Guest Blogger Ann Zuccardy: 5 Habits of Smart Thinkers

Brain training sells.

Brain training claims to help you be more productive.  Think faster.  Improve your memory.

But is it worth the money to join one of those brain training websites that claim to promote intellectual fitness?

Some recent studies say no – these sites just make you better at playing the games on the sites and do little to promote your ability to solve problems or adapt to new challenges.

In my 2013 TEDx talk, I identified qualities that I believe make people smart.  A 2011 brain injury forced me to create compensatory strategies to use my brain in ways I had previously taken for granted.  It wasn’t until I began preparing my TEDx talks that I realized much of what I was learning was backed up by neuroscientific studies.

I have identified five habits of smart lifelong thinkers – the folks who stay sharp and productive until the day they die. I know these qualities won’t cure or slow down the ravages of many neurological diseases, but for the otherwise healthy, they re solid brain training habits that won’t cost you a dime.

  1. Smart thinkers frequently try new things.
    I’m not saying you have to learn Chinese or travel the world (though these things will improve your neuroplasticity). Try brushing your teeth using your non-dominant hand for a month. Learn techniques for memorizing lists. Try a dish you’ve never eaten before. Learn to play a new musical instrument. Walk around your house blindfolded for a day. Walk backwards. Teach someone else a skill you know well. All these suggestions exercise your brain by forcing your neurons to connect in ways they’re not used to.
  2. Smart thinkers think about thinking. This is known as metacognition. It means we become aware of our habits of perception and learning. Smart thinkers use this awareness to assess their effectiveness and approach and adapt their learning strategies according to the demands of new challenges.
  3. Smart thinkers try to figure it out. I’m not saying asking questions is a bad thing, but smart thinkers look for patterns, work on cracking the code, and read the manual before giving up on a task or asking for help. There is a happy medium between figuring it out for oneself and asking for help. When we figure it out using strategies we already know, we build confidence and seal it into memory more effectively.
  4. Smart thinkers laugh and play. Recently, I became a certified laughter yoga leader. Laughter yoga isn’t yoga the way we usually think about it.  It’s deep breathing and stretching combined with laughter.  Think it sounds a little “woo-woo” and nutty?  Think again.  Science shows us that our brains do not know the difference between manufactured and spontaneous laughter.  Both release endorphins and activate the limbic system.  Laughter and play positively affect empathy, creativity, and physical health.
  5. Smart thinkers eat omega-3 fatty acids. There’s a supplement out there for everything. It’s hard to know what to eat and what not to eat.  Omega-3 fatty acids, however, are backed by science as affecting brain health.  Your brain comprises about 3% of your body weight and yet it requires about 25-30% of the fuel you put into your body.  Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fishes like salmon and sardines.  They can also be found in flaxseed oil and some nuts and seeds.  You can also take a good omega-3 fatty acid supplement to improve brain and heart health.  Anything that’s good for your heart is also good for your brain.

There are many other habits of highly effective thinkers and there are many ways to work out your brain without breaking the bank.

Smarter thinkers are more productive, focused, and creative.  They know how to take care of their brains so their brains take care of them for many years.

annzuccardy-2015-cropABOUT ANN ZUCCARDY

A fall in a German bathtub in 2011 dramatically changed Ann Zuccardy’s life. 

Using the ingenuity she discovered after the brain injury she sustained in that fall, along with three decades as a corporate communicator, social media marketing expert, and teacher, Ann challenges conventional ideas about intelligence, self-care, and innovation. 

After her first TEDx talk in 2013, How a Brain Injury Made Me Smarter, Ann discovered a new passion and now speaks professionally on the impact of humor on our brains and resilience in the face of change. 

Additionally, Ann is a certified laughter yoga leader and works with businesses, non-profits, and schools to introduce the scientifically-proven benefits of laughter on productivity, innovation, and physical health. 

Ann splits her time between her home in Vermont and New York City.  She is working on her graduate degree in English and expects to graduate in 2018. When she’s not speaking, or studying, she enjoys photography, gardening, writing, traveling to little-known places, and spending time with her rescue dog, Jackson. 


For brain tips, follow Ann on Twitter @annzuccardy

For stress reducing laughter yoga training at your organization, contact Ann at

Guest Blogger Jay Mitiguy: What Does Lifestyle Design Mean to You?

For those that have read and buy into Tim Ferriss’ book The 4 Hour Work Week, that may mean literally working 4 hours or less per week, traveling the world, sitting on a beach, and checking items off your bucket list.

For others, maybe it means that they still work 40+ hours per week, but at a job they enjoy and get satisfaction out of daily; better known as work/life harmony.

And still for others, it could be a combination of things. Some people get fulfillment through varying periods of work and play, just from the sheer shift in focus.

The point being, that I believe lifestyle design has become this mythical, one size fits all, Nirvana that everyone is working to achieve. It’s important to remember though, that we as humans experience different things in life, and have unique perspectives and beliefs because of those experiences.

So let me ask again – what is lifestyle design TO YOU?

jay-blogRather than focusing on the end goal, we should concentrate on the concepts that lifestyle design teaches us, directly or indirectly. For me, building a life of my own choosing, is what it means. A prime example is how I’ve approached my real estate investments. Back in 2009 (when I graduated from college with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan and credit card debt), I began seriously considering my long term financial future, and realized that I didn’t want to be chained to a job for the rest of my adult life. At that point, I made a decision to find a way to start buying investment properties. After a year of re-igniting my passion for real estate, I created a plan to acquire my first rental property. A couple years passed as I was building my plan, paying down my debt, networking, and educating myself, but I ultimately ended up having the opportunity to build my own home, which was not in my original blueprints.

I am not only thankful for that opportunity, but realized that my “luck” was paying off and I was going to be able to leverage this into something more than my own home. I had built relationships with executives of a local bank during this time and I’d have instant equity in my new home to use via a Home Equity Line Of Credit. With that HELOC, I found a duplex in St. Albans that cash-flowed enough to meet my minimum criteria, and made an offer. We negotiated for a couple of weeks, and I ultimately bought the place. It now puts $300+/mo in my pocket after all expenses (real or anticipated) are paid. After 12 months or so, I had the property reappraised, and refinanced it to buy a second and even larger property with a partner. I’ve done this several times now, and what started out as a $1,500 out of pocket expense to an appraiser and doc fees to close on my personal home, has snowballed into 7 figures worth of real estate that I own/control.

That is the power of knowing what you want, educating yourself in a way so that you can achieve it, then executing the plan and making tweaks along the way. The road hasn’t always been smooth, but the journey is what matters most. It’s what teaches us and provides the opportunities for each of us to grow and improve.

Why is that little story so important? Because that journey among many others are what make me HAPPY and provide FULFILLMENT in my life, all while working towards a long term financial goal. Like most people in this world, I suffer from undiagnosed ADD. My mind is constantly switching gears, changing focus, and finding new things to enjoy, be passionate about, and indulge in. One day I may think that sitting on a beach in Tahiti is the ideal dream, and the next day I’m in tune with my charitable side and want to donate all my time and money to those in true need. But that is me and me alone. Each and every one of us is different; we have different wants, different needs, different desires, and different goals to achieve.

Lifestyle design should be about understanding exactly what it is that makes you happy and fulfilled, at each stage in your life. It’s not the end goal of sitting on a beach sipping cocktails surrounded by supermodels. It’s about understanding who you are, and finding ways to achieve your highest levels of success, in all facets of your life.

What is it that makes you happy and feeling fulfilled? Is it building businesses? Volunteering at the local animal shelter? Maybe it truly is sitting on a beach drinking cocktails. Whatever it is, understand it, and make decisions in your life to support your progress in reaching those goals. No matter how stuck you feel, nobody is holding a gun to your head and saying you don’t have the freedom to make those choices. And if by chance, you’re in a position where you feel like someone is, then change your position.

vermont photographer

Jay Mitiguy – President of Dowling’s, Inc. 

After graduating from UNC-Wilmington, Jay joined his family’s enterprise at the ground floor, ultimately working his way up to President of Dowling’s. In 2016, at the height of their business, he led them through an acquisition with the second largest national distributor, and has since reignited his passion for investing in and selling commercial real estate.

Jay has a burning desire to help people realize their dreams through commercial real estate and business brokering. He is a believer in lifelong learning and strives to give back to the community in ways that will empower the youth and underprivileged to chase their dreams! 

Read more from Jay on his new blog:


Guest Blogger Pat Kilner: Win at the Little Things and Massive Results Will Follow

What drives you? Is it fear of failure that gets you out of bed or the recognition that failure is an opportunity for growth?

Do you challenge yourself habitually, or do you honestly not want to take on “too much” in the way of challenges?

At what point does a challenge cause paralyzing fear for you?

In our incredibly comfortable culture (in the history of the world, no culture has enjoyed as much wealth as we do, here in the US) the lessons in life that afford us natural opportunities to build the muscles of intestinal fortitude and perseverance simply do not present themselves. We pay for trainers to “really kick our butts” realizing that we need to stretch ourselves as human beings. But no longer do we have to walk a few miles for water. No longer do we lay our hand to the plow. On the whole, our kids cannot even be found playing outside, developing the playing skills that would prepare them to persevere later in life.

Add to this lack of natural habituation of these virtues the ability to get anything we want almost immediately. Fast food, shoes arriving same-day, even the thrill of a car chase on our game console… without the possibility of enduring pain or even minor inconvenience, for that matter. We get all of the thrill without any of the sacrifice.

This is what we wanted, though, right? Less pain, more convenience, more control, less responsibility?

But what happens when we dream to achieve something that cannot be obtained immediately? We’ve trained ourselves to not wait for anything AND not built the fortitude to go make it happen. In facing down obstacles, we say to ourselves: “If I were talented, it would happen immediately for me. I guess I’m just not cut out for it.” or “She’s a natural, that’s why she does so well at that. Even if I worked at it I couldn’t do that.”

We have, in the words of Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D in her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, a fixed mindset.

Growth mindset people realize that failure is the process by which they grow. Fixed mindset people see failure as an affirmation of their lack of talent. We tend to believe that talented people are that way by nature. Most of these high performers would tell you that they have had to work incredibly hard to get to where they are, that their talents had to be nurtured, and that they began as very average or even low achievers.

Michael Jordan is a classic example of perseverance. Having been cut from his high school squad, he put in the hard work to become the greatest player of all time. He came into the NBA as a dunking showman and exited as the most complete player we may ever see. Other, more naturally talented players of the same era made excuses for their failings. Michael failed, then worked on his weaknesses.

What excuses are holding you back? What fixed mindset (some may also call these limiting beliefs) do you have that keeps you from being excellent or from even attempting something new? Who else are you holding back in your life through a fixed mindset?

The power to persevere – to grit through tough times – is the weapon of men and women who grow and ultimately change society.

What is the opportunity cost of not persevering daily, of not winning the battle to get out of bed, or to get to bed on time?

Or of not exercising?

Or of not planning your week?

Or of not making time to read?

Or of not allowing yourself to be coached?

Of checking your email when you need to stay focused?

Persevere and win at the little things, and massive results will appear.


pat-kilnerPatrick Kilner is the CEO of the Kilner Group, based in the DC Metro area. The Kilner Group has represented hundreds of buyers and sellers in a variety of real estate transactions in the past decade. Passionate about forming leaders through the vehicle of real estate, the Kilner Group has tripled in size in the past two years and has begun to expand operations and coaching of agents outside of their home base.  A graduate of the Catholic University of America in 2001 and earned his Master’s degree from the University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain in 2003. Patrick currently resides in Maryland with his wife, Elena, and their five children.


Guest Blogger Leigh Horton: Getting Outside of My Comfort Zone

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Leigh Horton. I was raised in Penn Yan, NY, the home of my childhood memories and the beginning chapters of my life story. Fast forward to the current chapter… I live in Georgia, VT with my husband Justin, and our three boys – Foster (15), Parker (13), and Oliver (9). So, what has filled my book so far? What has happened on the pages in between? I know my story page by page, but what would it be like if I had made different choices along the way, not crossed paths with those that mentored me, and perhaps, most importantly, not taken any risks and gotten outside of my comfort zone along the way?

leigh horton

You see, I was the kid growing-up that could never stay overnight at a friend’s house. You know, the one that had to call Mom in the middle of the night (from the home across the street) because she didn’t “feel well”.  The one that chose colleges to look at by which ones wanted me on their soccer team and weren’t too far from home…my comfort zone.  Looking back, I’m very grateful for how that chapter in my life panned out. If it hadn’t, I’m not so certain I would be where I am today.

So, when did I truly begin to break outside of my comfort zone?  I think I actually broke out of it while trying to stay in it. Remember, I was a homebody. So, when Mom and Dad told me they were moving, guess who decided they needed to change colleges to not be so far away from them? Yours truly. I was going into my junior year and if I wanted to continue playing soccer, I would need to tryout as a walk-on at my new college. Trying out as a walk-on wasn’t too bad, but when the head coach told me that I could be on the team but most likely sit the bench, that was a moment I’ll never forget. The kicker is (no pun intended), I was on a partial scholarship at Saint Bonaventure University (D1), and transferred to Plattsburgh State (D3), without a scholarship and told I might be riding the pine for the season… ouch! Sports had always been a part of my life (and not on the bench). So, for me to possibly see it end was crushing. If I didn’t have that, it almost felt like I would lose my identity.  A part of me would be missing if I didn’t play soccer at my new school. So, I called my Dad and recall him saying, “You should play. Why not? Why wouldn’t you want to go for it and give it your best, versus walk away from it?  Better to move forward knowing you gave it your all than gave-up.” So, that’s what I did. Despite my loss of pride and questioning if I was no longer a collegiate level player, I gave it my all and pushed myself beyond my comfort zone of play. Guess who was on the starting line-up by mid-season?

This was a milestone in my life.  Yes…it was just soccer, a short chapter in my book, but it did help set such an important mental foundation for me. It’s ok to get out of your comfort zone and push beyond what your perceived limits are. This is what brings change to your life and success and happiness that perhaps you once believed couldn’t ever happen to you or even better…never imagined!

I look back on the many positive changes in my life, personal and work, and many of them began with me leaving my comfort zone:

  • If I didn’t move away from home to VT, I wouldn’t have met Justin and had the experience of working as the Global Brand Marketing Manager for what became Bauer Nike Hockey for 10 years (with a move to NH).
  • If I didn’t leave Nike (a company and career I was very settled and comfortable in) so my husband could transition his career, and our 1st new home (that I absolutely loved), I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work as an Account Manager at an amazing VT design firm, JDK Design, for 10 years and raise our boys on beautiful Lake Champlain in the area where Justin grew up.
  • If I didn’t decide to leave JDK, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a Real Estate Agent which I honestly believe was foreshadowed very early in my work career.

where-the-magic-happensThese are milestones, substantial life changes, for me and my family that happened by taking leaps of faith and leaving my comfort zone. There has certainly been struggles strewn throughout the journey, but the success, joy, and fulfillment brought by them far outweighs any challenges and it has definitely been worth everything it has taken to achieve them.

I’m pretty happy where my book is going. I know there will be challenging chapters along with the exciting ones – which is a wonderful thing, as the challenges will continue to push me out of my comfort zone.  Which maybe…just wasn’t all that comfortable after all…

Leigh Horton is a Real Estate Agent at KW Vermont. To learn more about her journey or her real estate business, please email or call 802.233.3982.


Guest Blogger Kathy Holmes: Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People for Business & Personal Success

kathy holmesI feel both honored and privileged to be asked to contribute to the Herg Life blog. To put into mere words what this means to me, is a challenge in and of itself.

But that is one huge aspect of what the Herg Life is… to challenge yourself on a daily basis – whether it’s running up and down three flights of stairs to be in better shape, rather than take the elevator, or it’s still jumping fences on my horse when I’m in my 60’s.

I joined Adam Hergenrother’s world almost three years ago when I moved my real estate business to Keller Williams Vermont and I am still amazed by what it feels like to be surrounded by and supported by a group of like-minded thinkers and doers, people who “walk the talk” and set examples for the rest of us. Individuals who actually believe that I can do whatever I set my mind to. They challenge me to challenge myself and take the harder route or set a bigger goal. It is not always easy (usually it is not), but it is where I experience the most personal growth.

Why I Love the Herg Life:

  1. I am in a space where the people around me understand that your business and personal life are intertwined and not separate worlds. They understand that to be the best you can be in business, means you have to be at your best physically and mentally as well.
  2. I know that when I say things that the “main stream” thinks are weird, like, “Whatever you think you create,” or “Whatever you put your attention on expands,” I will be completely understood, supported, and encouraged.
  3. I am encouraged to take time out of the work day to meditate, not once, but twice, because it will make me mentally sharper and physically in a better space to handle the daily stresses that come from business.
  4. kathyI am challenged to ask myself the question, “What more can I do or give?” -whether it be to my fellow agents, the community or friends and family. Because of that, I recently began a conversation with the Boys and Girls Club to volunteer to read to young children – something that is very  much beyond my comfort zone, because I have to allocate time and travel to do this, but I know I would get more out of the giving of my time and myself.

I am so glad that Adam brought Keller Williams to our little state of Vermont and that it came at a time in my life when most people my age are winding down. The culture and environment at Keller Williams Vermont gives me the tools to create what I need for what’s next in my life… for a better quality of life than I ever dreamed possible.

Kathy Holmes, licensed since 1982, is CEO of The Holmes Team at KW Vermont. To learn more about her journey or her real estate business, please email