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George Mumford Has Coached Superstars Like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan to Greatness. Now He's Here to Coach You During these Tumultuous Times

George Mumford Has Coached Superstars Like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan to Greatness. Now He's Here to Coach You During these Tumultuous Times

By Stacey Lindsay
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“You have to find a way to generate hope,” says George Mumford. “And you have to find a way to be in love, and to be in trust.”

Mumford is telling me this early one morning this past week. We’re connecting over Zoom, but it feels like we’re in the same room chatting over tea. Mumford exudes an unparalleled sense of ease. As a revered mindfulness and performance expert, he’s distinguished himself as a voice of steadiness and hope. “I help people find themselves,” he says.

This compass-like quality is why some of the world's greatest athletes, from the late Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan to Olympian Sasha Cohen, have sought Mumford’s insight on gaining focus, clarity, and balance. He’s generated a following for his ability to help people find solace, and for his willingness to talk about his path and his own experiences—the good, the hard, the ugly, the beautiful. Raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts in a family of 13 kids, Mumford battled a heroin addiction early in his life, a result of when he was prescribed medication for basketball injuries. While getting clean in the late 80s, he discovered meditation. It gave him a beacon. A drug-free way to find hope and navigate the world.

In the decades since, Mumford has studied psychology and spirituality, and he's honored the role mindfulness has played in his life. He's spread his learnings vastly, including co-founding a stress reduction clinic (in partnership with mindfulness revolutionary Jon Kabat-Zinn), giving talks, offering mental training coaching at prisons and for athletes and sports teams, and writing his book, The Mindful Athlete. Mumford's work is as personalized as it is universal. He hopes for everyone to learn to be still and “to know that whatever happens, we get to choose our reaction and our response.”

In listening to Mumford, you realize that all you need is within you. “The only time we have is now,” he says. “The only one you can be is you. And all we need is love. That's it.”

The following are excerpts of his wisdom from our conversation.

Trust What Is

“Everything is happening because the conditions are right for what is happening to be happening,” says Mumford. “And then we have a choice: We can either choose to respond to it or react to it. That’s the whole basis of my teaching.”

There Is Always a Choice in How You Respond to Things

When we quickly react to a situation, a fact, or a moment, we don’t allow room between the stimulus (what is happening) and our response. Instead, when we realize that we can pause and respond, ideally from a place of love, we gain integrity and power. “When we create space between stimulus and response, then we have the freedom and power to choose who we are regardless of what’s happening,” says Mumford. “That was huge for me and my recovery. Just realizing that, yeah I can’t go back and change what I did, but I can choose to say yes to it, embrace it, and generate hope and say, what’s the lesson here. How can I be my true self?

Happiness and Peace Are within You

Too often we let the external mandate our peace and fulfillment. We think if we get the job, if we get the relationship, or things are working the way we want, then we’ll be happy, says Mumford. But in truth, peace and quiet are always within us. Mumford says that we each have the ability to step into ourselves amidst all the chaos and to connect with the divine spirit, Christ, consciousness, our Buddha nature—whatever it may be for you individually. “There's stillness. Just like when you drop down below, whether it’s a lake or river, or ocean. It could be choppy at the top. There could be all kinds of debris going through. But when you get down to the depths, it is peaceful, quiet, and still and all that stuff up there can’t touch it.” It's important to be with ourselves and to access where we are and what we really need.

Life Will Always Give You Lessons

When we react in a way that we’re not proud of, we can always redo and reset, says Mumford. “We can just learn from it. What’s the lesson? And then we can move on. Because life will keep giving us lessons.”

“No Struggle, No Swag”

Why does struggle happen? Because it’s supposed to, says Mumford. “It’s a swag moment. It's an opportunity […] because when you're struggling, that's when latent abilities express themselves.” Mumford gives the example of his drug addiction. “That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm coming up on 38 years of sobriety. It just totally changed my life around. I was living in hell, living in my own little world, and now here I am, 38 years later, I have more enthusiasm and excitement about life than I've ever had.”

And You Have to Own It and Earn It

This goes back to the “swag.” “Nobody’s given it,” says Mumford. “You have to own it. You have to earn it.” To earn the swag and to encourage the brain and mind to form new pathways (or neuroplasticity), Mumford says you must move (because the brain needs oxygen), go in increments, and step outside your comfort zone.

The Secret to a Wonderful Life Is to Connect to Your Essence

Mumford is approaching his 71st birthday—and he couldn’t be more thrilled. “I’m excited. I'm young at heart. And it's not like I'm trying to deny it; I'm embracing it.” The key to this is to connect to who you truly are. Too often we are not appreciative” of what lies within, he says. “We don’t know how to connect with our essence.” When we learn this, we open an ocean of goodness. “If I’m living in the now, if I'm being myself, if I’m feeding my love Wolf, and I'm coming from a place of love, it's an amazing life. It's a wonderful life.”

Embrace Your “HOF”: Hall of Fame

In Mumford’s words, that means Hope. Optimism. Faith. When we align ourselves with the way things are and embrace them, we open ourselves to peace. Mumford uses gravity as an example. You don't have to believe in gravity, he says. But if you jump up, you will come down. “It’s just that simple.” So have this same approach of hope, optimism, and faith to life. It’s about being “open-hearted,” he says, and “willing to see things and try new things.”

Know that You Have All You Need Inside You

Life is hard. Tough things happen. But all that we need to navigate it is inside of us, says Mumford. “Whatever's coming on, whatever it is in front of us, we must know we have a masterpiece inside. We're wired for success.” So it’s up to us to embrace what comes our way, to say yes to it, and to generate hope. “We have the ability to meet the challenge in a way that's going to be awesome and be uplifting and inspirational for everybody.”

A globally recognized teacher, speaker, coach, and author, George Mumford, a.k.a The Mindfulness Performance Whisperer, is a leading expert in sports psychology and performance. You can learn more about this work and order his book, The Mindful Athlete, at georgemumford.com. And be sure to catch his videos on mindfulness here.

Stacey Lindsay

Senior editor Stacey Lindsay is a multimedia journalist. She was previously a news anchor and reporter who covered veterans' issues and breaking news. Learn more at: www.staceyannlindsay.com