8 Questions About Living an Authentic Life With Emmy-Award Winning Filmmaker Dana Michelle Cook

Recently, I interviewed Emmy-award winning filmmaker Dana Michelle Cook for my podcast “The Elements of Being." Here are her eight thought-provoking answers to my questions about how she aligned her life with her purpose. Take a read…It may inspire you to pivot the direction of your career or personal life (no matter how old you are or where you live).

Were you always running around with a video camera as a child?

Dana M. Cook: I did! My parents had a video camera, and I would recruit all of my friends to make skits. I would write a script…a skit for us-like lifestyles of the rich and famous….or play teacher and student and then record. Anything from long storylines to little blips. I'd recruit my aunt to pretend like she was evicting us. I don't even know where I got these ideas. I felt like I had a wild imagination and I loved filming. I loved it. I loved telling stories through film. When I was in college, I thought, “Well, I live in LA, the opportunities are sort of endless-Maybe I DO want to get into film and television!”

What do you think about the stories often portrayed in the media?

Dana M. Cook: I now understand that there is so much power in the platform and the story that you're telling….and how easily that story can be seen in a thousand different perspectives. When I worked for Fox News, the reporters were going out to tell the stories, and I was there to support them. The story was being told through their eyes. I remember going into the edit bay at Fox and seeing the story that was being cut…and it was SO different than the story I would have told. It was a moment where I thought, “Wow, as a storyteller you have to take responsibility in what you're creating because that is going out into the world!”

Did any mentors guide you through your career? What led you in this career direction?

Dana M. Cook: I can't say that I had mentors early in my life. When I became a producer, though, I had a bunch of mentors. I think what led me to that moment was curiosity. I feel curiosity is the root of finding your purpose. I think we can stand in our own way because of fear of failing or looking stupid. For me, it was just curiosity and having an open mind….knowing that if my eyes are open to the world around me, there are answers. I also think that--like a very Oprah moment right now--it sort of comes to you like a whisper…having the recognition “Oh, this feels really good.” When I imagined myself working on a set with people as a producer, I asked myself “What does this feel like in my body? Does it feel good or bad?” I found myself really drawn to the idea of doing THIS, and I think it's really aligned with who I am in my core. That's not me trying to be someone else….It's who I feel I am.

Do you think this curiosity has just always been like you said, a part of you? Or is this something that has been fostered over time?

Dana M. Cook: I think it's always been a part of me. It might be a result of being raised in a household with parents that have always been encouraging, though. I'm an only child-I had a lot of that attention, love, and encouragement to go out and pursue what made me happy. I thank my parents for that…I know a lot of situations that don’t have THAT kind of encouragement. We never worried financially. Both of my parents had blue-collar jobs, though. My dad is a mailman, and my mom worked for the phone company. We didn’t come from a very rich existence, but we were always comfortable. Because we were comfortable, I didn't have to take a bunch of jobs growing up to help my family, and I think that created space for me to be curious.

How do you reflect on your experience producing the reality television show “Strange Addictions”?

Dana M. Cook: Well… kind of soul search a little bit-especially when you're working on shows like this, and you're around people that feel broken. You sort of take the responsibility on and say, “What's my role here? What am I doing? How am I creating good in a bad situation?” That show was really exploitative to people even though they signed up for it. The guests responded to a casting call, and they said yes every step of the way. At the end of the day, we were creating a story…and exploiting THEIR story (and that episode lives on and on and on and on). I think it's on Hulu or Netflix right now. I know it became a challenge for some of the people profiled as they moved on in life. Many asked, "Is there a way to take this off the air? I just went in for a job interview, and the person recognized me for eating toilet paper.” Even though they signed up for it…it was becoming a barrier as they moved on in life.

That was an internal conflict for you (and I witnessed some part of that). Can you share some of the things that were happening at that time when you switched directions?

Dana M. Cook: Well, here we are at my first documentaries, "Girls On The Run" and "The Empowerment Project." Up to that point, I felt like I was working on content that I wasn't proud of. You should take responsibility for the work that you're putting out into the world. If you have control over what you're creating as a content creator, you need to understand morally how you're looped into that. The things that I was working on did not reflect who I was, and I only had so much control over how something was cut together in the edit bay.

At that time, I was overseeing projects that were being screened to 190 million people on Netflix, including "Toddlers in Tiaras"-which was not uplifting. Maybe somebody would think that that is, but to me it wasn't. It just wasn't who I was. It was a very dark time in my life, but also a very interesting time to say, “What is the voice in my head saying?” And it was saying, “This path doesn't serve you.” Telling stories like this….they don't serve you…and they're not serving the world. If you look at it in a meta-way, I care too much about humanity to continue doing this.

How long did this mental narrative take place?

Dana M. Cook: It was years…It was years. I would say that for two years I was constantly checking in with myself. I'm on shoots…flying all over the country…looking in the mirror and saying, “This doesn't feel right. This doesn't feel right. This feels terrible.” I felt that the way I was taking care of myself was sort of in the wind. I was always on a plane and working with people who were having a nervous breakdown in front of me. Week after week, after week, after week. It was a combination of these things.

So I decided to leave. There was a moment when I said, “Okay, this is it.” I was working on "Toddlers in Tiaras" and witnessing a little girl in a dressing room having an out-of-body experience. I'm filming a five-year-old getting a fake mouthpiece shoved in her mouth, and then she walks around a stage full of glitz (as they called it)…parading around a room full of old men. The whole thing was awful. And then, of course, working on 26 episodes of "My Strange Addiction" and just watching people suffer.

At the time I was also working with my friend, Sarah Marshman. We met through a teen filmmaking program. That was another project that I worked on that was so amazing in Chicago. The company name was Dreaming Tree Films. Sarah had also been working in reality TV and was burning out. She mentioned an idea to take a road trip with female filmmakers (there aren't a lot of us in the industry…It's a male-dominated industry) and wanted to interview women in different careers. I thought, “That's incredible. Let's do it.”

That was the first documentary that I'd ever been a part of creating. I don't know if I ever saw myself as a documentary filmmaker. I don't know if I had it on my vision board as a dream. I just knew that I loved telling stories. But for Sarah, she always wanted to do that. I thought that's sort of interesting…to know your entire life what you want to do and to achieve that. My path has been very different, but to arrive at this space is sort of a testament that there is no right or wrong way to do life. If you end up listening to the voices….where you're meant to be…you're going to be there.

Do most people ignore the internal voice that screams, “I need change”?

Dana M. Cook: I think you have to be driven to a breaking point. Often, when people make a big life decision of walking away from a career that isn't serving them it's because they've hit rock bottom. You might've been thinking about it for a very long time-to leave your job…to leave that person….to leave an abusive relationship…whatever it is, it takes time. It takes time to wear you down. You would hope that isn't the case. We hear about entrepreneurs that quit their job and walk out the door to pursue something new. It feels like it happens in a moment for them, but we know it isn’t always the case.

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness
8 Questions About Living an Authentic Life With Emmy-Award Winning Filmmaker Dana Michelle Cook
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.

Want to listen to the unedited full version of the interview with Dana Michelle Cook or other past guests? Find them on Apple, Spotify, Overcast, Castbox, Stitcher, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can also find it in our podcast section.


“10 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Think About Starting A Diet" Review

Although most of my personal training clients look past this type of article, it provides the real answer to sustainable weight loss. If you’ve been jumping from diet to diet or struggling with losing weight, maybe it’s time to open yourself to the real reasons why. I’ve carved out the top 5 reasons from the MSN article “10 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Think About Starting A Diet.”


Black-and-white thinking is probably the most common mistake I see among people who struggle with their weight. This mindset creates an all-or-nothing cycle that pushes you toward failure as soon as one single thing goes wrong. You step on the scale after a particularly austere week of sticking to your plan and discover you didn't lose an ounce—"That's it, I just can't lose any weight." But you can.

Black-and-white thinking is the mindset of habitual dieters because they constantly see themselves as being either on a diet—restricting themselves from foods they love—or off the diet—eating "forbidden foods" with relish. When you think in black and white, you get angry and tell yourself you screwed up royally (again). You're deflated and beating yourself up. You see losing weight as an impossible task and may even abandon your plan right then and there. You end up wallowing away the rest of the day with your head in the refrigerator and worrying what you're going to see when you find the nerve to step on the scale.

People who live in black-and-white thinking fail to consider that there are choices between all or nothing. They have a difficult time getting back on track when deviation happens. They view their day as ruined instead of accepting that one decision was just one mistake and it's time to forget about it and move forward. When repeated over time, this kind of thinking creates a consistent barrier to success.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: My all-or-nothing personal training clients always achieve the highest levels of weight loss success in the shortest amount of time….and eventually gain the weight back every time. Unfortunately, black-and-white thinking overlooks what’s emotionally, mentally, and physically best for you. With this being said, a non-adaptable drastic change will only lead to short term results.


People with this mindset see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. It's the continuation of black-and-white thinking—a small misstep is turned into a blown-out-of-proportion event.

"Not only did I order the wrong thing," you tell yourself, "but it happens every single time I go out for breakfast. What's wrong with me? Eating out is just not possible for me." You work yourself into such a tizzy over it, you start to question your self-worth: "I'll never get to where I want to be." You abandon your diet, thinking, "What's the point?" until the next time you muster up the courage to start dieting again. Overgeneralization is a sure way to mentally talk yourself into failure.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Quit being so dramatic! It isn’t entirely your fault though. You’re surrounded by negativity in the news, film, and family parties, and it rubs off on you. It’s no wonder every little thing that goes wrong seems to compound on itself! If you really break down the stream of life (and your thoughts), you’ll see that more things end up better than worse (we just tend to overlook these little successes). Accept the imperfections of life and be mindful of your emotional reaction to the small challenges along the way. All of us make mistakes. Accept that and continue to identify these patterns before they become more destructive.


You've lost 15 pounds, and people are noticing. Your officemates are smothering you with compliments: "You look great!" "That new outfit really shows off your slimmer figure." Then you meet your mother for lunch, and she says, "You're looking tired. I thought you were working on losing weight and improving your health. How's that going?"

Forget the 20 compliments you heard that morning. All you can think about is the fact that your mother hasn't noticed what the people in your office are seeing. This is mental filtering. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, to the point where it darkens your vision of reality. You mope through lunch, all the while feeling self-conscious about the way you look. Your mind is not on the compliments or your lunch. It's on your weight, as you mindlessly eat your way through the breadbasket.

In reality, perhaps your mother really did think you looked tired because she's worried that you're working too hard and not getting enough sleep. Maybe she didn't notice your weight loss because she's concerned about the strained look on your face. On the outside chance she ignored your improved figure out of a little jealousy, one left-out compliment should not negate the multitude of encouragement you heard all morning.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: It’s easy to obsess over any criticism in your efforts (or obsession) to be perfect. If you find yourself emotionally reacting to a comment, ask the person to clarify (to understand his or her intent) and/or personally write a list of reasons why the statement is untrue.


Let's get back to those compliments from your coworkers. When you disqualify the positive, it means you're just not buying it. You think what your coworkers are telling you is not really true—they are just saying it to be nice. You think, "I'm still overweight, and they know it."

Some people who are overweight have such a poor self-image that they can't see themselves in anything but the negative. If you struggle with your self-worth, this cognitive distortion could be a major contributor to your negative thinking pattern. You may have trouble viewing yourself in anything but a negative vision, so when someone does pay you a compliment, you immediately dismiss it as untrue. You discount positive experiences by telling yourself that they "don't count." You put yourself in a mind rut so deep you live in a negative shadow that is contradictory to your everyday experiences. When people feel bad about themselves, they make bad food choices.

Personal Trainer Wisdom: My personal training clients, as well as myself, have been guilty of these disqualifying reactions. I flipped the switch by celebrating every positive response with genuine appreciation. I wouldn’t be truthful if I said it was easy at first. Ultimately, you need to reinforce positive messages WITHIN you before you accept positive messages OUTSIDE of you. Surround yourself with brainwashing quotes on your mirror, phone, and wall to reinforce a new, open mindset.


An attractively dressed woman stares at you at the grocery store, and you think, "Why is she looking at me that way? I must look horrible." That's jumping to a conclusion. This mindset constantly interprets every experience as a negative without any evidence to support the conclusion. There are no facts, no fact-checking. You constantly make assumptions about yourself: "She's staring at me because she thinks I'm a slob," even if it's more likely that she's staring at you because she thinks she recognizes you from somewhere and can't put her finger on it.

People who jump to conclusions don't see themselves as others see them. They think others see them as they see themselves—and for those lacking confidence about their appearance, it is not in a flattering way.

When you're in this mindset, you can jump to conclusions about anything, without any evidence whatsoever—"Why is he staring at my double chin while he's talking to me?" when he's actually looking you in the eye. Worse yet, you tend to play fortune teller, anticipating that something or an event will turn out badly, thereby helping to make it a foregone conclusion: "I just know I'm going to eat too much and all the wrong stuff at the party tonight."

Personal Trainer Wisdom: Be aware of your mindset and the underlying influences on your behavior and perspective. Are you looking for the worst or negative in people and your environment? What negative filter are you viewing the world? Is it self-imposed? Although personal trainers will sell the physical side, the real change for sustainable weight loss is a result of your emotional and mental rewiring efforts. It’s time to change your mind and redefine your interaction with the world and the way you perceive yourself.

Photo Credit:–What messages are you hearing while trying to lose weight?

Article Credit:

Author: Michael Moody Fitness with excerpt sourced from the article "10 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Think About Starting A Diet" on (Prevention).
"10 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Think About Starting A Diet" Review
Learn how to lose weight from a personal trainer in Chicago.