Every day is an opportunity to create a living masterpiece

DR. MICHAEL GERVAIS is a high-performance psychologist who has worked directly with Olympic gold medalists, world-record setters, and the Super Bowl– winning Seattle Seahawks, where he helped integrate meditation and mindfulness techniques. He is also the co-founder of Compete to Create (alongside Coach Pete Carroll), whose mission is to help people become the best they can be. A published author in peer-reviewed journals and recognized speaker on optimal human performance, Michael has been featured by media worldwide and is the host of the Finding Mastery podcast, where he interviews world-class performers and deconstructs paths to mastery.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. He introduces the insights that he learned from surviving imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp. He outlines methods to discover deep meaning and purpose in life.

The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. His 81 Zen teachings are the foundation for the religion of Taoism, aimed at understanding “the way of virtues.”

Lao Tzu’s depth of teachings are complicated to decode and provide foundations for wisdom.

Mind Gym by Gary Mack is a book that strips down the esoteric nature of applied sport psychology. Gary introduces a variety of mindset training principles and makes them extremely easy to understand and practice.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
A book for my son: Inch and Miles, written by coach John Wooden. We read it together on a regular basis. The joy that I get from hearing him understand Coach Wooden’s insights is fantastically rewarding.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
My first job as a sport psychologist in professional sports. I was introduced to the team’s general manager by a mutual friend. We had a great conversation about his vision for the future of the team, and he offered me a job. Eagerly, and not knowing better, I accepted. What I failed to fully realize is that there were many other stakeholders who influence the culture and performance of the team, like the head coach (duh). Without ever sitting down with the coach, I had no idea what I was walking into. Little did I know that the coach had very little interest in sport psychology. In fact, he saw it as a potential threat to his coaching style.

Needless to say, the first meeting with the coach was challenging in nature— him challenging me. At this point, I was completely green, he knew it, and he carefully designed my first meeting with the athletes.

The following day, he held an extra-long practice that was physically intense and demanding. Immediately after practice, he asked the athletes to go to the locker room and stay in their practice gear. He then asked to speak with me for a few minutes in his office, just long enough for the athletes to become cold and agitated from their sweat-drenched clothing. With a quick nod, as if the coach’s internal monitor of agitation went off in his head, he said, “Okay. Whattya’ say you introduce yourself to the team?”

He walked me into the locker room and said, “All right, guys. This is Mike Gervais, sport psychologist. If you’re screwed up in the head, go to talk to him.” Then he quickly left the locker room.

I love this experience because it led me to develop a deeper understanding of the people involved in an organization before making a decision about mutual commitment. “Know before you go.”

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
“Every day is an opportunity to create a living masterpiece.”

We have far more control in our lives than many embrace. We create or co- create our experiences in life, and each day is a new opportunity to be fully engaged in the present moment. It’s the present moment where glimpses of our potential are revealed and expressed. A living masterpiece is not drawn on a canvas or etched in stone or inked by pen. It’s the pursuit and expression of applied insight and wisdom.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Investing in others’ growth.

When we make eye contact (sometimes literally and sometimes conceptually, seeing into the center of what is), we become connected. That connection can be so intense that we find ourselves occupying our time with distractions and busyness: the modern addiction to numb the discomfort of getting on the razor’s edge of emotional intensity. It is through the relationships we have that we are able to experience what is true, beautiful, and good. It is through those relationships that high performance is expressed and our potential, meaning, and purpose are revealed.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“You can do anything you put your mind to.” Ah, no, that’s not accurate, and it reveals the advice-giver’s naiveté about human experiences.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

“I’d love to pick your brain, can we set up a phone meeting or meet over a cup of coffee?” No. “I have an idea that I’d like to run by you, can we meet?” No. “I think I fit your criteria to be on your Finding Mastery podcast, can we set up a call to discuss?” No.

Saying no to tap water at restaurants.
Saying no to cable and network TV.
Saying no to phone calls that don’t take place outside my car (calls happen best when I’m driving).
Saying no to new projects and business ideas.
Saying no to media interviews that don’t have meaningful impact.
Saying no to partnerships (and potential clients) who aren’t aligned in vision and appetite to work hard, work with passion, and adjust to the unknown. Saying no to food that’s made in a plant, not made from a plant.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

Deep breathing when my arousal (internal activation) level has kicked into high gear.

Music and movement (walking outside) when my attention span is fatigued.

Turning off my email when I get overwhelmed with “keeping up” versus producing meaningful work.

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