When, earlier this year, George Mumford approached the stage at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, it was unlikely that many in the audience knew who he was. George is the author of The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance. Urban legend maintains that George is responsible for six NBA Championships. He has been described as Phil Jackson’s secret weapon, and the achievements of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and other elite athletes support this claim.
As George sat on the stage without props or a slide deck, the audience was left to wonder what kind of magic this man actually had. George, a practitioner and teacher of mindfulness for more than 32 years, is a recovering perfectionist. In his search for ways to cope with his own personal pain without drugs and alcohol, George found his secret weapon in mindfulness.
Black Enterprise spoke to George Mumford to ask whether deep concentration is enough to transform one’s life, and if the skills he uses while working with elite athletes are transferable to entrepreneurs.
BE: George, many of us watched Michael Jordan in his heyday operate with a calmness we could not explain. In the uncertainty of today’s world, your book, The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance, gives us a language and a process for some of what you share with your clients. For someone with no experience with mindfulness, how would you describe it?
Mumford: What people talk about with Michael Jordan is his ability to focus on what I call “the eye of the hurricane.” What they really want to know is how he got there. Everyone is a masterpiece. My work is to chip away to access this masterpiece, so that my clients operate at their best and, in turn, share and express themselves as such.
To answer your question about what I do, it is really simple. I help clients figure out what they want. Then, once I know, we begin to talk about the process to get there. An assessment is the first step, in order to understand what the client is seeing. Then, we work together on how to get where they want to go—that varies from one person to the next. The key, however, is that in this process, clients commit to being themselves and to taking responsibility for themselves; I am only the facilitator in that process.
BE: In the case of an athlete whose performance improves outwardly, is it easier to see positive results?
Mumford: It is the same drill for an entrepreneur, musician, or mother as it is for an athlete. To be mindful, you must be present and then let the situation speak to you. From there, you figure out how to respond. The exact same things may not work for everyone, but once I understand what is going on, I can get clear about what tools are needed to address the situation.
BE: I would think that getting inside your client’s head would be absolutely necessary, but in an earlier conversation, you said, “Getting inside your client’s head is not your job.” What did you mean by that?
Mumford: I do try to understand how my clients are seeing things, but I do not try to get inside their heads, as I don’t know what that means. I prefer to say I try to see how my clients are seeing things. I am then helpful in removing the noise and clutter in my client’s heads. That is more my job.
BE: What actually happens when you get rid of the noise?
Mumford: You must understand that, if you don’t try to get rid of the noise, you will get lost in it. This is important. Once you get rid of the noise and clutter, there is nothing. This is when you must be still and know that because there is nothing, there is everything. This would also be the time when I would plant seeds along with my client, to help them be the masterpiece that they are.
BE: The power of being present and continuing to get comfortable with being uncomfortable is what the five spiritual principles are about. One’s ability to be present in life is why you train the muscle that allows the Michael Jordans or Kobe Bryants of the world to do what is needed in a moment of play. Is that right?
Mumford: The mindfulness that shows up in the outcome of a game is what every mindful entrepreneur, woman, or musician can expect for themselves. It is about not forgetting or remembering the present moment between stimulus and response. It is that point where you meet what you are in the mirror, and you are not afraid. Whatever arises, you let the mirror reflect itself. You must have an intention for what you are doing. Simultaneously, you must be willing to let things speak to you.
BE: You’ve said that everyone must find a way to use their pain to connect themselves with everyone else alive. What does that mean?
Mumford: Everyone is a masterpiece. This goes back to your original question. I work with clients to help them release the divine spark within them to become the masterpieces that they are and their best selves, so that this can be expressed and shared.
Think of it this way; when you clear the weeds in a garden, you bury the weeds to enrich the soil and make compost. The same is possible when you clear the noise and clutter from your mind, because only then is it possible for you to get into your flow.
Purchase George Mumford’s book, The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance, on Amazon.
Patricia A. Patton is one of the nation’s leading experts on Boomer Reinvention. Clients hire her when they are ready to redesign the second act of their life into an epic adventure. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @BoomerWiz.