" was one of those songs that we would just be driving aimlessly around. I had a little yellow Subaru, and we would just drive aimlessly around, have the cassette tape in and just sing at the top of our lungs and just have so much fun.

So now, that's my hype song because, number one, he was the one who really helped me when I was going through cancer treatment. This is when it all started. It didn't have a name. It didn't have a thing. Just, we were on a mission to just send emails and put love out there to the universe. And we were like dueling banjos trying to just bring light and hope during our cancer treatment. So it has so much meaning that, number one, we went through it together. He helped me to—I wouldn't be doing the work that I'm doing today without him.

But also, "now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it" is perfect because gratitude does put us into that place of love, and it gives us a chance to figure out: now that I'm here, now that I have all this love and I've got this purpose, what am I going to do with it? I've got this aligned self and this purpose and this passion. So what now? All these doors are opened up for me. What am I going to do with it?

Lori: I love that.

Holly: Yeah. So it is not only my hype song, but it's got this awesome backstory.

Lori: I love that. Thank you for sharing.

Holly: Yeah.

Lori: That's cool. So then when people want to continue a conversation with you, where can they find you?

Holly: Absolutely. So the best place I like to say is when you're finished listening to this episode, whatever podcast player you're on, just head over to the "Gratitude Builds Fortitude" podcast and start at a most recent episode. Pick one that speaks to you. I did talk about divorce. Episode 74 is my divorce story if you're going through that, and you want to dig into that.

And then the other place, really, is Instagram. I hang out on Instagram. I love getting into the DMs and hanging out with my people. So, yeah, definitely connect with me over there. It's holly.bertone, B-E-R-T-O-N-E.

Lori: Okay. And I will put links to that in the show notes as well. But if you don't want to go to the show notes, so you can just hop over there.

Holly: Awesome. And then you'll have a link to the website as well, and I've got some free gifts and some awesome stuff there, too.

Lori: Cool. Thank you so much, Holly, for joining me today on "Fine is a 4-Letter Word".

Holly: Yeah. Thanks so much, Lori, for having me.

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