Living Unlocked With NBA Mindfulness Coach George Mumford
You have the potential to embrace your greatness, find the flow, and discover success. All you need is a proven strategy that works for you to unleash your innate strengths to avoid burnout and discover success. In this episode, George Mumford, the Author of The Mindful Athlete, offers his proven strategy to guide us on the path to harnessing our strength and getting Unlocked. The ever-changing place can be quite scary because of the “unknowns” of it, so George urges everyone to embrace it because, like a butterfly, we are bound to feel the “uncomfortable” to transform ourselves into greatness. Approaching our curiosity with interest and wonder allows us to move forward no matter the roadblock. Gobble up insights from this transformational episode with George Mumford today.
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Living Unlocked With NBA Mindfulness Coach George Mumford
Embrace Your Greatness, Find The Flow And Discover Success
As I reflect on the different conversations I have had on this show over time, I can see that for so many people, hard-won life experience has been the teacher that has allowed them to guide others. You know how it works. We live something powerful and it changes us in ways that allow us to see what we could not see before.
My guest now is no exception. George Mumford is an incredible human and someone who has traversed this life from darkness into light. He’s a globally recognized speaker, teacher, and coach. Since 1989, he has been honing his performance and mindfulness techniques in all domains, from sports to business, and even the prison system.
Michael Jordan credits George with transforming his on-court leadership, which is an amazing statement, but he has worked with so many other greats like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, countless other NBA players, Olympian executives, and even artists. His first book was called The Mindful Athlete. It’s a memoir and instruction guide to accessing your inner masterpiece.
George believes we are all masterpieces, and it’s a matter of remembering that and bringing our power and potential to the forefront. His new book is called Unlocked. It was published in May of 2023, and we will talk about that book in our conversation. He will also tell his story of how an injury in college forced him out of basketball and into addiction to pain medication and then other drugs.
With the help of meditation and mindfulness, he got clean and made it his mission to teach and work with others. George talks about the divine spark within. He lives his mission with passion and generosity as he works to help us step into the power within and embrace the freedom of being unlocked. Without any further delay, I hope you will enjoy the conversation with the very amazing George Mumford.
I want to begin with so much gratitude, George, for you taking the time to have this conversation. I was aware of you for many years, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2022 at the Summit Conference that I saw you live and in action. I was like, “This man needs to come to the show.” Since that time, you have been so generous with your time and your wisdom and shared so much of yourself. Thank you for doing that. I appreciate it.
You are welcome. It’s a natural thing. It’s not something that I have to do. It’s natural to respond to kindness and compassion, but also my intention is to let people have more access than the ones that have it. I want to help everybody.
I believe you are doing that, and we are going to get into a lot of that in the conversation. There is an energy about the book and the way you write and speak that is about helping. One of the topics I had was more about the end, but you talk a lot about abiding and love, and it took a while in the business domain for anyone to even use the word love because it seemed out of place. It is that energy of love saying, “I want to uplift, serve, help, and guide the collective good.” You live that. It’s awesome. Thank you again, George.
You are welcome.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Let’s go back in the time machine to the early days of George Mumford. I always start the show with this question of an origin story because it’s so fascinating how the situations that happened to us in our lives lead us somewhere very particular, perhaps a largely guided divine plan. Can you share with us a little bit about your origin story and how you got to do what you are doing now?
Going back to when I was young, I was always sensitive, more like an empath. I could feel people’s feelings. There was something about when somebody in the neighborhood moved, I felt very sad. If I saw what we call street people now, like a wino or somebody on the street, I had this compassion for them. I felt sorry for them. I had those feelings as a young man and didn’t know what to do with them. When you are a young man, and you are talking about sensitivity and things, people are going to tell you to man up or stop being so sensitive.
When I acted out and shared with people, it felt like I got beat up or silenced or whatever, so then I went inside. When I started playing sports and going to school and whatnot, I was always a perfectionist. In elementary school, I’d be the first one to finish. It wasn’t accurate. I wanted that acceptance and approval from the teachers and others outside.
Fast forward, I found sports. I started playing basketball. I don’t remember struggling. Most people were playing years before I did. When I started playing, I just knew how to dribble. It came easy for me. I was very good physically because I’m kinesthetic and I can move my body. The origin story is I got into basketball and I went to college. I was going to be a walk-on, and I was rooming with Dr. J, and I got injured.
I always was injury prone. That’s one of the things I was in practice every year in high school for one reason or another. I had problems because of the emotions in the house growing up in a dysfunctional home. I had a lot of stomach problems, and I know now that it was stress, but back then, I didn’t know that. Anyway, I got injured, and then I got addicted to pain meds. I was a functional substance abuser. I got used to drugs and alcohol.
Fast forward to April 1st, 1984, my friend Danny came by and took me to a meeting. That was my introduction to the 12-Step recovery. It was another three months before I got into the detox. I remember walking into the detox and saying to myself, “Do you know if the same George that goes in there comes out, we got a problem.”
I got into this stuff, and when I got clean, I was new, so everything was new. I saw my street in a new and fresh way as if I’d never seen it before. Something shifted, or I behaved my way in proper thinking because my thinking kept me clean and sober. I got into it. I realized I had chronic pain, so then I had to go and learn how to manage that. That’s how I got into this idea of lifestyle change in terms of me taking responsibility for my healthcare. Not going to a professional and having to give me a pill to cut something out. I had to be participating in my life and my healthcare.
I started learning about the mind and body being connected. I was fascinated with it, and helped me not only to get clean, but at some point, I wanted to teach it because two of the principles that I learned from the 12-Step is that if you want to keep something, you have to give it away. If you want to learn something, you have to teach.If you want to keep something, you have to give it away. If you want to learn something, you have to teach. Click To Tweet
I got into that, and then I was teaching part-time and being a financial analyst full-time, and then at some point I quit. I got into it that way. I found myself living at a meditation center for six years, doing a lot of long-term retreats, and also continuing to read books and whatnot. During that time, I read a book a week, sometimes more. I had this thirst and hunger.
That’s one of the things I recognized in recovery that was profound was I gave myself permission to read something until I understood it before I would read it once, and that was it. I had this need to be intellectually stimulated. There was something about wanting to use my mind and wanting to understand, “How did I do this when so many others don’t?” What motivated me?
When I was studying or training to be a therapist, and I was working in detox, the question became, “Like me, these folks that are substance abusers, they have the gift for the gap. They know how to tell you exactly what you want. They say one thing. How do I start to understand? How can I learn from nonverbal communication what people are communicating to me?”
I was fascinated, and I’m still thirsty and hungry for knowledge. I got into that, and the thing about it is I remember working for a tech firm. I had gone back to school and got my Master’s in Counseling Psychology, and then I was still at work. I got a new job and a new place, and then that didn’t work out. I ended up leaving with no job or anything for two years. I’m just exploring.
I was watching Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth right around the time when I was challenged with my job. Do I want to stay or go? You might know this, but I was a professional, so I didn’t get overtime or anything like that. I was working 60 hours a week because I was in finance, and we had to do the cost reporting and the forecasting.
The last two weeks of the month could never take off. I was putting in 60 hours a week. I was good at it, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to do something else. I wanted to work with people and analyze people, not numbers or systems. I ended up leaving my job, and then I would see things like, “There’s RFP.” I ended up teaching inmates in prison meditation and yoga, and recovery-based training. Talking about how you deal with your addiction when you get out and stuff like that. I was working at another institution teaching that. I ended up at the UMass Medical Center and collaborating with Jon Kabat-Zinn.
We had a prison project and we had an inner city project. That’s when I got connected with Phil Jackson because he wanted me to come in, deal with the team, and learn how to deal with the stress of success. Think about that. They had won three NBA championships and they called me and said, “I want you to come and help us.” Phil was about the whole person. He wanted them to develop mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually but he wanted them to develop professionally and personally. He was concerned about it so that’s why he brought me in.
It was a full-grown crisis because Michael Jordan was no longer with the team. We had to figure out how we go on when we don’t even have an identity. They are known as Jordan Air or whatever. That evolved and then eighteen months later, MJ came back, and then that’s when we won the championship. We won 72 games, not the first when he came back in ‘95. He came back in March. The season was pretty much over. We lost in the playoffs, but he came back in ‘96. We won 72 games out of 82 and 3 more championships. That was amazing to be part of that journey. Phil left the Bulls and they broke up the Bulls. We won ‘96, ‘97, ‘98, and ‘99 he didn’t coach.
At that time, I was no longer at the medical center I was working on my own. When he went to LA, he brought me to LA. In 2000, 2001, and 2002, we won championships. It wasn’t until years later when I was trying to upgrade my resume and my work experience that I realized from ‘96 to 2002, that 7-year period, we won 6 NBA championships, which is unbelievable.
Working with Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, and a lot of different people. MJ, Scottie Pippen, Phil, and Toni Kukoč. It’s amazing. We then go to the Lakers and work with Shaq, Kobe, and Robert Horry. Some of our guys who came with us from there like Ron Harper and Horace Grant played a little bit. It was amazing to do that.
At the same time, I’m teaching meditation centers, working with people from Yale to jail, locker rooms, and boardrooms. When I lived at the meditation center, I used to go out and work with people, meet them where they were, and teach them how to translate this contemplative lifestyle. A spiritual lifestyle in a way that normal folks could access and realized that could help them not only deal with stress but help them live more fully and creatively.
That’s been the thing. When I think about it, all of the things I have worked at a medical center for five years. I have worked in prisons a number of times. Working in different institutions as a financial analyst for sixteen years working in corporate. Being involved with the ABA when Julius was there, Dr. J, and then coming back to the NBA, and then working with the Bulls and the Lakers. Phil left and came back and then he won two more championships in 2009 and 2010. Being part of NBA championships and so many other NCAA because I worked at college especially BC for ten years.
Most of my work has been with female athletes. I’m thinking to write a book about working with females in competitive things, but people don’t know that. Most of my work is field hockey, lacrosse, volleyball, softball, basketball, soccer, swimming and diving, track and field, tennis, and golf. You name it. I did all this work. Working with corporations, CEOs, and nonprofits. I was willing to help whoever requested it. In those days, we didn’t have a website or anything. It was word of mouth. I had a friend, Dr. Tom Winter, who approached me and said he wanted me to teach his wife this idea of bringing that quality of being present into her tennis game.
She turned around and hired me to work with him because he had an office that was out of control. I ended up going out and straightening out of his office, and helping him get to the point where he ended up selling it but he was an OSHA specialist. He came from the same place as Phil. Him and Phil knew each other from Montana. It’s crazy. All these connections.
Fast forward, and here I am now. What I realized, what I believe is once I accepted myself and embrace my greatness as Joseph Campbell talked about when I was watching Power of Myth. When I left my job, he said, “Once you find and follow your bliss, then doors will open where there were no doors.” I have these opportunities that arise, but they arise because of me being authentically myself and getting rid of all the cluttering noise that prevents me from accessing that masterpiece within. There’s a synchronicity that happens when I’m clear about what I’m doing, the universe will collide. They talk about that and The Alchemist is the book. That’s the origin story. I feel like I continue to evolve. Years ago, when I wrote The Mindful Athlete that opened everything up but it took me twenty years to write it and I wrote it when I stopped trying to write it.Once you find and follow your bliss, then doors will open where there were no doors. Click To Tweet
That’s to give you some idea. I left a lot out because I’m an OG. That means an old guy, not an old gangster. I have been around for a while comprising many years of recovery and even before that compressing into little sound bites. I’m sure there’s a lot more, there’s almost a lot of struggle, a lot of dying of my old self, and being reborn into my new self. Going through those stages of grief, bargaining, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance, it’s part of the process. I believe that’s why a lot of folks don’t embrace their greatness because it’s painful as they say. It’s better to have the double you know than the double you don’t know.
That is so true. We are going to get into some of the details of the book, but Unlocked, which is your book after The Mindful Athlete. Trying to tell your origin story in a few minutes, we could talk about it for at least an hour and I would encourage those who are tuning in to our conversation to read about what you went through and then how that translates into the wisdom that you are going to share. Every single nuance, if I could pick out a few things, first of all, the sensitivity and empathic nature that you were as a child. There was some work done on highly sensitive people. Forgive me, I’m forgetting the author of that book.
It was like 24% to 25%, something like that of the population is highly sensitive but a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to be that empathic person to feel so much of life. As a child, I said boys are conditioned into, you said, “Man up, be tough, and don’t show your feelings.” It’s tough. We are still learning about how to do that.
You were so vulnerable in the book in sharing what those experiences were like, your family dynamics, both the good years and the tough years. What it was like with the years of being in the grip of the drug situation and what that makes you feel all the way through to your decision that climb that mountain out of it and become something entirely new?
There were so many times of rebirth. I know we spoke about it and I was talking about your life now and how incredible the things that you do are. You said to me, my life is heaven because when you have been to hell, everything is heaven. Talk about perspective. It’s what gives you the richness of what you share with us because you have walked through so many things. It’s incredible. I want to honor that there’s so much more to the story than you even shared.
Let’s talk about this idea of the masterpiece because there are a lot of concepts that you share. You also mentioned something about making these concepts very accessible and you do. I said to you that one of the things I love so much about this book is through storytelling and your own experiences, you can bring ancient wisdom and make it very attainable. It clicks. You understand it when you read about this. It’s pretty amazing. There is a chronic condition in our society of toxic thinking, self-doubt, and negativity. It’s a lot of stuff in the outside culture, maybe some of our family systems that create that. Can you talk a little bit about the power of understanding your greatness and what you can be the masterpiece that you are?
I can tell you that I went back to school after graduating thirteen years prior to that, I went to Cambridge College. It was full-time at night and then the summer before and the summer after you do a one-week course. I would work all day and then go to school at night. I remember being introduced to existential thinking and philosophy. There’s a book called Existential Psychotherapy written by Irvin Yalom from Stanford about what the concerns of existence are. It was the first time I understood myself and the sense of feeling alone, we were born alone, and we die alone. I started thinking about it and it made sense. This idea of the fear of death, and then the dizziness of freedom, the feeling isolated, and then finding meaning, however, you think about it.
Viktor Frankl’s work and Martin Buber, there’s a book here it’s called The Way Of Man. I probably read this book. This is probably my fifth copy of it. The Way Of Man: According to the Teaching of Hasidism by Martin Buber, and then his main book, I And Thou, and all of the existential psychologists and psychiatrists or psychoanalytical folks going back and spoke to me of this idea.
As I said, I have a quarter here. One side is heads and the other side is tails. Now we get into showing the character, God talking about the alarming possibility of being able that one side of the coin is freedom, potential, and existentialists talk a lot about our potentiality and whether or not we have the guilt of not accessing it and not allowing it to express itself. The other side of the coin is uncertainty and anxiety that come together. It’s the ability to tolerate the discomfort, the anxiety that allows us to embrace more of ourselves. For me, I did it because my ass was on fire.
Sometimes that’s what’s required to get us moving.
Yes. I hit bottom. “All the other stuff doesn’t work so I have to try this.” In the book, it started talking about this idea of us all having a divine spark that’s encrusted in the shell. In order to hide from our responsibilities, here he talks about God asking Adam, “Adam, wherefore art thou?” He’s not trying to find something he doesn’t know. What he’s doing is he’s asking a question that will hit Adam’s heart if he left it where he says, “I have been given so many days in my life. I have not taken responsibility for my life and my ability to express my divinity.” We have this system of hideouts. It’s like being in a crescent of the shell.
Once God asked Adam, “Wherefore art thou?” He said, “I hid myself. I am here.” From hiding from God or hiding from our masterpiece or greatness, we are hiding for myself as well. The idea is to say, “I’m here and I am going to take responsibility for my development or for my ability to get rid of this system of hideouts where I’m hiding in plain sight. I’m not being myself.”
The metaphor I like to use is the chrysalis. We are crawling as a caterpillar, but then by going into that chrysalis and chipping away, getting out of it, there is what allows us to have the strength to fly. That’s the story about a little young boy that opens it up and was helping the little being and when it came out, it was ill-formed and it fell. It couldn’t fly it.
The thing is it’s an inside job and we have to do it. We have to chip away to get there. Michelangelo, when he was asked how did he create these massive pieces out of these blocks of marble? He said, “All I do is chip away to get to the masterpiece that’s already there.” That’s an outside-in, but then the inside-out but it’s the same principle. How do we unlock or how do we break out of our prisons that are self-inflicted and self-created? Our willingness to hide from my responsibility, to hide from my greatness. Marianne Williamson has a thing she talked about. We are afraid of it.
Embrace The Greatness
That’s the thing. It’s like the light. Everybody is unique and everybody has something to offer the world that no one else can offer. There’s never been anyone like me and it never will be. My job is to express that and to share it with everybody else. If we all could do that, embrace the greatness. “I have greatness. How do I find it?” My adversity and difficulties are when it manifests. That’s the thing.
When I can do that and I can share it with others to say, “This is how I did it. You can do it as well.” That changes everything. Everything begins with the individual self whether we are talking about a family or group, a nation, or a community. It’s the individual self. If we can do that, embrace our greatness, find the flow because we all have a rhythm. We all have a conditioning that we have to do. It’s got to be ours. One size doesn’t fit all.
Let My Divine Spark Flow
For me, over the years, embracing more of myself or chipping out and getting rid of some of the hideouts I was able to let my divine spark flow. The Way of Men talks about that hot searching. There’s this still small voice inside. There’s a wisdom and creativity that’s inside of us that when we can come from that place of rest, that either a hurricane, that when we can be still and know there’s a creativity and wisdom that comes out that’s where we have access to.
There are so many ancient wisdom teachings that talk about this ability to be still and to create space. The Dow gets into this flow to flow like water in an effortless way. You mentioned the dizziness of freedom. It goes back to Marianne Williamson’s comment about our fear of our greatness. Do we hide out because it feels safe? If we were to embrace how expansive and incredible we are, it’s almost unsettling. Can you say more about this dizzying state?
It’s dizziness because we are out of our comfort zone and when we see things like when I came home out of the detox, I have seen my house for the first time. When we see things differently, although one side of it’s exciting and there’s a lot of potential, the other side is we got to die of our old self to be reborn of the new self so we don’t have any anchoring. We feel like the ground is shaking or we are riding a whale in the metaphor of Jonah and the whale.
It’s why people stay in bad situations too because they know the situation.
Yes. It’s like a coffin. You are in there and you are protected, you are safe, but you are stiff, you can’t move. There’s no life. That’s the thing. There’s this ability to not want to get comfortable being uncomfortable because it’s uncomfortable. If you are not struggling or not out of your comfort zone, we are not growing. When we grow, we learn something, the learner isn’t to take it in as information or knowledge. It’s expressing the learning in your word, thought, and deed. It’s a transformation. That metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly, it’s painful, unpleasant, and unknown.It's uncomfortable if you're not struggling. If you're not out of your comfort zone, you're not growing. Click To Tweet
You don’t want to become a pile of goo. You are not sure what’s on the other side of that. If you are the caterpillar, you are like, “This doesn’t look like a good path here.”
It has the instinct to do that. We don’t have those instincts or we don’t listen to them. We have a still small voice inside that can tell us things but it’s easily drowned out.
Especially now, so much noise and distraction. Let’s numb out. Name your numbing technique.
It takes a man of knowledge as Carlos Castaneda talks about a spiritual warrior to be able to look at stuff and to be honest with ourselves to look inside and say, “How do I feel? What I want to do.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross talks about one of her clients, he’s 65, he’s a doctor, and he’s retiring. He said, “I wanted to be a violinist, but my mother wanted me to be a doctor.”
He spent his whole life being somebody who other people want him to be and not be himself. That’s what happens when we look and see, “What have I done with these 65 years? Am I who I’m supposed to be? No, I’m trying to be somebody else.” The world will tell us who we should be or who they want us to be. It’s our first leadership choice to decide to be ourselves.
We had a national meeting and one of our speakers Ben Nemtin. I don’t know if you know Ben, but he was from The Buried Life and he talks a lot about a bucket list. If you live an inspired life, you can inspire other people. One of the things he quoted in the speech was they interviewed people on their deathbeds about what you are talking about. It was an astounding number like 76% who said their biggest regret was they did not live their life in their true and authentic for them. They lived it for other people, cultures, and whatever they felt they had to do. That’s a lot of regret.
I suspect that it’s the same when somebody passes away. At least from my experience, it’s the regret that we didn’t tell them how much we loved them. We didn’t spend time with them. From my experience with my family being able to feel like I was fully with them as much as I can be, it’s easier to let go. It’s less because there’s some guilt and some other stuff that gets tied in. That’s what I say live fully now, so you have no regrets. That’s the thing.
You talk about it and so people will hear that. We talk about living in the moment, in which the moment is all that is real. In many ways, our memories are flawed. Our future expectations are convoluted with different things we think we need to be. When we spend our time in the past or the future, we are not here now. It’s amazing. You can spend a whole bunch of your life not in your life. In your book, we talked about becoming unlocked and I want to talk about what Unlocked is because what we are pointing to is a way of being that produces a different type of life experience. I want to read something from your book because I thought this was so beautifully stated.
This was from the Boston Celtics All-Star Bill Russell’s book. When I read this in your book, I thought, “What a great description of what it’s like to be unlocked.” He writes, “I could feel my play rise to a new level. It would surround not only me and the other team, but even the referees. At that special level, all sorts of odd things happened. The game would be in the white heat of competition and yet somehow I wouldn’t feel competitive, which is a miracle in itself. I’d be putting out maximum effort, straining, coughing up parts of my lungs as we ran. Yet I never felt the pain. The game would move so quickly that every fake, cut, and pass would be surprising, and yet nothing could surprise me. It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion.”
“During those spells, I could almost sense how the next play would develop and where the next shot would be taken. My premonitions would be consistently correct. I always felt that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but also all the opposing players and that they knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine on the 5 or 10 occasions when the game ended at that special level. I didn’t care who’d won. If we lost, I’d still be as free and high as a Skyhawk.” I thought that was so amazing how he described that experience. I would love to hear more about all the work you have done with these players and everyone in your life. How do we find that state of flow and unlock?
The way we find it is not to try to find it. Understand that being in the moment, being clear about having goals and what we want, and making adjustments on the fly is helpful. One way we experience being unlocked is when we go through this process of like, “I misplaced something. I’m looking for something. I lost something.”
The more I look for it, I’m not having any luck finding it. Once I let go of trying to find it, it appears. We get out of the way and that wisdom I talk about knows things. It’s non-linear, so you can’t describe it. The one sense of being non-linear or what we call implicit or non-declarative learning, is when you learn how to ride a bike.
When you learn how to ride a bike, you always know how to ride a bike. I don’t care how old you are or how long you have been since you have been on a bike. That’s implicit learning. There’s something that happened. There’s a certain part of our experience, maybe even 90%. Who knows where we know stuff? We learn it, but we don’t know we learn it until we express that learning.
When you are practicing or when you are paying attention and you are trying to be in and out of the moment. Even though it doesn’t seem like you are making much progress, there’s an implicit side of it that will show up when you need it. In my book, there’s a quote by Maya Angelou and she talks about making that uniqueness, that potential be automatic, or natural that we have.
That’s what the challenge is that we are externally driven instead of being internally driven and having the values or an idea of not only what we want to do, but who we want to be, and how we want to express ourselves. There’s something about being able to listen to that. When we are unlocked, it means there are no restrictions, but not inhibited.
We want some restrictions because we don’t want people killing and taking what was not theirs. If you think about the demo switch on the light switch. Unlock is like having that demo switch all the way down and as we unlock, we are able to move it up. There’s more illumination, more light, more power, and more consciousness being expressed.
It is not like you are unlocked forever and then that’s it. There are moments of being unlocked that we need to recognize. When we can recognize them and understand how we are able to do it, then we will have more of those moments. If you think about it, even a non-digital broken clock is right twice a day. You are going to have that experience of being in the flow but you don’t know you are in the flow because you don’t know what to look for. Some of this stuff is so obvious that we overlook it. We are not able to look at it because we are not paying attention. We are letting things happen and we are all over the place. We are not there to experience it. You are right. The only time we have is now in the moment.
It’s fascinating when I think about it this way when I say to myself, “Right now, there’s nothing wrong.” Being here allows things to be as they are. This is the magic or secret that how we manage a moment is what determines the next moment. When we can have a rhythm or flow, or we can listen and express ourselves and if we can ourselves get out of the way, it’s usually the mindset. If I have a pair of glasses, then that locks me up. If I have doubt in my mind, that hinders my ability to unlock or to see clearly. Whether it’s doubt, worry, restlessness, central desire, hate, or ill will, those hindrances hinder us from being in the moment.
When we are in the moment and we are coming from the eye of the hurricane or that place of rest, that stillness, there’s a knowing and the creativity that expresses itself in that. When we are unlocked, we are able to express ourselves honestly and fully and be like water, “Things are going this way. I’m not going to fight. I’m going to go with it.”
When I go with it, then I can ease over and get out or whatever. As everything is scripted or we have this idea of what we should be doing and what people want us to do instead of realizing, “What’s my intention? My intention is to be loving and compassionate and to seek understanding so I can understand what’s going on. I can use that for the greatest highest good.” There are all of these things when I talk about unlocked.
When I talk about those athletes, about Kobe, Shaq, or MJ. People like to talk about MJ and Kobe. I can talk about them with Dr. J because I had direct experience with them. I could probably put LeBron in some of the other plays in there, but I don’t have direct experience other than watching them. The idea is that what they have in common is they are more closely being authentically themselves and expressing their authentic self at the moment with a purpose and with an intention.
There’s something about that’s being unlocked. That’s what they have in common. Even if it’s for a period of time, a moment, or a season that they are able to honestly express themselves. That’s what Bruce Lee said, “Martial arts is to honestly express yourself.” I have an intention and then I’m maybe to carry that intention out in a way that it’s just flowing and it’s effortless.
The effortless we talked about. It seems like a natural response. Now we know that we are naturally loving, compassionate, and altruistic. Every once in a while, it hits us when we realize that this illusion of separateness is that. We are all connected. It takes like a marathon bombing where people are running toward the explosion or 9/11 where people were running into harm’s way.
I remember when the fires up in Northern California, there was this one who was an African-American serviceman, and he went in to help people in the house. He didn’t know those people and he perished but it was this movement of the heart that says, “I have to do this.” You don’t think about it. You just do it. You are not Democrat or Republic or male, female, Black, or White. There’s a part of you that moves you to see the other one.
You find that innate understanding that we are indeed connected. That we are all citizens of a human race and we impact each other. The other is when you come to that consciousness and realize that. We live in a world of comparison and separateness. There was a piece in the book where you were advising a young player who wanted to be like Kobe. He’s like, “Help me be like Kobe.” What did you say to him in response to that?
I said, “No. Let’s try being more of who you are. For being yourself.” This is what we do. We emulate other people, but then at some point, we got to own it. If you ever played an instrument, especially a guitar from my own experience, you learn how to play other people’s tunes. I might be trying to play Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, or whoever leads guitar, Jeff Beck, or some of the others. At some point, you got to own it. When I started teaching, I would emulate my teachers, but then, at some point, I had to make it my own. We began emulating others or watching others and having role models but we’d be still and know, then we start to say, “This is what it feels.”
This would have been talked about in this book. Your strongest desire or wish is that you are not supposed to be like Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob. You are supposed to be you when you go for your maker. They are going to say, “Why weren’t you more like Kathy? No. Why weren’t you more like George?” Once again, this is the character that you got to talk about. One of the devastating forms of distress is not being ourselves.
This was one of the quotes you had in the book from Parker Palmer. You said, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do we not only find the joy that every human being seeks. We will find our path of authentic service in the world.”
What’s so important about what we are talking about right now is if we don’t bring forth that one-of-a-kind essence that is only ours, then we waste that. It wants to be fully realized but when we think we need to do it like someone else. I get into this conversation sometimes at work about leadership coaching.
There are many different ways to lead and yes, I can look at books that talk about leadership attributes that are highly effective and important. Indeed there are, but there’s no formula I don’t think for anything. If it’s formulaic, then you don’t have that unique fingerprint that you are bringing in, that unique chemistry and mix of who you are. That’s the biggest piece is that you can decide, “I want to be like that person,” but it’s never going to work until you do you. You got to do you.
We teach one-size-fits-all. We don’t necessarily let people have their way or understand that there are many ways. That’s why the principal senate life that Stephen Curry talks about is important. When we talk about being loving or whatever, how you manifest that or how you express that is going to be uniquely based on who you are and how you see things. One of the things that we forget is things are always changing. What I did yesterday to do something work, may not work today because the conditions and the variables have changed. I have to be able to see things. There’s this wisdom that begins with wonder.
We can see things in new fresh ways, we can see the nuances, and we can relate to how things are now related to my state of mind and all of these other factors. My ability to not be distracted is going to have an impact on that. It’s scary to realize that everything is changing and even the unknown unfolding moment is unfolding right now. It’s unknown. We have to be able to embrace the unknownness of it but at the same time, if we let it speak to us, we will get the intel we need to get.
If we come from a quiet place based on what our intention is when we can create space between stimulus and response. That’s when our core values and our worthy cause, “What’s my intention? What if my intention is to communicate or to be loving,” you can’t have a formula for that because you have to read the situation as it is, and then respond to that in real-time.
We talked about this uncertainty and the transformation from the caterpillar to the butterfly. You mentioned in the book this dynamic of bracing for failure versus waiting for fulfillment. There is a negativity bias. Our primal brains want to keep us safe. We are always ready for what’s going to go wrong, especially in the world we live in now where there’s a lot of craziness and uncertainty. How would you guide to move into a state of acknowledging that but knowing that there’s fulfillment in all of these experiences good and bad?
Now we are coming back to Albert Einstein when he says, “One of the most important decisions we have to make is whether or not we live in a friendly or unfriendly universe.” If we live in an unfriendly universe, we will use all our resources to deny or destroy the threat. If we see it as neither friendly nor unfriendly, it doesn’t matter what we do. If we see it as a friendly universe and there’s a lawfulness to it, then we align ourselves with the lawfulness of how things work. It’s not personal.One of the most important decisions we must make is whether or not we live in a friendly or unfriendly universe. Click To Tweet
It’s obvious if I have a glass of water and I fill it up to the halfway point, how we see that determines what we can see. If I see it as half empty, I’m coming from scarcity, I’m in the autonomic nervous system, sympathetic fight, flight, and freeze. That’s the reptilian brain that’s always looking to see if there’s danger.
We can live in that energy or the fear wall, I talk about or we can be in a love wall where there’s half full and there’s abundance. We don’t know things, but we know that if we see things clearly, and if we come from that space of that place of rest, we will make choices. We will create space so we can make choices and then we have the feedback where we can keep changing what we are doing until we are able to do it.
It’s an embrace of the uncertainty that allows us to be present and not to live in the fight, flight, or freeze that’s what the reptilian brain, instead of being able to be in rest and digest or be able to say we make choices. We figure stuff out and we need to be in this relaxed alertness where we can see things and let things speak to us in their language without us going out. We can slow things down so we can see how things are unfolding and have a little understanding of what it is we want. What are the essentials that make it helpful?
If I talk about the idea of having a conversation with you, some of the principles have to do it and seek to understand then to be understood. To listen. When I’m listening to you not to be formulating an answer to your question, you are asking me where I don’t even have the full breadth of what it is you are asking or being able to listen so that I can respond to it. We sped up and we have this idea we need to know before the question is posed instead of realizing no. We see things in new and fresh ways and that’s the creativity. When we approach it with curiosity, with interest, and with a sense of wonder.
If we see our lives as an adventure that we are on every day and the richness of the clarity of our ability to think and the richness of our emotions. Someone talks about it in one of his books, but we create that. If something happens then we interpret what it means. I’m saying why not interpret it in ways that empower, motivate, and inspire us? Looking at a roadblock is a stepping stone. It’s an opportunity rather than something that occurs. “What do we want to do? Let’s get on board with that.”
We talked about this a little bit, but even on this show over time when I first started doing this show, I would be specific about certain questions, frameworks, or things that I needed to do. Over time, the more I have relaxed into being in the moment with my guest as to what they are bringing forth and what it brings up in me. It’s a co-creation.
The conversations are different than if it’s QA-QA. It’s much more authentic in the way that it comes across. Here’s my question for you, for our readers who say, “I get this. I understand.” How do I cultivate that space? We do live in a fast-paced world. There’s information coming at us that we have these, our devices. It’s a lot of noise. How would you guide people to, “I want to create more space to be able to experience my life?” How would you guide them?
Thank you. It’s helpful if you could start in abundance where you have stability and you realize that things are happening and we are letting the outside dictate to us. This is what Joseph Campbell said, “We have to have a sacred space, a place where we can sit and we are not thinking about what the paper says, what people owe us, or what we owe anybody that we have this sacred space.”
He calls it creative incubation. We got to be able to be still and know. Be inside ourselves and be with ourselves to feel. Even now, just sit and feel that I’m in a seated posture and I can feel the touchpoints. I know I’m breathing and talking but I have to have a place where I can observe my experience in a way where I’m not driven by desire or fear. I’m having this alert, relaxed, receptivity, and letting things speak to us.We have to have a place where we can observe our experience in a way where desire or fear does not drive us. Click To Tweet
It’s like watching, waiting, and listening without pushing it away or pulling it towards us, or interpreting what’s happening. Letting things speak and letting something marinate. Just being still. That’s why they say that. You start by asking yourself, “What am I doing? What am I looking at? What’s going on? What’s my intention?” This idea of not moving, just sitting, and just being with ourselves and feeling whatever we are feeling and seeing whatever we are seeing, but not reacting to it. Letting it be there. Developing this ability to see clearly or direct and sustained attention. We talk about free will. William James says, “Volitional effort is the effort of attention.”
We have this ability to direct our attention or not to direct our attention on some things or not on everything. This idea of one thing at a time just sitting. Whether we are doing some movement or we are writing, we have to get in the habit of being where we are. Being in the body and being present. When our mind gets lost in thoughts or images, we have to be able to redirect our attention back to where we are. I talk about it in a book, but you have to learn how to pray and meditate. I like to take walks. If you are walking, you are just walking. You are in your body and you walk. You are not trying to do anything other than feel your body in movement and motion.
If you are doing a stretch or washing dishes, that’s one of the things I love to do. Being fully engaged in the dishes and not thinking about things but washing the dishes. Sometimes with me, because my side is not that great. Sometimes I have to feel to make sure these things are being washed properly and you can squeaky clean.
It’s more about being fully engaged in what you are doing while you are doing it. Managing the moment and learning. Even if I’m reading, one of my practices is I read at least half an hour every morning, maybe more. I’m not reading it, I’m contemplating it. I’m reflecting on it. I’m letting the word speak to me instead of me saying, “This reminds me of this thing.” Fully engaged in what I’m doing.
That’s what it comes down to is how do you start to develop it? You got to be still in. No, you have to have time like Joseph Campbell said, “You have this quiet space and listen to yourself and be aware of this ability to self-regulate.” Self-awareness is an awareness with a mirror mind. You are not pushing anything away or pointing anything toward you. You are letting it speak in its language. It means being vulnerable. It means not trying to do anything but letting it speak to you. That speaking, you get enough intel to understand, “This is what’s being said.”
That’s how we can see things in new and fresh ways. That encounter is what we encounter every day but to act as if we are arriving for the first time because we are seeing it in new ways. We are not seeing it based on what we already know or what other people tell us but to have a direct experience of being able to listen fully. When somebody listens to us fully, it feels amazing.
It’s such we honor each other when we listen fully because it’s a gift we give of our presence and that attention is such a gift. You do that amazingly in conversation. You are so present. I guess some of the final comments I will make to what you said is that some people think this path is a path Joseph Campbell talks about following your bliss and that this path is all about bliss. Sometimes being with whatever is can be painful and difficult, but there are things that we need to look at. The more we can be with all of it fully, then that’s when we can start getting the gifts from the experience we have in our lives. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows.
Here’s the interesting thing. You can have joy and sorrow at the same time in the sense that they are there. We talk about somebody who is growing. Your kids when they graduate from college or when they leave the house, there’s sweet sorrow. You are happy they are going. You are happy they graduated but there’s the sadness that there’s a change that there’s a transition that’s happening.
What we are saying is the key is to observe things in ways where we are witnessing quietly and not judging, but allowing it to speak to us. There are things we want and we don’t want. Whether it’s joy or sorrow, we can fully embrace it, see it, and not be identified with it, which is challenging. We notice even though it is there, there’s peace and ease that we can experience by allowing things to come and go.
By saying yes to everything and realizing that we can embrace it and accept it, but then what do you want to do with it? That’s where, “What is it you are after?” If you are after peace or frustration, the peace is letting go and letting be, but it’s not like we don’t do anything about it. If we can see it clearly, then compassionate action can come out of that. I talk about the four As is probably a good way to talk about it. There’s the awareness, it’s a mirror mind. It is for us there. You let it speak to you in its language. We can’t see things if we are in fear or we have belief systems that are allowing us to see some things and not allow us to see others.
We want to see things clearly from love with an open heart and open mind, with a willingness to allow whatever’s there to be there. There has to be because when we believe it, we will see it. It’s not the other way around. The way the visual cortex works, it’s comparing what we are seeing with what we already know.
We have to be able to see things without comparing them to anything, but letting them speak so that we develop a new memory for that visual cortex, if that makes any sense. That’s the challenge. It’s something that’s natural. You can meditate and you can do all that stuff. Our natural way of being is to be at rest and to be able to see things uncritically. We have to get back to that point where we are seeing things.
When we are aware of it, we accept it and we can see it, then the second part is acceptance. Accepting it. I’m not saying, “You have a toothache and you should accept it. You are supposed to have a toothache.” No. What I mean by accepting it is accepting the fact that we have a toothache and we don’t like it, and it’s unpleasant.
Once we accept it, we can do something about it. The compassionate action is to call the dentist or to take something for it. It’s the awareness, the acceptance, and then the compassionate action, Compassion Lab. You all know about compassion. Compassionate action is how we alleviate the suffering. How do we bring comfort to whatever is experiencing discomfort or unpleasantness?
The fourth thing is the assessment. What worked or what didn’t work? Things like how you get what didn’t work or worked or things like that worked. How do I sustain that? How do I continue to develop that ability? It’s this awareness, which is it seems simple but it’s as simple as saying yes to everything. You embrace it and once you accept it, then you can do something about it. If you are talking about chronic pain, substance abuse, or maybe talking about we want to do something, but we are not doing anything about it, then we have to accept the fact that nothing stopping you but you.
Once you accept that responsibility, as Yoda said to Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.” That’s the thing. We have to get to a place where we see it and then we are able to do something. There’s a quote in the book that I have used a lot, but Maya Angelou says it this way, she attributed it to the Chinese. “To know and not to do is not to know.” You show you know.
True learning is when you get transformed. When it hits you and you are able to see things differently and be different or do something differently. You are open to things. The challenge is a lot of times we compare what we know with what’s there, but we don’t have an expansive library or Google that will tell us everything. We have an experience.True learning is when you get transformed. Click To Tweet
If we are relating to a new experience based on the old experience, then we are living in a default future. We are not living in what is here. That’s the biggest thing. We do that. It’s a habit. It’s efficient but it’s not effective. We see something happens and there’s what they called deselfing like, “What does this have to do with me? Is the abstract thinking?”
When I think of this abstract thinking, this associative thinking. “I remember this.” You are embellishing the raw data instead of letting it speak for itself. Now you can categorize it based on what you are experiencing. You get the intel of how it’s expressing yourself. I learned this when I was going through my practicum group dynamics and individual psychotherapy.
You get a jacket and somebody says, “This person has a certain diagnosis.” You read the jacket and then you have the diagnosis. You put on those glasses that allow you to see that diagnosis instead of letting you see the live breathing person that’s in front of you and getting the information from the immediacy of experience and the here and now and relating to that person. We put people in a box and we don’t let them out. We lock them up.
We do a lot of personality inventories at work whether you are an introvert or extrovert. It’s interesting and informative to let us know, “Not everyone is perceiving things the way you do. It can help in your team dynamics.” One of the things that I always say when we go through these is, “This is information, but don’t let it categorize someone into one place because that’s what we can do.” In every situation, you are new, the situation is new, and there are all kinds of things working. All of this comes back to this ability to observe and to be aware so that you can act from that place. Not these immediate patterns of habitual reactions that happened to us.
The other piece of what you talked about with acceptance is so huge because we waste a lot of energy raging against the situation. “I have a toothache. This is unpleasant. I need to call the dentist.” Versus, “Why do I have this toothache? It’s not fair that I have this toothache.” Before you know it, you are exhausted from raging against this situation versus taking the right action. There’s so much here. It’s so rich. It’s such a beautiful journey of discovery.
As I bring this to a close, I want to ask if people want to get more information. The book is Unlocked, and it’s out now and incredible. I honestly encourage anyone to pick this book up because it brings to life so much of what we were talking about and crystallizes it beautifully. If people want to learn more about you what else do you want them to know?
They can go to GeorgeMumford.com, my website. If you google me, there’s a ton of stuff in there. I have a YouTube channel. This book is in HarperCollins, Barnes & Noble. I understand it’s even at Target. It’s at a lot of places you can access it and all of the things. The audible was in my voice. I did the audible to it. You can get it on Kindle.
To answer your question, if they go to the website, there are a lot of things. You might even be able to buy it from the website. I don’t know. I don’t go to my website that much. I was busy doing other things, but they can get the book. There’s a lot of stuff. That’s why I wrote it to help everybody embrace their greatness and find the flow to discover success.
Find The Flow To Discover Success
To me, if you don’t get anything, you get the point that you are wide for success. You have a masterpiece, and you have unlimited potential that can be 1) Developed access. 2) You are the only one that can do it. This is helping you to do it and then reaching out to others to support you in being able to do that. 3) The quality of your life and my life is going to be predicated on how much I’m able to access and develop this unlimited potential.
In the book, you bring all these concepts through some amazing stories of your time with these remarkable players. All the things you overcame through your journey and your childhood. It’s incredible and I could not recommend it more. George, thank you for many things. I want to thank you for everything that you shared, for the time you invested, and for the authentic heart that you bring into all that you do. Thank you for your contributions to the show, for sharing with our team, for being present to me, for giving me insight into my journey, and for being a citizen of humanity that says yes to helping whoever asks for it. Thank you so much.
You are welcome. It’s my pleasure. This is what I do. If we have to do part two, that’s okay.
We do need to do part two. I’m going to hold you to that if that’s okay. We are going to schedule a part two.
That’s fine. This is my life. This is why I’m here to do this and to release a divine spark in each and every person. My mission is to help people unlock any place, anytime, and anybody.Help people unlock any place, anytime, anybody. Click To Tweet
Beautifully said, George. You are doing it impeccably well, I must say. Thank you again for your friendship and your support. For everyone out there reading, stay tuned for part two at some point. I hope you have gained some wisdom from our conversation. Thank you again, George.
- George Mumford
- The Mindful Athlete
- YouTube channel – George Mumford Official
- HarperCollins – Unlocked
- Barnes & Noble – Unlocked
- Target – Unlocked
- The Alchemist
- Existential Psychotherapy
- The Way Of Man
- I And Thou
- The Way of Men
About George Mumford
George Mumford is an inspirational and globally recognized public speaker, teacher, and coach. He’s taught the art of performance and mindfulness to people from every walk of life — from the locker room to the board room, Yale to jail— using concepts that are powerful, yet easy to understand and apply.
Michael Jordan credits him with transforming his on-court leadership of the Bulls, helping Jordan lead the team to six NBA championships, while Ariana Huffington said, “George Mumford is literally a professional game-changer.” Mumford also helped Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and countless other NBA players turn around their games as well as teams like the Miami Dolphins, New York Knicks, and Boston College Eagles.
Since 1989, he’s been honing his gentle, but groundbreaking techniques which can transform the performance of anyone with a goal, whether they’re an Olympian, weekend warrior, executive, hacker, artist or parent.
Mumford’s first book The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance (published by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s Parallax Press) is part memoir and part instruction guide. It’s an engrossing story and an invaluable resource for anyone looking to elevate their game, no matter the pursuit. He believes that everyone has a masterpiece within and can show you how to access that and stay in The Eye of the Hurricane.
His second book, “Unlocked: Embrace Your Greatness, Find the Flow, Discover Success” will be published May 3, 2023 by HarperOne. Chock full of tangible insights, unexpected ancient wisdom, and inspiring stories from his clients and his own life—from his darkest moments of addiction and inner turmoil to training some of the best athletes in the world— Unlocked is the culmination of Mumford’s life’s work; it helps us discover our gifts. To sustain success no matter the game or the stakes. To step into the power within us and embrace the freedom of being unlocked.
Equally comfortable in a locker room or in the boardroom, Mumford has presented to some of the world’s top brands including Nike, Google, YouTube, American Express, Lululemon, AT&T, PayPal, The Ford Foundation, AARP, and many more. He also has a passion for helping others learn about resilience, social responsibility, and navigating uncertainty — all of which he teaches via weekly At Home with George posts on YouTube (150+ episodes); his masterclass on Anxiety; The Mindful Athlete Course, home base for his online community; and Playing The Inner Game, a new course for youth that debuted in early 2023.
Mumford has been interviewed for 60 Minutes and ABC News; spoken at Wisdom 2.0 and Mindfulness in America; featured in The Huffington Post and The Boston Globe; and appeared on dozens of podcasts from 10 Percent Happier, The Tim Ferriss Show, Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness, and Tom Bilyeu’s Impact Theory to NPR’s On Point and Aaron Gordon’s Quest For Enlightenment.
George was included on Good Morning America’s “Inspiration List” for Black History Month in 2021, plus “Paradise Within”, his 7-part walking workout series for the iFit platform debuted that same year, and he presented at the globally-focused Summit Palm Desert event in November 2022.
He is currently working with groups and individual private clients around the world including professional and collegiate athletes, corporate executives, and teachers in training. Mumford began teaching mindfulness and meditation after leaving a career as a financial analyst and earned a Master’s in counseling psychology. His philosophy and techniques have been informed by his own inspirational journey.
While a student-athlete at the University of Massachusetts — where he roomed with future NBA Hall-of-Famer Julius Erving — injuries forced Mumford out of basketball and eventually into an addiction to pain medication and drugs. With the help of meditation and mindfulness, he got clean and made it his mission to teach and work with others.
Mumford currently resides in his hometown of Boston, MA but enjoys traveling the globe to teach and inspire others to unlock their own masterpiece within.
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