In this episode, I talk with registered psychotherapist Bonnie J. Skinner about how our own mental well-being is affected by the different challenges that fitness entrepreneurship brings.
We delve into imposter syndrome, managing the transition from work to home, and the big one for many women in fitness business—burnout.
Bonnie is a Registered Psychotherapist with a background in Neuroscience, and over a decade of experience in helping individuals strengthen their mental fitness skills. As a CEO, executive coach, a wife and Mom, Bonnie knows first hand the unique challenges business owners and executives face on their journey to success. In addition to her clinical practice Bonnie runs Level Up Mental Fitness Coaching for clients in high performance roles, helping them gain confidence, consistency and focus.
1:00 – Impostor Syndrome
2:19 – Shift to home + transitions
7:44 – Partner support
13:09 – Social pressure
16:30 – Dealing with sexism in coaching
18:56 – Capacity building and burnout
23:41 – Positive entrepreneurship and CEO mindset
Tiffy Thompson: 0:04
Hello, and welcome to Women in Fitness Business. I’m Tiffy Thompson. And today I’m gonna be talking with my friend, Bonnie Skinner. Bonnie is a registered psychotherapist with a background in neuroscience and over a decade of experience in helping people strengthen their mental fitness skills. As a CEO executive coach, a wife and mom, Bonnie knows firsthand the unique challenges that business owners and executives face. And in addition to her clinical practice, Bonnie runs Level Up mental fitness coaching for clients in high performance roles, helping them gain confidence, consistency, and focus. In this episode, we talk about imposter syndrome, managing the transition from work to home and the big one for many women in fitness business, burnout. Hey Bonnie, welcome to the show.
Bonnie Skinner: 0:57
Thank you. Thank you so much. Pleasure to be here.
Tiffy Thompson: 1:00
So among the entrepreneurial women that you work with in your practice, how common is imposter syndrome?
Bonnie Skinner: 1:10
Oh, very common. I’d say it is equally as common as it is amongst the males that I coach as well. I think there’s a certain characteristic that you could find in those that wanna do entrepreneurship that wanna build businesses. That just automatically necessitates the presence of the imposter syndrome. Right? So imposter syndrome is what we experience when we are going from one level to a new level. And it is the anxiety around, you know, what do I expect at this level? Can I be at this level, do I deserve to be here? And so I think it’s, you know, it’s pretty even across a board, men and women, but definitely women experience a lot of imposter syndrome when they’re building businesses.
Tiffy Thompson: 1:51
I had a listener who is a gym owner, write in, say, as a business owner, I have trouble shutting it off and just going home and being a wife, I feel in charge all the time. And I can’t be the only one. For women fitness entrepreneurs that also have kids and spouses, how difficult is it for them to shift gears and move from work mode into home mode without bringing all the stress with them? Like, is it possible?
Bonnie Skinner: 2:19
Absolutely. It’s possible. I think it is something that really requires a lot of intentional effort. And so, for example, in my coaching practice, one of the things that I often encounter is that there hasn’t been that intentional effort, meaning the idea of coming home, most of us don’t think about preparing to go home. Right. But what we’re actually doing is we are transitioning from one role to another. So, the lady that wrote in there, the gym owner that wrote in, she’s talking about that, you know, I’m transitioning from being in charge here at work, and now I’m going home and I’m being the wife. I don’t know what that means for her, but whatever it does mean, that’s where she’ll find the root of the struggle. So what does it mean to be the boss at work and I’m going home and I’m gonna be the wife at home, but what kind of wife are you at home, are you the boss wife at home? Are you the , like, I think there’s so much that I would wanna know about her role when she gets home. That makes it difficult for her to turn off. So what we do know about women is we tend to take on a lot of I’ll call it life admin, right. <laugh> where, you know, we’re going home. We’re thinking, okay, what bills have been paid? Have the kids eaten. And if they ate, what did they eat? When did they eat? Was there anything that I forgot to do this morning? Or like, so sometimes we’re going home in the same state or with the same high level focus that we’re showing up at work with. Right. And if we’re not intentional about what that transition looks like and the costs of that, because now we’re with this heightened state all day long, then we don’t actually put plans in place that support the transition from one place to another.
Tiffy Thompson: 4:04
So what would those transitions look like? Like what, are there certain things that you recommend your clients do to make that transition?
Bonnie Skinner: 4:12
Yeah, absolutely. So when I’m working with my coaching clients, I have them think very intentionally about the last hour and if they can, the last two hours of the day. So what we tend to like to do is pack everything, you know, or somebody will come up with a problem cause they wanna catch us before we leave for the day. And so we’re always working on this last minute stuff. The more we can build processes into our day where we’re actually winding down within the last hour. Now, some people have a 45 minute, 50 minute or more commute home. That’s actually a good thing because that is the forced time that you need to decompress or that can help you decompress. But you can do other things. So for example , I have one client who has a ritual at their workspace. So , um, she actually organizes her desks a certain way before she leaves. She turns off her computer and then she closes her door. When she locks her door, that’s her day over. Right. So that’s the mental transition for her is like, everything that is about work is done when I lock my door. And I thought that was absolutely brilliant, right. Because what our brain thrives on is very clear, what am I supposed to do now? So when she locks that door, it’s like, okay, now she’s thinking about, I think her commute is about 15, 20 minutes. On the commute home, she’s listening to music that she really likes. She’s listening to anything that she would listen to on the weekend. She’s not listening to the news or checking on certain things. That’s her decompression time. What she also does is when she gets home, she has two little ones. And she’s like the first 20 minutes of getting home is playing like a kid. Right. So what happens is you take an hour and a half or a two hour block and you say, I’m gonna have to transition in this time. What- how can I structure this so that I’m actually transitioning the way that I want to.
Tiffy Thompson: 6:06
Bonnie Skinner: 6:06
Yeah, go ahead.
Tiffy Thompson: 6:08
It sounds like it’s a matter of it’s, almost like blocking this time and scheduling it into your day.
Bonnie Skinner: 6:16
Very much so. As much as you do anything else, like, I mean, if we think as entrepreneurs, we’re always thinking about how can we be the most efficient, right. Well, transitioning is a task that does require efficiency. We want to transition well. So if we say, you know, first of all, how do I want to transition if I know for example, that when I go home, I got nobody waiting on me. Nobody, you know, it’s just my downtime that may not be as big a priority or as big a difficulty as my transition say , from home to work. Right. So it’s the reason I don’t kind of give out a blanket statement and say, okay, people just need to do this is because everybody’s transition is gonna look slightly different. Mm-hmm <affirmative> . But what you wanna know is, you know, what do I actually want to feel when I get home? Right? What is it that I’m thinking about? So going back to the lady that wrote in, the owner that wrote in, what are the things , what do you want going home to look like? And what’s getting in the way of that, are you going home and having, you know, having to field 21 questions about things? And if so, how can you hand off some of the responsibility, right? How can you share or restructure things so that you’re not CEO over here and then coming home and being CEO over here, right? Maybe being co CEO type thing, right.
Tiffy Thompson: 7:33
That kind of leads into my next question. What about women who are actually co-owners with their spouses? Like what are the unique issues that they face.
Bonnie Skinner: 7:44
Whoo, God bless your hearts. <Laugh> those who do it well, there’s a few characteristics of those who do it very well. When they have a partnership they have spent the time clearly defining their roles, who’s responsible for what, right. So it depends also on, did they start the business together or did one person, you know, become a part of the other of their partner’s business. So I think there’s some dynamics there that need to be looked out . But the first thing I would say is, you know, make sure that who’s responsible for what is incredibly clear. The next thing you wanna think about is how does our roles in our business affect our role as partners? So let’s say we go to work, we’ve got this really, you know, lots of pressure going on at work. How are we still going to be a close and connected couple? When we get home, maybe, maybe we’re on two different sides of a business decision. I wanna make this decision. My partner wants to make that decision, but I’m supposed to go home now and we’re gonna get along and, you know, model well for our kids. And how do we do that? And I think that needs to be a really intentional conversation about the fact that there is additional pressures that are on a couple, because they’re going to, they’re going to face different , uh, different situations, whether they be at home, whether they be socially or whether they be in their business.
Tiffy Thompson: 9:10
Right. What are the advantages though, of being a co owner with your spouse?
Bonnie Skinner: 9:17
Oh, collaboration, a hundred percent. Like I said, when it’s done well, it can be incredible because for the most part , partners , marital partners or whatever, we’re gonna wanna call it a business, tend to be working on the same vision. Right ? So the same, they’re building a business for the same reason, but they’re both intricately connected to that vision and that goal. Right? So, whereas if we are bringing on partnerships in our business or we’re, you know, we’re driving our team or expanding our leadership, we have to sell in hope that those we are promoting our vision to, buy in. Right. And I think that’s different when you have spouses that are working together in a common vision, because it’s almost like now you may have, you know, I’m not saying it’s always the same across the board, but for the most part, you’ve got somebody else already at the same level or at the same level of desire as you are with the vision you’re working on.
Tiffy Thompson: 10:19
When, if the business doesn’t or if the, sorry, if the marriage doesn’t work out, though, is it possible to have a business beyond that together? Or have you ever encountered that your clients-
Bonnie Skinner: 10:34
If it is clearly delineated, if the roles are clearly delineated it’s gonna be a lot easier.
Tiffy Thompson: 10:39
Bonnie Skinner: 10:41
Because for the same, you know, for the same reason you have any kind of dispute, if the- how do I say this , if the expectations or the roles are unclear, that’s when you have the arguments and the , you shouldn’t have done this and you can’t have that and all that kind of stuff, but what you also run the risk of is that personal professional overlap, that if we’re arguing at home, now we’re arguing at work. If there is a dispute at work, now we have a dispute at home. So what you can see happen, what I have seen happen is you get these disagreements in the workplace that are not about anything that happened in the workplace, you know? So just like we can use anything to kind of , you know, get our partners or, or rile somebody up, the business Isn’t an exception for that. People can use their businesses to hurt their partners or ex-partners or whatever the case may be. And I think it’s about having the legal clarity. Like if your partner’s in a business, you should have a talk, an agreement about like, what happens if the marriage doesn’t last. Right. How do you manage that? And I think I’m, you know, lots of people are different. I’m a really big proponent about talking about those things. Like every couple should talk about what it would be like to split up, right? Every business partner, every business partnership, they should have a talk about what it would be like to split up. Because if not, like “Oh, no, it’ll never happen. It’ll never happen. Never.” Well, it means that when it does happen, if it does happen, there’s no preparation, right? So now you’re in the middle of it and it can go a lot worse than it really has to.
Tiffy Thompson: 12:24
Mm-hmm <affirmative> switching gears a bit. I wanna talk a little bit about women in the fitness business and their kind of unique situation. There’s a lot of machismo surrounding the fitness industry and male coaches and gym owners are definitely more common than female coaches and gym owners. So women in the fitness business will definitely run into some sexism and some power struggles. How widespread is that in your estimation and what can be done to mitigate it?
Bonnie Skinner: 13:02
I don’t have specific stats on how widespread it is in the fitness industry itself.
Tiffy Thompson: 13:08
Bonnie Skinner: 13:09
But I think the struggles are as common as you’ll see in any other fitness industry. Right . I think what I do hear from my clients and those I interact with that do have businesses in the fitness industry is the expectations. So for example, the expectations around body presentation, right? So am I supposed to look a certain way if I, you know, can I look quote-unquote, less feminine, right. If I have, you know, big muscles and I’m toned and I work out a lot , is that a bad thing, are members going to care if, you know, maybe I put on 10 or 15 pounds over the summer. So you’ve got the same kinds of concerns and body images that I think we end up with across industries. The difference is when their clients are coming in, when their potential members are coming in, it can be a subjective piece. Right. So I think it’s not to say, okay, well , a gym owner should look like X, Y, Z, but I’ve heard gym owners, you know, wondering about, well, does it matter what I look like? Does it matter? You know, how often I work out, does it matter what kind of equipment I own or equipment I have. Right. Like , that’s one that I hadn’t thought of that is just, you know, if I own this kind of gym, can I own this kind of equipment? Like, so, but I think what it really goes back to is you have to find a place to locate who you are. Right. And it’s not necessarily being about the gym owner ’cause people don’t. We tend to think that when people buy a product, they buy us, they don’t right. They don’t buy us. Even when I have clients that choose me as a coach or choose me as a therapist, they’re not buying me, they’re buying the story they created about me.
Tiffy Thompson: 14:58
Bonnie Skinner: 14:58
Right. They’re buying, that person can help me. That person gets me. And so long as that is the thing that we’re focused on is we’re focused on helping them cultivate the most positive story they can. That’s rooted in how we want to help. That tends to alleviate a lot of worries about, you know, who am I, what am I supposed to look like? And you know, what happens if I’m 15 pounds overweight? And I wanna take somebody in as a PT client. Right. And it’s like, the answer is they’re gonna care if you care. And if you care, it’ll show up subliminally in kind of everything that you do or how you present yourself. And that’s usually the struggle.
Tiffy Thompson: 15:39
Or could, could it be possible that like for coaches in particular a big bro-y guy is not really gonna take commands from a woman, you know, like, it’s- how does one contend with that level of ignorance and sexism and still maintain composure and still be a good coach?
Bonnie Skinner: 16:08
That’s a really great question. The reason I’ve paused here is because I’m thinking there’s a direct and an indirect way to deal with this.
Tiffy Thompson: 16:19
Bonnie Skinner: 16:20
I will throw the caveat that I am the more direct type. Like I’m the more, “Let’s throw it on a table and deal with whatever it is.” But I recognize that that’s not everybody’s style. What I would say to women that are encountering that is to go back to, what exactly are you doing that’s rooted in the client’s goals? So if I was to walk up to the coach at that particular time, and I say, okay, why this plan with that client, if you could say to me, Bonnie, because of this, this, this, this, and this, then you are set. You are rooted in what it is that you’re doing right now. You’ve got an option from there, depending upon the pushback that you’re feeling. Right. I would say, Hey, let’s sit down and have a chat about, you know, what you feel like isn’t working for you and let the member or the client explain why they don’t think it’s working. That provides you with an opportunity to say, oh, I’ve chosen this and this because of these things, here are some alternatives, but what I think we tend to want to do is go in and explain ourselves and to defend ourselves and to say, no, no, no, no, no . I really know what I’m doing. Or to get angry and defensive. Right. And be like, well , that guy’s just a jerk. Maybe, maybe not.
Tiffy Thompson: 17:38
Bonnie Skinner: 17:39
But I think that is- if you take that on, not as “I’m encountering sexism today,” but instead as I’m encountering somebody, that’s going to challenge whether or not I’m a good fit for them today.” Right. Whether it’s because I’m a woman, whether it’s, because I’m this, that the other thing, that’s where we can kind of bring the focus back into what we can deal with, because we’re not gonna go, nobody opens a- I don’t think. Maybe I’ll get calls about this tomorrow, but nobody opens a gym to say, I’m gonna crush all the sexism in the world.
Tiffy Thompson: 18:12
Bonnie Skinner: 18:12
But a good coach can change a lot to the right person. Right. So it’s really about recentering, not letting somebody get the emotional best of you and going back to justifying what you’re doing and then allowing them to talk about whatever problem they think is on the table. Does that make a bit of sense?
Tiffy Thompson: 18:31
It does. It does. When you talk about not getting the emotional best of someone, you’ve talked a lot about in other podcasts, this idea of keeping your cup filled up. And can you explain a bit more about what that looks like when it comes to being a fitness entrepreneur?
Bonnie Skinner: 18:56
Yeah, absolutely. So I talk a lot, and I think this is what you’re referring to about capacity. And so how I explain capacity is capacity is the sum of all of the physical and mental energy that we have to run every aspect of our lives. So I say, you know, imagine that you have one cup and out of that, one cup comes everything, all the physical and mental energy, you need to do everything in your life. So talking to me, hanging out with your kids, grocery, shopping, everything, when that cup is full, our brain allows us to do more, easily. So if I got groceries, I’m like, oh, I’ll just run to the store and go grab some groceries. Right? If my kid says, Hey, mommy, come play with me. I get down the floor and we’ll play with her. Right. Everything seems to be pretty easy. But one of the jobs that your brain has is to adjust your activity, according to how full or how empty the cup is. So its job is to be conservative about how you spend that cup as you start to get depleted. So why I’m talking about balancing your emotional energies is because when we take the time to get riled up and upset and let everything offend us and everything, you know, exhaust us and we don’t take care of ourselves, so our outputs are high. Then what happens is your brain is forced to start finding new ways to conserve energy. One of the ways it likes to conserve energy is by shutting down our ability to regulate our emotions. That’s why, if you- I know you’ve got a little one, I’ve got a four year old. So if you remember the toddler phase, right, they’re tired. Are they the most wonderful human beings you’ve ever seen when they’re tired? Not a chance, right? We love them, but they ain’t sweet at that stage. It’s because there’s no energy left. And the energy that it takes to regulate our emotional state is a lot. So your brain just goes, Nope, no energy left for that. We then turn that off. Right. And now all of a sudden we’re a lot more reactive. And so being able to manage all the demands that are on us as entrepreneurs requires that we get really, really good at knowing where we are, how full or how empty that cup is. Okay . And so there’s two ways to do that. One is we can increase our inputs. Our inputs are anything they’re basically, you know, good nutrition, hydration. Sleep is a massive one that we never think of, or don’t think of enough. Breathing really well, meaningful relationships, positive engagement, you know, a sense of purpose. These are all things that fill our cup up. Okay. Everything pulls out of our cup, whether it’s negative or positive. If you think about, you know, I always give the example of those six weeks between November 1st and January 1st. Right? Well, in that state, everybody, whether you like the holidays or whether you don’t, we’re all in this state where we’re putting out more energy than we’re recouping right. We’re planning travel, we’re shopping. We’re worrying about money. We’re doing all these different things. That’s why in January, February, most clinicians know their numbers are gonna go up because people think they’re depressed or they think that there’s something wrong with them. ’cause they’re so fatigued. They’re so tired. And that’s the brain and the body trying to recover six weeks of continual output with no recharge. Right. Okay . So that’s how we find the, let me put it this way. That’s how we build our mental endurance. Right. So we build our mental endurance by constantly making sure that we are filling up the cup and spending it in ways that are good for us. That create progress for us. That like , you know, not arguing with my friend about something that doesn’t matter. Those kinds of things.
Tiffy Thompson: 22:37
Yeah. Yeah. So you’re not operating in the red basically.
Bonnie Skinner: 22:42
Yeah. Exactly. It’s when we operate in the red, that problems tend to compound. ‘Cause one, right, we don’t see them the way they actually are. So when we are operating the red, our brain changes the way it sees things. It’s actually way more likely to assume that things are worse than they are. Right . That’s called a negativity bias and we’re more likely to grab on beliefs that are rooted in the possibility of threat or the- so basically we assume things are gonna be more problematic than we are. And if you can imagine, you know, what that would do to a business sense. I mean, you wanna be careful and risk averse in business, but if you are tired and burnt out and that kind of stuff that gets amplified and all of a sudden you’re putting out fires that aren’t even fires.
Tiffy Thompson: 23:29
Right. Swinging the other direction. What are the amazing aspects of entrepreneurship as a woman? Like what are the positive aspects?
Bonnie Skinner: 23:41
Oh man. <Laugh>. I , we don’t have enough time today to talk about all this, but I think, you know, I gave a talk. This was, oh my God. It had to be 10 years ago now. Eight, nine years ago to, it was a group of women in Nova Scotia. And they were women that had gotten into conflict with the law and they were having trouble kind of regrouping and they were about to get placed in these new jobs. I think it was a new program. And one of the thing , one of the activities that really kind of moved me one day was I had them all list the skills it took to be a mother, right? So, you know, things like grocery shopping and planning and being able to wrangle multiple children and being able to arrange a point- and basically I took- I created a whole list of skills, leadership skills, organizational skills, support skills, team, building skills, all of that stuff. But I did it in the tasks that they used them as mothers. Okay. I made a second list of all of the corporate, all the skills you need to be an executive level corporate employee mm-hmm <affirmative> and they matched almost perfectly. And when we were going through the list and I forget, there was a mom in the back and I could see her tearing up and I said, do you mind if I ask you what’s going on? And she said, my whole life, I thought I was nothing. And you are telling me I could be a CEO. You know? And I think as women, as mothers, we don’t take time to think about the value that we offer to the marketplace. ‘Cause I think historically being excluded, we haven’t been able to develop the understanding about how valuable our skill sets are. Right. But in much the same way as the owner that you mentioned is talking about. Yeah, I go and I run my business and then I come home and I run household. I step into this other role. We are so used to transferring in and out of those roles, we almost don’t think about it. Right, right. And that is the one thing that makes us incredible, incredible business assets. Right. So I think we, there’s absolutely no harm and a ton of benefit in sitting back and going, “What about being a woman, what about being a mom makes me incredible as an entrepreneur?” Because you don’t have to dig very deeply to find that there are some things that are amazing attributes, right. That is really about, okay, well if, if our children are sick, if my daughter sick, I’m like, oh, sorry, honey, mommy’s taking a mental health day. I can’t help you with that. We’re used to working under pressure. We’re used to knowing that no help is coming sometimes. Right? So again, there’s just so many things that make women superstars when it comes to business.
Tiffy Thompson: 26:52
And when it comes to what the appealing aspects of running your own business as a woman are it’s you have that opportunity for expansion, for going as high as you want. There’s no ceiling really.
Bonnie Skinner: 27:13
Sometimes, you know, I’ve been in a lot of different conversations where we’ve talked about the glass ceiling that women feel they face. And I always say, you know, if you see a ceiling, then there is a ceiling.
Tiffy Thompson: 27:25
Bonnie Skinner: 27:26
Right. If you refuse to believe that there’s a ceiling there, then whether or not there is a ceiling is none your business. Right. Right. Because you are still going to plan as if there’s not. And I think that’s one thing that I espouse to all of my clients, whether, I mean, whether it’s male or female , but it’s really about what are the limitations you’re willing to accept because they’re the only ones that are gonna matter. Right. If you accept that, “Oh, because I’m a woman I’m gonna go out and things are gonna be really difficult for me,” then that’s exactly what they’re gonna be. That is called a confirmation bias. We look for what we believe. Right. But if you go, “Oh yeah. Things might be really difficult for me, but I’m gonna be as prepared as I can.” Then all you have to do is deal with the next thing that comes along. And so I think there is some benefit to stepping away from some of the stories or some of the narratives that I think originally were intended to be helpful for women. I think they’re , I think they were originally intended to say like, Hey look, you’ve been oppressed and you need to fight and you need to push. You need like- and yes, I can see that. But ultimately if somebody takes that narrative on and decides, “Oh, well I have to constantly be in fight mode.” Then what you do is you pull somebody out of the growing mode, right. Because you can’t be a thinker and a fighter at the same time.
Tiffy Thompson: 28:49
Bonnie Skinner: 28:50
Right. This is true. And so what we wanna do is- the more we can stay in that clear thinking strategizing mindset, that’s where we want to be instead of like, okay, well I have to prepare for the next thing that’s around the corner. Forget about it. If you’re gonna build your business and you’re going to, you know, set your family free, like you’re gonna be prepared anyway. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t sit on the doorstep and wait for the fight to come. If you see it along the road, fine deal with it. Right. Don’t just sit back and be like, oh I can’t cuz there’s a ceiling there.
Tiffy Thompson: 29:17
Yeah. Bonnie, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for coming on today.
Bonnie Skinner: 29:23
Thank you. And pleasure’s all mine.
Tiffy Thompson: 29:26
And that’s it for today’s episode of Women in Fitness Business. Thanks for listening.