Tara Sophia Mohr | Playing Big

Tara Sophia Mohr, Playing Big. Find Your VOICE, Your MISSION, and Your MESSAGE.

If you wish you had more self-discipline

more self-discipline playing big fan social media pull quotes

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Where we think we need more self-discipline, we usually need more self-love.

Several weeks ago, I noticed that those words from the Playing Big book were being shared widely on social media, with people taking the time to format them and give them their own visual expression.

Everywhere they were posted, they seemed to resonate strongly with readers, and that has intrigued me. So I thought today I’d delve deeper into this topic. What do these words really mean? What do they ask us to do differently? And what about this idea are we so hungry for and why?

We tend to think we need more self-discipline when we aren’t taking consistent action toward our goals: we want to exercise regularly but we aren’t; we aim to meditate every evening but we haven’t been consistent; we committed to track our money more closely, but fell off the wagon.

Then we tend to say to ourselves, in some version: “If I could only be more self-disciplined…” That’s our story about the situation, that we lack willpower or discipline.

Yet I will tell you after a lot of coaching conversations that self-discipline is never the missing ingredient in these situations.

What is needed is not more self-discipline or will, but one of these three things:

1. Practical adjustments to routines, schedules, support systems. I think of one woman who believed she just didn’t have the self-discipline to get up early every day. With some self-reflection, she discovered that she really just needed to reduce her commitments so she could go to bed a few hours earlier. Then the new wake-up time became no problem. Or, I think of another woman who thought she lacked the self-discipline to save money, but you know what? She had no problem doing so once she put a monthly transfer on automation. Where we think we need more self-discipline, we need more self-love. Sometimes that self-love expresses itself through the very practical routines, supplies, support systems we put in place to get us where we want to go.

2. Inner work. Other times, when we assume that we lack self-discipline, our flow of motivation is actually getting blocked by fear. I think of one woman who had come to feel she wasn’t publishing on her blog regularly because she lacked the self-discipline. But within a few minutes of coaching around the topic, it became clear that the core issue was fear of what people would think when she shared her ideas more publicly.

Fear is tricky, and subtle, and we put lots of fancy explanations on top of it that can hide it. When our motivation suddenly dips or we find ourselves behaving in ways we label “lazy,” quite often underneath we find fear – especially fear of change, failure, or (for women in particular) fear of separating from others in our life as we step into new ways of being.

In these situations, we do not need more self-discipline (and no amount of self-discipline could get us to ramrod past our fear! Fear will always win out if it’s unexamined or unconscious.) What we need is self-love, manifest through gentle, self-compassionate inquiry into what’s getting stirred up. That can happen through journaling, sharing out loud to a supportive group or friend, processing fear through making art, or through a session with a therapist or coach.

3. Changing the goal. Sometimes the problem is that we’ve given ourselves what I call a “should-goal” – an aim that comes from a sense of should, often drawn from others’ expectations, or your own inner critic’s marching orders. In my own life, I’ve set “should-goals” about going to the gym, “networking” with people in my field, posting regularly on social media, to name a few. None of these things had particular resonance in my heart or soul, and because they were “shoulds” I couldn’t keep up motivation around them. Here, the issue for us is not really a lack of self-discipline, but rather that we are working toward the wrong goal – one we are never going to have a wellspring of energy toward.

We’ve got to set what I call gift-goals, goals that are resonant with our values, our temperaments – goals that feel like gifts to give ourselves. (There’s much more on how to do that in the Playing Big book). In my case, I had to find alternative versions of my “should-goals” that were more true to me – for example, getting to dance class (not the gym) and connecting with a few people I truly admire in my field (not doing a lot of networking).

So, if you are struggling with motivation or consistent action in any area of your life, I’d look at these three areas:
1) Is this a should-goal or a gift-goal? If it’s a should, start by shifting the goal into one that is more resonant for you. (Check out our handout on creating gift-goals, here).
2) If it’s a gift-goal, is there a fear blocking your motivation? How can you feel it, unpack it, move through it – all with loving-kindness toward yourself?
3) Or, do you simply need to change the practical pieces – the time you’ve made available, the level of support you’ve put in place – to make it easier for you to take the action you want to take?

Last but not least, I think we have to pay attention to the resonance of this idea. The spread of these words across the web tells me that many of us recognize that something about our stories regarding self-discipline has lead us astray, and is false. Some part of tus knows that there is possibility in bringing self-love to those very places. If you work with people – as a coach, facilitator, counselor – how can you bring more of this idea forward? If you are a friend, a parent, a partner in conversation with others about their goals, how can you bring more of this idea to those conversations?

Want to set gift-goals or work with others on setting theirs? Grab my PDF on creating gift-goals here, with journaling prompts and coaching questions to help you do just that.

With love,

making time for what you love to do

A few weeks ago, I headed into the dance studio for a class for the first time since my daughter was born.

It took a lot to get to a class.
It took all these months for me to feel up for it.
It took being willing to give it a big chunk of time on the calendar.
It took figuring out what the heck kind of bra works for leaping through the air, for a postpartum nursing mother.

But mostly, of course, it took what it takes for all of us when it is time to be a beginner again: courage. It took being willing to experiment with a new class, having no idea how I’d fare, or what uncomfortable moments might be part of it.

I walked in, and immediately saw all the dancers doing what looked like very serious pre-class stretches. I watched myself choose not to be intimidated by that. There were moments of the class when a younger me would have felt embarrassed about what I couldn’t do, moments when a younger me would have been panicked about what I was being asked to attempt – in front of the rest of the group, no less. There were many moments when a younger me would have been critical, even ashamed, of the body reflected back to me in the mirror.

But this experience (mostly) wasn’t like that. Maybe because of being a little older, maybe because having walked through the fires of motherhood x2, this was different.

This time, I could comprehend that I was simply a newbie in this class; nothing personal about that. I was able to chuckle at myself when needed and – most importantly – I was able to enjoy.

Ninety minutes later, when the class ended, I was not on cloud nine. I was on cloud ninety-nine.

I had to keep apologizing to people for talking so much, and so fast, all afternoon, but I couldn’t stop myself – there was so much energy coursing through.

My best friend called to tell me that the contrast between the tone of my voicemail to her that morning (heavy, somber) and the one from three hours later post dance class (utterly giddy) had her amused for the rest of the day.

Why am I sharing this story with you?

Because we all have these things: the earthly pursuits that are our special connection lines to vitality and joy.

Maybe one of yours, like mine, is dance, but most likely it is not because Life/God/Source has generously distributed these pursuits among us, a part of our individuality.

Some source whispered “dance” over me and pressed it into my soul before I was born. And to you, perhaps some divinity whispered “paint” or “sing” or “run” – whatever those sacred pursuits are for you.

Today, I want to invite you to remember. What are your special connection lines to vitality and joy? Growing something in your garden? Playing the piano? Taking a solo hike? Name at least two for yourself. Remember.

1. _________________
2. _________________

Now, here’s the thing: you’d think, given all I just shared, that I would be committed to regular dancing. At times, I have been. But sometimes, I’ve gone months without dancing. Sometimes, years.

We do this – we starve ourselves from the pursuits that we most love and that best love us back.

It appears to make no sense: if these activities bring us so much joy, why aren’t we doing them with fervor and commitment, arranging life to squeeze them in however we can? In fact, the opposite is what usually transpires. We struggle to do them at all.

We take long fasts from what most feeds us. Why?

These are some of the reasons why I’ve turned away from my dearest loves in my own life, reasons I also see at play in the lives of the women I work with.

1. It takes practical commitment and creativity to make it happen. In the demands of daily life, what we most love often falls to the wayside, as we focus on paying the bills and caring for others. You may be in a culture like the U.S.’s that does not make it easy to fit in time for pursuits outside of work and family responsibilities. Long work hours, having weak community ties and living apart from extended family all add up to incredibly demanding schedules for so many of us. It’s hard to make it happen.

2. We lose touch.
Something happens in our life that causes us to stop doing the things we love (we get busier, we change locations, we go through an illness or intense period of caregiving, and so on) and during it, we forget what brings us bliss.

3. We buy the lie that adulthood is about something else. We’ve consciously or unconsciously decided adulthood is about something else – responsibilities and the grind. We forget to even ask, what can I do that brings me bliss? We forget that daily life can include that question, and its answer.

4. Fear and the inner critic build a barrier between ourselves and what we love. Sometimes we’ve become paralyzed by the message that because we love this thing so much we should get “good” at it. We start to think that being “good at it,” (winning first place prize at the piano recital, getting published, doing x in a way that people will pay for) is the point. Then if we aren’t winning the medals or the clients or the applause (or fear we won’t in the future), we stop doing our thing. I am here to tell you the point was never to be good. This, your relationship with this thing, is the great romance of your life.

5. Numbness is kinda cozy. There resides in us a force that doesn’t want us to do the things that bring us alive. When we do those things that bring us alive, we feel more – all of it, the good and the bad. Old unresolved issues ask for attention. Inconvenient life and career dreams that we’ve ignored find a way back in to our consciousness, through all those energy channels that this beloved pursuit has opened up. Rising to the occasion of this uncertain, tender, complicated human experience is both far more ecstatic and far less comfortable than the numbed out, dulled down zone of stasis and soul denial. The part of us that likes comfort (but doesn’t care about joy) will lead us to fast from soul nutrients and eat the low quality junk food of distractions and busyness and empty to-do’s instead. We cannot consistently practice what we love without a larger willingness to feel our feelings, confront our real path, and accept the ongoing change and evolution that that path will bring in our lives.

6. Ego likes its shell. When we are truly doing what we most love, the experience brings us into a sense of unity with the materials we are working with, the task we are engaged in, the others around us, and the larger whole. We start to transcend the boundaries of the ego, the small self, in exchange for a larger sense of connection. Ego doesn’t like that, and we resist that change. (I’ve written more about that here.)

So what is next? Start with these steps:

1. Remember what you most love, those few most special pursuits that bring you alive. Name what they are, just to yourself.

2. It may be that you need to cry or grieve a little for the time lost in not doing them. Allow yourself to feel those feelings … and at the same time, don’t get stuck there.

3. Notice what has been a barrier to you practicing your love. Is it primarily about the inner critic for you? Or the logistical challenges? Or are there stronger drives pushing you to stay in a numbed out state? Look with compassion at what has stood in the way.

4. Put a date on the calendar to do the thing you love. Tell one supportive person about it so you are held (lovingly) accountable to make it happen!

And last but not least, if you are wanting to live a life you love, and do work that fills you with a sense of meaning and joy, check out my Playing Big Course, open for registration this week (we open registration just once a year!) You can find all the information about it, hear from grads, and get your spot HERE.


what I mean by “playing big”


What is playing big?

I often hear from women that when they hear the words “playing big,” they have a kind of mixed reaction.

On the one hand, the idea of playing bigger calls to them.

They don’t want to keep having that subtle, sneaking sense that they are playing small – holding back, hiding, waiting on what they most want to do. They want to have a greater impact for good. They want to feel free, comfortable in their skin – no longer hesitant in sharing their ideas, their creations.

On the other hand, “playing big” gives them pause. They know their plate is full (or overfull) already. Is this just going to be one more item on their to-do list? And do we all really need to play big, they ask. Isn’t that yet more macho, egotistical thinking?

Of course, all of these questions are valid.

Let me tell you what “playing big” means in the work I do.

My shorthand definition of playing big is this: Playing big is being more loyal to your dreams than to your fears.

I believe our dreams are important – extremely important. I believe that they tell us about the life our authentic selves want to lead. They tell us about our purpose here. They tell us about what kind of life and career will bring each of us a sense of fulfillment.

And yet, for all of us human beings, life poses so many challenges in honoring our dreams. Fear and self-doubt rage like storms within us, especially when it comes to our most important dreams and callings! We find brilliant ways to hide or rationalize why we need to hold off for a bit. On top of inner challenges, we may face bias and stereotyping. And we are rightly concerned with practical matters – financial constraints, health challenges, caregiving responsibilities – and it’s usually not clear how to boldly go for our aspirations in the midst of them.

Playing Big is about navigating all those inner and outer challenges so that you can indeed live a life and pursue a career that is aligned with your dreams, your callings, what holds meaning for you.

Playing big is always determined from the inside out. It is highly individual to each person, and it is about you going for your authentic dreams.

Only you can discern what playing big looks like for you. It might involve doing something that looks prestigious and impressive in the world’s eyes, but just as often for women I work with, playing big means doing something that doesn’t look “big” to others – like stepping away from a conventional job to a more entrepreneurial one, or reclaiming a long-lost creative passion, or starting a project for the good of their local community. They know, on the inside, that this is what true playing big looks like for them.

Playing big is also never exhausting. It is not about striving, working harder, doing more. It is not about pressuring yourself.

Playing big is about releasing the pressure on yourself, opening up to your authentic longings and finding gentle, sustainable ways to live them out.

The truth is that playing small is what drains us, putting us in a tug of war with our own desires. Playing big is energizing – it’s about letting ideas, creativity and action flow naturally in your life and work.

What is one small step you can take today to play bigger in the ways that matter most to you? Having a difficult conversation you’ve been putting on hold? Admitting to yourself what you really want? Testing out a new idea with the people you want to serve? Sending that scary-thrilling-stretch email to a potential collaborator, client, or employer? 

Registration for the 2018 Playing Big Program is now open.
We would love to have you join us! Learn more about this unique experience and dynamic community, and get your spot here.



up at 3 am

I can still remember that night like it was yesterday – even though now it was almost a decade ago.

I was up in the middle of the night, sitting alone in the living room of our high-rise apartment, looking out onto nighttime lights of the city.

I couldn’t sleep because, to be honest, there was a knot of sadness in my chest that wouldn’t leave me.

So instead I was awake, asking myself why my days felt more gray than full color, why I didn’t feel excited or optimistic about my life, even though I seemed to have every reason to – a good job, a wonderful relationship, and so many other blessings.

Yet I had the sense that if I just kept doing the job I had (or the promotions that would come after it), I would end up with regret, knowing that in some way I had not done what I came here to do. (I didn’t know clearly what that was, however.)

That night, one clear thought announced itself to me: Tara, you are being more loyal to your fears than to your dreams.

It was absolutely true.

That thought set me on a journey. I started working with a coach, who lovingly helped me unearth the dreams that had been waiting inside of me, buried or rationalized away.

I started investigating my own self-doubt, perfectionism and fear, the internal barriers I harbored as a woman wanting to share her voice, to contribute, to create – but who was never taught how in a world that doesn’t embrace women who speak up.

As I learned new tools and ideas from the worlds of psychology, coaching, and spirituality, and put them into practice, I changed, and my life changed.

I started writing again, reclaiming something that had always given me so much joy, but that fear and self-judgement had made impossible. I found my way to managing my inner critic so that I could put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard), write what I really had to say, and even press “publish,” sharing blog posts publicly. Huge change.

I started to recreate my home, my dress, and the way I spent my time to reflect what felt like a more authentic me.

And then, with the momentum of all those changes, I was ready for the bigger one. I admitted and accepted that the kind of work I wanted to do was in the realm of personal growth, spirituality, creativity – even though I could hear inside my head the scoffing and judgements I imagined would come from the cultures I was moving out of – traditional business, philanthropy, and prestigious academic institutions.

Slowly I shifted course. Slowly, I learned how to place my loyalty back on the side of my dreams. Yes, I brought everything I’d learned and become from those other milleus (business school, the philanthropy world, an Ivy League education) with me, with gratitude for the strengths and lessons they offered. But I used them to support my desired path, not stand in the way of it.

After getting an extensive training in coaching skills, I started working with coaching clients, and I was stunned by the phenomenon that I saw.

My clients were mostly women who wanted to do work they loved or who wanted to make a larger positive difference in some way.

They were so damn capable (like you) but they were holding back and dealing with nearly constant self-doubt (that they didn’t even know was self-doubt because it sounded like the truth in their heads!). They were getting stuck because they were trying to use the diligent, analytical forms of working that had served them well in their careers and in school. As I had learned for myself, those are absolutely the wrong tools for the task.

I felt a huge sense of responsibility to help these women get the changes they wanted in their lives – after all, they were coming to me and paying money for coaching, for results!

So I became dedicated to discovering what truly made a transformative difference in allowing my clients to play bigger in just the ways they wanted to. I took pieces – pieces of what had helped me learn to play bigger, pieces of what I saw working for them, and refined, wove together, sifted, learned more, and refined into the Playing Big model that I’ve now written and taught about for the past eight years.

What my clients needed was different from the usual coaching model and professional development toolkit, because there are unique challenges for women looking to create, speak up, and lead.

The Playing Big approach runs counter to the usual thinking on mentorship, confidence, fear, feedback, and communication – and is so distinctive it’s been featured in news media ranging from Harvard Business Review to goop to The New York Times.

In my own life, the results of using these tools are many, from regaining a creative and writing life that I love, to publishing a book, to serving on nonprofit boards for causes I’m passionate about, to speaking on stages that would have terrified me years ago. They’ve also changed how I feel in my life and work – more free in sharing my voice and my perspective, more improvisational and at ease creating and making things happen, so that I can make the difference I want to make, and, of course have a more fun and exciting life and career. Sure, I absolutely still have my playing big edges, but I also have tools that work to apply to them.

More than two thousand graduates of our Playing Big course have reported the amazing results in their own lives – from starting businesses, to shifting careers into work that excites them more, to negotiating for the job (or title, or pay) they want, to picking up beloved creative or other hobbies again that bring them alive.

Our next Playing Big online course is starting soon, and we’d love for you to join.

If you’ve already gotten started with the Playing Big book, fabulous! The course is a way to apply the learnings to your life in a paced, supported way. You’ll put the concepts into practice. You’ll have the opportunity for lots of discussion, coaching from me, and time to get your questions answered. And you’ll get a wealth of resources not included in the book.

A little more about the Playing Big program:

    •   It is based entirely on time-tested, proven tools that have been shown again and again to work.

    •   Our 12-module curriculum teaches you how to manage self-doubt and fear, how to communicate and negotiate with power, how to clarify your vision and access your own unfailing inner wisdom and much more, so that you can do the work you most want to do in the world – and get all the joy and fulfillment that comes with that.

    •   Warning! You may make some new friends or find some new collaborators in this course! Our discussion group, small group option, and community calls forge amazing connections of like-minded women all across the globe.

    •   The program is taught in a flexible way – so you can listen, watch, or read at your convenience, making it work with your busy schedule.

    •   You cannot fall behind. The program is structured so that you can plug into whatever module we are on (even if you missed one) and catch up on what you’ve missed when time allows.

    •   This is not a mass automated experience. In order for you to be supported, get your questions answered, and feel truly connected to our community, I am fully present with you every step of the course, in live course calls with teaching, coaching and Q&A.

Lastly, I’ll say this. We know that you don’t want to add more to your to do list or feel more striving or overwhelm in your life. You’ll be getting tools that help you play bigger not by doing more, or working harder, but rather by aligning your life with what you really want. You’ll be able to play bigger in a way that is not exhausting, but energizing. Turns out playing small is way more tiring than playing big – I promise.

What comes next is simply learning more. Please sign up if you’d like to receive details on the program curriculum, format and graduates’ experiences, so that you can discern if it’s right for you. We’ll send you further information right away.

Here’s to your playing bigger!

Love, Tara

Are you feeling the call to play bigger?

Quote from Kelly

Over the years, I’ve learned this: there comes a time in our lives when the life we’ve been living doesn’t quite fit anymore.

What felt fine before starts to feel constraining, or dull, or gray. We slowly come to realize that one chapter of our lives is ending – or has ended – and it’s going to be up to us to create the next chapter, or to discern what path is calling us.

Although these moments can be uncomfortable, they are incredible opportunities. That part of you that yearns for more authenticity, more impact, and an intensified desire to do what holds meaning for you? In these moments, that part is speaking louder, and you have the opportunity to listen.

If it’s one of those times for you, I want to invite you to join me for the upcoming Playing Big Course and sign up for our Early Information list. This is my pioneering class for women who want to play bigger in their work and in their lives. It happens online and by phone, so you can attend from anywhere around the world.

We are now entering our ninth year of making a global impact in teaching women to play much bigger.

I’m always honored by what people have to say about their experiences in the course. Here are a few examples:

“I have gained so much more out of Playing Big than I ever expected. I came in hoping that Playing Big would help me tap into my calling and provide some motivation and tools to pursue it. I did not expect the transformational power of this series. Tara’s tools and exercises get at the heart of playing bigger in a way that is sustainable and that I can keep going back to. I feel that I own my voice more confidently, that I’ve accessed the wisest part of myself, and that I’m showing up more authentically throughout my life. I have strongly recommended this course to all of my friends.” – Betty Chen, Director of Family Engagement at Summit Public Schools

“After attending the Playing Big course, I am much better at communicating from a place of strength. I mentor several colleagues. So often now, concepts we discussed in Playing Big jump out when I’m coaching these ladies. I’m glad I can share some ideas to help them play bigger in their careers. I feel much better about my abilities and contribution in the world. But most of all, I am happier about what I am doing.” – Meg, Finance Executive

I now have a vision that propels me forward every day. I know that my voice is needed and that I have a duty to play big in this life, to heal the world in the way I know best, no matter what my inner critic voices are telling me.” – Amanda Vella, Yoga Teacher and Writer

Our next session starts in mid-March.

If you are interested, all you need to do today is sign up HERE. This will put you on the list to receive details about the course, and give you access to our fabulous early bird discount. Sign up for our Playing Big Early Information list here.

With love & gratitude,