Are You Getting in Your Own Way? Mindset Coach George Mumford Has the Keys to Unlocking Your Greatness
There is greatness within every one of us, believes George Mumford. Our divine inner light is what we have to offer the world. The problem, however, is we often get in the way of expressing our greatness. We become closed off and locked up from years of conditioning and fear of change.
Mumford says we can shift all this. With willingness and clarity, we can get in touch with our inner light and who we are. He calls this being “unlocked”—where our greatness and truth are uninhibited.
Admittedly, Mumford’s theory may sound aspirational given that the mindfulness coach has famously worked with unparalleled talents, from Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan. But refreshingly, Mumford’s insights—the foundation of his new book, Unlocked: Embrace Your Greatness, Find the Flow, Discover Success—are for everyone, no matter who we are or where we come from. The key is to “get in the right frame,” he tells The Sunday Paper. “Once you get in that frame, all of a sudden, you unlock this flow of creativity and wisdom that’s always there.”
A CONVERSATION WITH GEORGE MUMFORD
You say that we can all "unlock" our greatness and find our flow. How so?
Yes— greatness can be discovered in every one of us. We all have what Stephen Covey calls 'unopened birth gifts.' We all have this capacity, no matter who we are. The way I got to see this was through difficulty and adversity. We can also see our capacity for greatness when we commit to excellence.
Here what is important: We get to decide what we focus on and what we direct our attention to. But we often don't exercise that because we have people and places—external things—decide what we focus on or intend to do. We're waiting for some outside agency to tell us instead of taking personal responsibility and focusing on what's inside us. So the first step to unlocking our greatness is to become self-aware.
How do we begin to cultivate self-awareness?
If you don't know your intention, follow your attention. If you go through your day, you may realize that your intention often falls into habits. Even when you don't want to do something, you do it because it's become a habit. So to become self-aware, you must step back and observe—and it's important to observe in a way that's not judgmental, where you're not pushing anything away or upon you. Wisdom begins in wonder.
To discover the greatness inside of us, you also believe we need to be willing. Will you explain?
Yes, willingness is important because we are programmed. You must get comfortable with being uncomfortable—because if you're not uncomfortable, then you're not out of your comfort zone, which means you're not growing, and you're not letting that latent ability—that greatness—inside of you express itself. Soren Kirkegaard called this the alarming possibility of being able.
We must be able to observe experience in a way where we know things will be uncomfortable and there is no certainty. But once you embrace this, it's not a problem. Anytime we change something or a pattern, we mobilize anxieties. So the idea is, yes, the anxiety may be there, but you can walk through it as you walk through the door. You can embrace the uncertainty and not see it as the worst thing that can happen but as an opportunity to express yourself honestly in new and creative ways.
How can we begin to reflect and observe in our busy, noisy, and externally-driven world?
The first thing is to calm yourself down. You can do this by focusing on one thing. This allows us to drop into the relaxation response or the rest and digest mode. When you're in survival mode, that's fear-driven and the linear brain dominates. But when you focus on one thing, whether it's yoga, tai-chi, meditation, or anything, you allow your right brain, which is your nonlinear brain, to see the whole picture and allow your intuition to weigh in. So you have to learn how to be still and be in the eye of the hurricane.
Here is a quick exercise: Squeeze both fists tightly. Notice your breathing. Now let's release your fists. Just open them up. Now notice your breathing. Is there a difference? It's that simple. When we're in the fight, flight, or freeze response, we're tight and prepared to fight or flee, and we think, I'm such a wimp, or I can't do this. But when we focus and breathe, we can just let it go. It's that simple.
That's unlocking. So unlocking is not permanent. It's moment to moment. But we all have the ability to get unlocked, which goes from little things to something profound.
In your book, you highlight how former NBA star Bill Russell described his experiences of being unlocked on the court, where he felt his play rise to a new level. How can Russell's experience inspire ours?
Believe it or not, we all have those experiences. We all have these moments when we're in this hurricane, and we know what to do. But because we don't reflect on it or investigate and explore it, we don't know how to have more of those experiences. We are so pathology driven. We're great at analyzing what's wrong but not great at analyzing what's right. But when we do look to understand something great, we can embrace it so it becomes a way of being.
What do you say to someone intimidated or overwhelmed by this?
What's powerful is when we can be still and see that from a place of rest, from the eye of the hurricane, there is wisdom and creativity that comes. There is a flow of wisdom that is always there. But we have a system behind us where this wisdom has become crusted. We have it all locked up. If I hold my fist tight for a long time, it hurts when I let it go. But at some point, it stops hurting. It stops being unpleasant. And that's the challenge. So our job is to say yes to everything and to generate hope so that in the unpleasantness, we can find the lesson and know, There is something great in this for me.
Getting to know yourself better is the most exciting adventure you can be on. And I mean your masterpiece self. Your brilliance, uniqueness, and knowing that no one will ever be like you. So your job is to express your authentic self and share with the rest of us because when you do that, it also gives others permission to do it. It's a beautiful thing.
George Mumford is a psychologist and elite performance expert who has worked with people across the globe, from corporate executives to inmates to athletes at the high school, college, Olympic, and professional levels. He is the author of The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Peak Performance and Unlocked: Embrace Your Greatness, Find the Flow, Discover Success. You can learn more at georgemumford.com.