Fitness Champ & Self-Love Expert Lori Harder Explains How To Build Your Tribe, Find Bliss & Turn Your Struggle Into Success

She’s sharing the tools that helped her transfom from a bullied and anxious introvert into the successful woman she is today

Mar Yvette with Lori Harder

She’s a fitness cover model and world champion, TedX speaker, self-love expert and creator of the “Earn Your Happy” podcast that boasts more than one million listeners. And now Lori Harder is an author, too. Her book is called “A Tribe Called Bliss” and it was written especially for women to help us break through superficial friendships, create real connections and reach our highest potential.

I had the pleasure to visit Lori at her beautiful home in Santa Monica and talk about what it means to  work through your struggles (good news: you don’t have to do it alone!) in every area of life from weight loss and self-esteem to relationships and finances.

I’m gonna keep it real. People will look at you, I look at you, and think: Here’s this beautiful blonde woman, she’s got it going on, she’s got a new book coming out … what could you possibly know about struggle and insecurities and all of these things? Tell us a little about your story and what got you to writing this book called “A Tribe Called Bliss.”

I love that question because it still seems so weird for me to hear it. I grew up a kid who struggled with her weight. I grew up in a really small town, my whole family was overweight and honestly, I went on this mission because I was bullied about my weight and my religion.

What was your religion?

I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, so we were not allowed to associate with people who were outside of that religion. As a kid I always wanted to be active. I wanted to be a dancer, I wanted to be a performer.

But because I wasn’t allowed to go out and do those extracurriculars, basically I just stayed home and created this story in my head that I was better off alone. So that became my wall: I’m better off alone, that way I won’t get teased, that way I won’t get bullied.

And I also thought that if I lost weight and built this powerful, beautiful exterior then nobody could make fun of me again. So I spent the next 10-15 years thinking that if I just look a certain way no one could ever affect me again. So it went from that to literally bodybuilding, fitness competitions…

You became a cover model and fitness model.

I wanted to be strong, I wanted muscles, I wanted to look confident, I wanted to look unmessable with. So I basically went all through my 20s going through that. I went on my first diet at like eight years old, legitimately. I mean, my whole family was overweight, so what my sister was doing, what my mom was doing is what I was doing.

You learned by example.

Yes. Even though they were telling me that it was my genetics and that this was going to be my fate, I begged my mom for fitness magazines. I just wanted to learn, to not have this be my fate. So I started reading those and would just devour them from cover to cover. I would go to the library and print off pages from bodybuilding books and have stacks of them in my Trapper Keeper.

That was pre-Internet days. I had a Trapper Keeper, too!

Yes! It was ten cents a copy! Ten cents a copy!

But you were committed and that was your whole goal. It was the pain that propelled you.

Yes, it was the pain that drove me. In my mid-20s, I entered all these fitness competitions and after six years finally won a competition and then kept going on to market myself to get on covers. But what I was realizing was that all of my dreams were coming true and I still felt wildly unfulfilled.

At the time I had opened a gym because I thought it was my life’s purpose to help women not feel that pain ever again. I wanted to give them the tools to feel confident and build that body that they feel confident in. And in the middle of that journey, I was like, I can’t get results from these women if we don’t talk about their mindset and what it is that actually fuels them.

You focused on all the physical aspects and then you realized this wasn’t bringing you the kind of fulfillment you were hoping for or thought you would get, so does that bring us to now?

It brings us to now but there was a good year where you struggle with your identity. I was like, well, if I’m not this fitness person and I want to move into mindset or self-development, what does that look like? And people had only known me as fitness, so who is this fitness girl talking about spirituality and mindset and self-development? It’s the whole ‘who am I to talk about this?’ but I’m thinking if I don’t do this, nothing is going to change.

It’s that inner knowing that you get, that soul hit that you get. We either choose to listen and go with it or your mind immediately comes in and tries to cover it up. And mine did that many times.

I also had developed in my teen years severe panic attacks and anxiety. I think the fear and the bullying and also just the fear of never being good enough. The story I had made up about my religion was that I was guilty, I was shameful, I was not good enough.

A lot of us women deal with that.

Yes, and it doesn’t matter, religion or not, what story we make up about ourselves. Maybe [it’s what we saw or learned] from our parents or from our churches or from schools. For me, it just manifested in the form of panic attacks and anxiety whenever attention was put on me, even socially.

When I first met my husband and we would go to a bar and meet people, I had to have like a two-drink minimum to talk to people. My whole thing in the book is about tribe, but my whole thing is also that fear grows in isolation. Shame grows in isolation. All of these [negative] things grow in isolation.

Meaning when you’re just stuck with your own thoughts?

Yes, they just spiral down because one bad thought grabs onto the next bad thought grabs onto the next bad thought and you’re constantly building on whatever thought is in your mind. So until we get around people—elevated people, elevated thoughts, podcasts, elevated books, whatever that looks like for you—you can’t actually grasp that next thought and you think you’re the only one.

Let’s talk about “
A Tribe Called Bliss” and this whole idea of tribe, which is a word that is getting tossed around a lot lately. You’re saying to surround yourself with women who are going to encourage you to be your best self.

Number one, I think it’s the most important thing that we do because our environment is stronger than our will power. We become our environment. Why are we so worried about when our kids go to school if they’re hanging around Bobby or Susie or Mike? Because they bring those habits home.

That’s true. The bad influence. Or it could be a good influence. It can go either way.

Totally. You can look at it this way: You’re only going to go as far as the limiting beliefs of your friends.

That makes sense. If you have dreams and your friends are not on board, you feel embarrassed or fear that you’re going to fail or think oh, she’s right, I’m not going to be able to do it anyway.

It’s normal self-preservation for a human to want to keep you where they’re at. It’s very tribal, right? It’s like, you can’t leave the village. If you try to leave the village, we’re going to say that you will not be loved or you’re not welcome back or why are you acting that way?

The normal reaction, which really helps as you’re building a tribe or leaving a tribe, is to have compassion for those people. The way that we try to stop people from leaving us is to cause them pain. The quickest way to stop them is to cause them pain. To let them know you’re life is going to be painful after that or to say you’re never going to find anyone or…

It’s fear.

Yeah, it’s fear. Fear is always trying to stop you. And even if they love you, some people are like, why is my family doing this to me? Well, they have fear that you’re going to leave them behind, that you’re going to change, that it’s going to change the dynamic. And what is that going to say about their life if you come from that same family and you reach your dreams?

Well, it makes them feel inadequate. What you’re saying makes sense and I believe it but it’s also contrary to what we’ve been taught: You’re your own person and you have to do it all by yourself. And you’re saying no, it’s the power of the sisterhood, of the tribe.

There are really rare cases where people can make it on their own, but I think that if you look at their backstory, there are so many people on that journey. I think that your journey is accelerated when you’re with people.

If you think about it, I can go on this journey of helping women and putting on events and writing a book on my own or I could get so much input and be supported, have fun instead of feeling isolated and find women who are better at something than I am. It really alleviates so much of the challenge, the loneliness, the isolation and it actually accelerates everything.

When you go into a relationship saying I want to support you as much as I support my dreams and you make conversation around that and you create actual agreements, that’s what the book is all about. A lot of times we’re afraid of tribe or we’re afraid to enter into another relationship because we don’t have the verbal agreements, but there’s nothing that a conversation and setting boundaries could not fix.

So it’s really how to have the conversations and how to set the boundaries and all of the things that stop women from connecting from other women.

It also sounds like you have to leave yourself open, which means leaving yourself vulnerable, which means there’s a chance you’re going to experience some pain or somebody might hurt you.

I’ve talked to so many women and have done a lot of Facebook posts trying to research where we actually are in our female relationships right now. I went on this journey of building my tribe, so I can honestly tell you I have this insanely amazing tribe. But along the way I have experienced some incredible heartache.

At one point, I was so depressed. There were some women who did some things to me that were so painful that I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning because I felt so hopeless. We as human beings, especially women, can be really amazing manipulators.

We know exactly what could hurt someone and the book also talks about that. Like when we’re maliciously gossiping about someone, we’re playing with someone’s life. It’s not an OK thing to do. Even if you hate them or they did something to you, there are repercussions.

Right. It’s not just a thing, it’s a real person.

A real person who has a real backstory that you may not know. Maybe you did get treated like total crap, maybe something terrible did happen to you. But we don’t know what her husband did or her friend or what her real backstory is.

It’s about getting to that point where we all realize no matter what our differences are, we really are the same. We judge someone as “terrible” and that might make us feel better. Or you judge someone as “having it all” and it makes you feel bad about yourself. Either way you’re screwed.

Yes, totally. And we never allow ourselves the vulnerability or the discomfort to actually move through a conversation that would go, ‘Oh my God, I love you! I’m so glad we had a conversation because otherwise I would be missing out on you!’

It makes me want to cry when I think about what we’re missing out on when we prejudge a woman. I swear—God, Higher Power, whatever you believe in—has the most amazing sense of humor because I truly believe that our most beautiful blessings are hidden in people we would never expect. And it’s our job to go around and find these different hidden parts of our soul that are in other people.

One of my friends always says ‘Collect people.’ And it’s said in a positive way.

In other words, we can’t rely on one woman or one man or even a couple friends to fulfill us. We are so multifaceted, that for people to show up fully how they’re meant to show up in our lives, we need to have supporting characters as well as leading characters. Otherwise, it’s way too much pressure.

It’s OK to say this is my workout friend, this is my wine drinking friend, this is my writing friend, this is my yoga friend. Let them be who they are.

What is the one piece of advice or bit of wisdom that you’ve learned that can really help women?

The journey of even creating tribe or living a happy life is learning what your most authentic version of you looks like. And there’s not one authentic version of you—I think it’s changing every single day and it’s asking questions like, ‘What does my soul want to do today?’ ‘What does my soul want to wear today?’ ‘Where did I betray myself today?’ ‘What did I want to say that I didn’t say?’ ‘What did I want to do that I neglected today?’ ‘Who did I want to compliment but held back?’ ‘How can you show up more you at work?’ ‘Are you really funny but you’re not showing that?’

I believe our whole job is to be fully us and to give people permission to be fully them. To be walking permission. And the only way that we can be walking permission is to give ourselves permission.

But the thing is, we judge ourselves for being us! Sometimes I’ll be truly me in front of a woman and I’ll be like, ‘Why did I say that?’ or ‘Why did I wear this outfit?’ or ‘Am I making someone feel bad?’ and all I really want is to be friends. Practice being fully you every day.

When you do that, you’re not worrying so much. You’re really enjoying yourself.

It’s about enjoying the experience of being you. So who’s making you feel like the most you? Who’s making you feel the most free? What events are making you feel the most free? And when you’re that, you’re a magnet for other women who are also on that journey.

When everyone can show up as themselves and feel ‘free to be me,’ your personalities just dance together and you support each other. That’s when you can say stuff like, ‘Oh my God, you’re amazing at that! That’s a weakness for me, I would love to bring that into my life so I feel like it’s one of my strengths.’

Yessss! That’s the whole point of your book, “A Tribe Called Bliss.” Having that tribe and that togetherness is when you find your bliss; that’s the happiness.

Science is proving that the people who feel the happiest, the people who are the healthiest, the people who are living the longest, they all go back to one thing: They feel supported in their social circles and connected to others.

It speaks to the fact that we really are social creatures. At the same time, there’s that belief that if I can’t do it all by myself, I feel weak and think something must be wrong with me.

There’s a really great quote: You feel weak when you’re relying on your own strength. You feel all of your power when you realize you’re not supposed to rely just on you. It’s God, Buddha, Energy, your sisters, your tribe, your family… that’s why historically we are tribal.

You were meant to connect and use all of each other’s strengths in the village. We’re just a puzzle piece and we think we’re the whole puzzle and that’s why we’re all miserable!

It’s really about building your tribe.

We’re all on this women empowerment thing, but we have to remember to not just bond over drama. We have to bond over supporting each other. What do you want? What’s the highest vision for your life? What makes you happiest? What makes you feel good and how can I support that? It’s creating deep connections not only over dramatic things in your life but over the really good things.

Get Lori Harder’s book A Tribe Called Bliss and let us know how you’re creating your own tribe!

Written by Mar Yvette

Mar Yvette is an on-air host, lifestyle expert, writer and editor with 10+ years of experience working with some of the world’s most recognized media companies.