Mike Robbins is a world-renowned author, speaker and seminar leader, who has appeared on ABC News and the Oprah radio network, as well as in Forbes, the Washington Post, and Ladies Home Journal. He’s a true Wellness Warrior, working for the betterment of people everywhere and helping them find their authentic selves. Below in an interview with Wellness Warrior's Damon Cory-Watson, he explains, among other things, how fear and self-righteousness hinder us from achieving our goals and making positive change in the world. Read more about Mike and his work at www.mike-robbins.com.
DC-W: You’ve made a career out of inspiring people. Who are some of the people that have inspired you?
MR: So many people...have inspired me, personally and professionally. In terms of my work, a couple of books that I read in my twenties led me down my current path. One was "Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff" by Richard Carlson. The simplicity and the wisdom in it really spoke to me. I was right at the end of my baseball career and looking for a new direction. The book really helped me figure out a way to go about doing that with a lot of integrity. Another book was the "Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman.
Both of these authors actually ended up becoming my friends and mentors. I met Dan Millman a few years after I read his book when I was just starting in my career. I ended up having a life-changing conversation with him pretty early on in our friendship. I was 26 and I wanted to get into the field of writing and coaching...and was having all these feelings of self-doubt: “I have no idea how to start. I don’t have any original thoughts”—things like that; typical human thoughts.
Dan said to me, “I believe that there is one light, but there are many lamps. You just need to find your own way to shine.” Dan gave me the permission that I didn’t need to have permission to do what I wanted to do—a powerful lesson that I still live by today.
DC-W: You’re an expert on emotional intelligence ... and also an athlete. How do these two aspects of your life intersect? Where is the place for emotional intelligence in sports or personal fitness?
MR: I played baseball from ages 7 to 25 very seriously. The hardest part of sports for me was the emotional part. I don’t miss how down and out I used to feel when we would lose, or when I didn’t feel like I did my best.
A lot of the work that I do when I work with athletes is that emotional work: helping people understand their feelings and their relationships with their team, and others around them. I think that we are getting better as a culture with athletics. We do talk about things other than performance, but that ethos of athletes as machines devoid of emotions and feelings is still very prevalent. So much of what they do is about teamwork and self-acceptance and really understanding those relationships, both with self and with others.
When it comes to personal fitness, here’s the paradox; we tend to be very resistant to self-acceptance. When we think about our own health and wellness, we can approach it in a couple of different ways: one with a little more self-acceptance and the other with a little more fear. When I think about a eating a healthier diet or making an exercise plan, if I am coming from a place of self-love, I am authentically motivated to take care of myself. However, if I approach it with the imperatives “I gotta work out” or “I gotta eat well,” then that may very well be coming from place of fear.
Where we come from in how we approach our health is so much better if it comes from a place of self-love. If I am working out to better myself, it is going to be so much better than working out because “I don’t want to die”— the latter is going to stress me out. How funny is it to get stressed out about something that is supposed to relieve stress? We are truly taking care of ourselves when we come from a place of doing it positively.
What has happened in our culture (unintentionally of course) is that the health and wellness movement has scared the crap out of us. There are all these messages about the consequences of not living a healthy life: obesity, heart failure, etc… Those messages are obviously important and real, but I think that we need to go to a deeper level. We can’t live a fear-based life.
DC-W: In your website bio you say that you have a deep passion to empower and inspire people to do...what specifically?
MR: Three major ideas:
The first is giving permission to be okay to be who you are ... where you are … and how you are. We spend so much time worrying about all kinds of things: careers, families, bank accounts – all important things for sure, but when we approach them with a doubt that we don’t know what we are doing, or that we are going about things in the wrong way, it can be a big detriment to living a full and authentic life. We are okay being who we are.
The second is to take risks and go for it. The biggest thing that holds us back (and me back) is fear. We tend to worry about the outcome, about whether or not we are going to have done it right. I try to be an example… When I started my career, I had no idea how to do it, but I knew that I wanted to do what I am doing now. Did I do it perfectly? No, but I never would have gotten to where I am now if I hadn’t thrown a little caution to the wind, just a little bit, to follow my aspirations.
The third is that it’s okay to feel whatever we feel, or experience whatever we experience. In my latest book, "Nothing Changes Until You Do," I talk a lot about grief. I lost my mother in 2011 and I had a really intense time with it, in part because I had never really learned how to handle death. We aren’t taught how to grieve or are encouraged to do it. Which is so funny in a way because death is something that we will all experience at one point or another. It’s part of life, but we don’t really acknowledge that. So, when losing a loved one, for example, you don’t have to apologize for being sad. You don’t have to judge your feelings, or feel bad about having feelings. We are all allowed to feel what we feel. By accepting those feelings we not only become more authentic, but also, perhaps, able to move on from those hard feelings more effectively.
DC-W: You’ve spoken at, or worked with, a lot of big name companies, some of which our readers might point a finger at as problematic for our environment and our health and wellness. What is your insight on how we might engage these companies on addressing these problems?
MR: I’ve struggled at times over the years. I don’t feel like I have any big moral issues with any of the companies that I’ve worked with. But, there are some of them that I’m sure if I dug deeper, then I might find some things that were questionable, or that I didn’t like. That being said, my job is to inspire people. I’m not in there to make the organization work better; I’m there to work with the people...
I’ve found that there are a lot of good people within these businesses. I absolutely believe that we need to hold corporations accountable for how they treat people and the environment. And I also think that it is important to acknowledge that within these corporations and businesses, they are all human beings who are trying to do the right things – or at least what they think are the right things. Without being too Pollyanna about it, I think there is a lot more common ground there.
Self-righteousness is what gets in the way. We need to engage them and to help bring about positive change to eschew that self-righteousness. Maybe there aren’t people in the back room whose sole job is to try to figure out how to screw people over. They are people, too, with authentic feelings, and families and needs...they go home and put food on their tables to feed their families.
DC-W: If there were one thing that you could change in the world, what would it be?
MR: It would be how we treat ourselves and how we relate to others. As cheesy as it sounds – everything starts and ends with...doing a better job with ourselves, our children and how we interact with the world. If we have self-love, we are able to love every one else.
We are not in the third world here in the U.S. I don’t want to diminish people’s experiences in the U.S. – there is certainly a lot of poverty, an extreme power imbalance, privilege, racism, class-ism, sexism...and plenty of other forms of oppression. I grew up in an environment where that was the case in some degree. But I think—still—that there is so much unnecessary negativity in our country.
I tell this story in some of my talks: Soon after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, I was in a cab and talking to the cabby about that tragic event. We were both shocked, of course, and were relating to one another about it. He was from Ethiopia and at one point in our conversation he said, “I don’t understand Americans.” He didn’t understand how, in a country where we have so much, so much opportunity and freedom, people could get so upset about things [to do a violent act]. He said, “I don’t understand why everyone isn’t walking around...being grateful all of the time.” I really like thinking about things that way. I’m not saying that there are not problems in our country, there most certainly are, but I also like to leave plenty of space for feeling appreciative. It all starts with treating ourselves with more kindness.
Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson