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Why fitness pioneer Tracy Anderson commits to this creative leadership challenge each week

When fitness pioneer Tracy Anderson was in her early twenties, her brother gave her the book Zen and the Brain by Dr. James Austin. Anderson was so captivated by the mind-body connection that she hired a tutor to better understand his teachings. This was the beginning of a nine-year (and counting) research journey centered on a study with over 150 women, to learn how to create balance in the body. 

When I asked about her singular ability to evolve her approach, Anderson pulled Dr. Austin’s book off the shelf, which she turned to again while creating her latest innovation, HeartStone. Anderson describes the weighted energy trainers that accompany movement and meditation sequences as energy training, which I was invited to experience on the app.

HeartStone is one of many first-of-its-kind creations that Anderson has pioneered over the last 25 years of her renowned Method, of which she is both creator and CEO. Now with a library of over 200,000 moves, how does she keep innovating? 

“I could give you the short answer: I change the content every week so you tap into muscle confusion. That’s the sales pitch of it all. It is vortexes deeper than that,” she says. “Everything is very intentional to make you more connected to yourself, because there are all kinds of choices you have to make. You have to play the entire body like Mozart’s entire concerto depends on it. Every note, inflection, and instrument you choose—every single thing has an effect on your body.”

This unwavering attention to detail and commitment to her mission is the throughline of Anderson’s journey. In our conversation, she shares the creative challenge she commits to every week, the mission statement that keeps her evolving, and the imperative of defining your character as a leader. 

[Photo: Courtesy Tracy Anderson Method]

Fast Company: You approach your work as a leader and creative with a similar lens as you do health—by seeking to balance the imbalances—and shared that when things are balanced, it’s safe to create. Yet, you’ve intentionally held yourself accountable to create three entirely new sequences [and now up to seven] every week for years. Given the inevitable imbalances of leading a business, how do you create when things aren’t balanced? 

Tracy Anderson: That’s where team members share their superpowers, patience, and support with me and remind me of how many people’s lives have been improved by what we do. I’ve had Steven [Beltrani, President of Tracy Anderson Method] pick me up off the ground before. I had Maria [Kelling, Chief Talent Officer] and Stacey [McDermott-Browne, Director of Client Results] film Metamorphosis for me when I got pregnant with Penny. 

Creative people are very personal people and can really be in their feelings. When you’re like that, sometimes the most difficult times tend to be your most creative times, because it’s this survivor—the creative self is the one that will fight not to die the most.

I do have those moments where I think: Am I not going to be able to create anymore? Lately, I’ve had to have a real introspective conversation with myself because I have harmony in my life. I had to be like—How am I going to create from this harmonious place?—because most of my career I was creating from a place of self-advocacy or healing my own self.

That’s when I started doing these calls with the people who move with me. They last seven hours. Those calls have been the most motivating thing for me in the past year, in terms of me researching and creating more and to what end. I’m so lucky that so many people have been with me on their personal journeys for over a decade. When those people speak to me, I want to do better and better with all of the knowledge I’ve acquired by staying so focused on this. 

Reflecting on your body of work, how do you think the discipline of creativity inspires more of it?  

I think that the words discipline and creativity don’t belong together. For me, my creative self doesn’t want to hear the word discipline. My creative self is my ability to be in myself authentically; My ability to hear that deep voice that has been through its journey of life and to really listen to its call. And, to hear it, I can’t be around people. If I feel anyone’s energy going—Can you get this done? We need this routine.— my creativity goes: See you later. I think the creative mind has the best chance of saving our humanity, and the creative mind is not easily manipulated. A lot of people don’t think they’re creative. I believe creativity is something we were all given. It’s one of our most important built in attributes. 

[Photo: Courtesy Tracy Anderson Method]

How do you protect that [time] with your responsibilities as CEO?

My desire to create is what the whole business runs on and my unwillingness to create [to] what an audience wants is also what the business runs on. The thing people are missing is that it’s hard to be creative. People are so uncomfortable with the exploration process you need to go on to be creative that they’re settling for shallow creativity; It’s not giving creativity the time and exploration it needs to be a work that is aligned with all of your potential. Each week, when I create a sequence, I know if I’m creating something that is safe and good enough versus something I’m really proud of. I’ve been challenging myself to only publish something I’m really proud of; That is a tough cycle to be in with yourself. There’s so much noise coming at us that to really explore your authentic mind to be creative is hard, but I’m always the most proud of myself when I go there.  

In the beginning of one of your HeartStone sessions, you discuss embodying curiosity and “letting go of our preprogrammed predictions.” What helps you cultivate a flexible mindset and change your mind, especially when things are ingrained? 

I am not a fixed person. I would never have been able to do what I do if I was fixed. I’m very open. I create things that are very difficult to understand and explain. I had a young girl, who started with me at 16, ask me last night [on an Online Studio call]: How do we love ourselves and the way we look with all of this imagery of what is beautiful? My answer was long, but my point was that in this world of desire for immediate results—immediately looking and feeling different—everyone’s still going to vanity: If  only I could look like that, then I’m going to be comfortable.

So, with HeartStone, I’m like: People need to feel better fast. I decided to [use] grounding because so many people have high anxiety today and there’s a lot of research on quickly getting into your nervous system in that way, which is why the HeartStone has all that weight in one spot. If I can get people out of their train of thought with a small meditation, I knew I’d have to speak to them to do that. There are physical benefits too; I can improve arms, core, spine, and nervous system activity. But, the mental benefits of allowing someone to be with themselves and quiet that narrative, the opportunities there are huge, but it feels weird at first. 

In the Generation issue of your magazine, you highlighted William James’ quote: “The great use of our life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” If you had to articulate how you hope your Method outlasts you in a single sentence, what would it be? 

As a woman who committed to her life’s work very young, I find it the most offensive that the world doesn’t acknowledge the greatest creative minds until they’re dead. When it’s a woman too, it’s much easier for people to be like: She trained celebrities. She couldn’t have a mind like a primal scientist. She must be a fitness Barbie doll, right? That’s where they put me. I really hope that at some point I get strung together with pilates, yoga, Tracy Anderson. It needs to be its own lane, and to be honored as such, because that’s what it is.

If people understood the mountains I’ve had to climb to have my expertise, how much of my creativity it takes to do what I do, and how ethically I go about it, I think they would have more respect for giving me that acknowledgment. Or, at least saying: She birthed this entire genre of movement. Now, so many people are emulating it and saying they came up with methods overnight. I really hope I get credit for everything I’ve created. 

You often emphasize the role that ‘processing life through our bodies’ plays in how we show up, even leading to changes in our amygdala (where our emotions are processed in our brain). How does the combination of these insights influence how we show up at work and practice aligned action? 

I think it’s huge. One of the things I love about what I do, and why I think my business has lasted, is that I’m always looking ahead. I have strong core values that I’ve worked on developing over time. Most of us don’t come out of our childhood homes with these epic core values that we’ve found for ourselves. You have to find and grow your own character. And, you have to be okay falling on your face and correcting your character along the way.

Alignment in business and with your teams takes maturity, wisdom, and realizing that not everyone is going to cross [the] finish line with you. A lot of people, if you keep them on your team, will actually keep you from ever crossing it. So, making sure that the reasons why you’re doing things match your core values and the truth of why you do what you do. Those things have to matter.

It’s about the constant check-in of creating balance where there’s imbalance—That became my mission statement years ago because I’ll never achieve it. It will always keep me improving because you can never say: It’s all balanced. But, if you train yourself to see where it’s imbalanced and focus on correcting each imbalance, then at the end of the day, you didn’t waste your day. You will be able to do something significant.

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