Live on purpose: Birr shares inspirational ‘After Thoughts’ message

Jane Birr, After ThoughtsBy the conclusion of Jane Birr’s After Thoughts talk April 1, the audience was on its feet.

Not because Birr was receiving a standing ovation (though she did earn some thunderous applause), but because she was illustrating the power of starting a journey toward a better tomorrow — and demonstrating just how contagious change for the better can be.

What if this table decided to make a change, starting now? Birr asked a full house in the Grand Foyer at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. And what if the tables adjacent decided to do likewise, and the tables next to those.

The impact, it was clear, would be powerful.

For Birr, a life coach and UW-Green Bay associate lecturer, the audience was new, but the message was not. In presenting “Hall of Fame Habits: Bridging the Gap from Frustrated to Fit and Free,” Birr shared a goal-setting strategy that has helped more than 1,000 UW-Green Bay students, as well as countless others, pursue their dreams. Whether getting in shape, climbing a mountain or swimming with sharks, Birr encouraged audience members to “live on purpose” and pursue their passions.

“Get to the heart of the matter,” said Birr, also a UW-Green Bay alumna and former Phoenix basketball player. “What are you passionate about? Hopefully we can wake that up in you.”

To do so, Birr recommends her 12-week goal-setting system, designed to help people pursue a happier, fitter, more energetic life. When it comes to getting in shape, Birr said, the stats are dire — only three in 10 people are at a healthy weight, only two in 10 get as much aerobic exercise as they should, and fully half of individuals are sleep-deprived. Birr’s message? Change can be tough, but “we’ve got to get it over with, get in there and do it.”

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– Photos by Veronica Wierer, photography intern, Office of Marketing and University Communication

In addition to eating better, exercising and sleeping more and focusing on one’s goals, Birr also encourages her students — and encouraged audience members — to focus on their mental and emotional journey. That includes ditching the complaints (in one eye-opening exercise, students write down everything they complain about in a day), nixing the words “I’ll try” (“Does my husband care if I try to be faithful to him?” she asked, to laughs) and surrounding oneself with positive people (past professors and her former coach make the list).

Toward the end of her presentation, Birr introduced Jenni Ulrich, a 2013 UW-Green Bay alumna and one of Birr’s former students. Using the goal-setting plan, Ulrich, who’s been in a wheelchair her entire adult life due to cerebral palsy and spina bifida, set a series of progressively more daunting goals: Obtain an expensive stand-up wheelchair. Climb the climbing wall at the Kress Events Center. And last spring, one of the biggest goals of all — walk across the stage to receive her diploma. Ulrich did it (touching video of the moment is available here), bringing a packed Kress Events Center to its feet as she achieved what was once thought impossible.

And still, Ulrich wasn’t done. She’s continued to toil to get stronger, and last week called Birr to tell her she had a surprise. They met at the YMCA, and Ulrich took more steps (and easier steps) than Birr had ever seen, thanks to a new walker and her continued hard work. Birr captured the moment on video, and can be heard remarking on Ulrich’s amazing progress as her former student shows how far she’s come.

And while Birr acknowledged she’s had her tough days and plateaus, living on purpose, setting goals and working the system to achieve them has brought her joy, she said.  And she wants others to do the same.

Everyone present, in fact.

More information on UW-Green Bay’s ‘After Thoughts’ program can be found online and on Facebook.

For more about Birr, visit her website, www.janebirr.com.