Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 74 - Brian Gumkowski - BREATHE TO GROW

We did that very same thing, so this is where it started. We sold everything we owned in Newport, Rhode Island, our house, everything in it, packed up our little car and drove six months across the country to California. 

BRIAN: We did that very same thing, so this is where it started. We sold everything we owned in Newport, Rhode Island, our house, everything in it, packed up our little car and drove six months across the country to California. We didn’t know where we’re going to live. We found a little studio, we became minimalists. So, less is more. Medals, no medals are here. Everything has a purpose in our place. So, that’s now ingrained in my philosophy. And when I reach out to athletes or when we have communication, it’s always meeting them where they’re at, it’s always understanding, okay, well, this is where you are, you have a lot of stuff, you’re holding onto a lot of history, which I like your point because it’s just not physical stuff, there’s a lot of stuff that we don’t see.

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JESSE: Welcome to the smart athlete podcast. I’m your host, Jesse funk. My guest today has a laundry list of credentials, like many of my guests, but in particular, he has kind of a unique blend. He is a yoga teacher, he is also a triathlete, in particular a plant-based triathlete. He also coaches triathletes. He is co-founder of the Yogi triathlete, and co-host of the yogi triathlete podcast. As we will probably get into here shortly, he’s let me know that he’s obsessed with smoothie bowls. So, if he was in my neighborhood, we’d probably go get one after the show. Welcome to the show, Brian Gumkowski.

BRIAN: [02:22] Thank you so much. I’m really, really honored to be here, and I’m happy that you reached out to show an interest in what we’re bringing to the world. So, thank you.

JESSE: [02:33] Absolutely. And I say this from time to time, depending on the guest and what rabbit holes we get down to, but I’m always very appreciative if anybody wants to spend time with me, because I always feel like, I’m just, who am I? I just want to talk to people, like talk to me.

So, when somebody like you has a little bit of time in their day to spend time with me, I’m happy to speak with you. I always get a lot of value regardless of if there’s any listeners, which there are a few, but I always pull something away from just having a conversation with people like you. So, if nothing else, then you will certainly positively affect my day.

BRIAN: [03:11] Love it. And you will do the same for me.

JESSE: [03:14] So, before we got going, I was saying, you’ve got, if you’re not on YouTube, you’re on iTunes, Spotify, the audio only platforms, you’re missing out on Brian’s nice background right now. Is that anything in particular or just like a really sweet elephant going on there?

BRIAN: [03:30] Yeah, it’s a tapestry because you know, we’re adults now and we had to go pull our college days into our little studio here in California. But we, our logo is the is the elephant, and so anything that we can do to bring that vibe into our home and into our atmosphere and energy, we do.

And so, this thing has traveled with us, it’s been here since we’ve been in California, but you know, it’s really important to have the energy in your environment to be of the highest quality that you can get. And so, things like this just remind us of calm, strength, power, and yeah. That’s why we have it.

JESSE: [04:22] Yeah, it’s interesting. Like, there’s a lot of emphasis in terms of aesthetics with our environments, right? we’re as a culture, as a nation, I think obsessed with issue TV and turning everything white and those kinds of things. But I don’t know, we always pay attention to how the things around us affect us, because it’s subtle, right? If you say I’m not the most organized person, my desk is a mess, it always is, I can clean it up, it’ll be a mess tomorrow, but I do try to keep things relatively tidy.

But say for instance, we’ll go to one extreme, say I was a hoarder for some reason and then I could get past that and become very organized, and let go of all the mental baggage that comes along with hoarding, because it’s not just a matter of having things, there’s usually something else, other element. If I’m in that pre-state, it’s hard to imagine the mental weight that’s lifted in the post state. So, is that something you do? Do you end up taking inventory with your athletes and saying like, “Hey, maybe you should think about throwing away all those, not thrown away, cleaning all the sweaty towels here, leave it on your bike, organize your space.”

BRIAN: [05:57] We did that very same thing, so this is where it started. We sold everything we owned in Newport, Rhode Island, our house, everything in it, packed up our little car and drove six months across the country to California. We didn’t know where we’re going to live. We found a little studio, we became minimalists. So, less is more. Medals, no medals are here. Everything has a purpose in our place. So, that’s now ingrained in my philosophy.

And when I reach out to athletes or when we have communication, it’s always meeting them where they’re at, it’s always understanding, okay, well, this is where you are, you have a lot of stuff, you’re holding onto a lot of history, which I like your point because it’s just not physical stuff, there’s a lot of stuff that we don’t see. That mental weight that just is, we drag it all around with us, these big bags of stuff, our PRs when we were in high school, which really doesn’t matter right now, we’re different people and different humans in this present moment.

[07:08] So, when I speak to athletes, it’s understanding where they are and trying to bridge the gap to how much energy you will get back by detaching from these things that you hold value on. So, the first most thing that I see most often is that there’s the hesitation because you’re attacking, there’s so much attachment that you’re attacking who they are.

There’s no separation between what they have and who they are, like the two emerged, right? When we create a little bit of space in there, they start to say, well, maybe I don’t need to wear those sneakers anymore, maybe I can try a new pair of sneakers and a new brand, and maybe that will give me new potential.

[07:58] So we work on massaging that relationship a little bit between what they’re attached to and what they can grow into, which for most people, they always think the negative, like if I change it, I’m probably going fail. And what we like to do is switch it to the positive, so if you do this, maybe you will get faster, maybe you will get stronger, maybe it’ll open your eyes to trail running when you’ve never run on a trail before, as an example.

So, it’s planting the seeds of what’s possible, is really what I’m getting at.
And it just so happens that a lot of people hoard stuff, it’s what we do, right? I mean, there’s storage units, there’s a business for storage units. [inaudible] understand storage units holding onto stuff that you probably will never, ever use. So, yeah, I think, that’s a valid area for athletes to discover, is what are they holding onto which is holding them back.

JESSE: [08:56] Yeah. Well, like you said, it’s not just a matter of, this is my stuff. This is a memory, and that memory is attached to who I believe I am or who I tell myself that I am, and if I don’t have this thing anymore then am I that person? and if I’m not that person, then who am I?

BRIAN: [09:21] Yes, that is an amazing, amazing place to be. That’s an amazing place to be. And I learned this in yoga teacher training to answer that question, when you do the deep dive on yourself, who am I? You know, just a brief story, I had a severe attachment to triathlon, and it really brought me down in 2014, I had an injury and it took me down a really dark hole, and alcohol and everything that goes with, depression, a little bit of depression and not being worthy.

And I didn’t want to be that person anymore, and so I had to seek some help, some assistance and pulled myself out. And the attachment to who I thought I was, was so deep, like super deep, that I can see it in other people now, and I can assist them and guide them into working through that relationship on their own. So, who am I, if I’m not a triathlete? Well, we’re not who we think we are. We can believe anything, I can say I’m an amazing basketball player and then boom, I can believe that.

It’s really about doing the deep dive on what you are at its essence. And at its essence, we’re all spiritual beings. We’re all just trying to feel good in our day, trying to bring some joy into our lives and trying to help other people, and so how can we do that? and we can do that by working more on ourselves and being in that unknown area of who am I? It’s a scary place, the unknown is scary, the brain has no past reference point for things that you do that bring fear into your life because it’s unknown. So, that’s exactly what’s happening when you question your identity.

JESSE: [11:19] Well, I think that part of it comes down to the idea that our self, or something, that there’s a solid never changing identity that resides somewhere inside of us. And I think it tkaes me back to kind of my time studying Buddhism and Anatta, the sense of no self for substance lists, where it’s more of the idea that you are you— I’m going to butcher this, but you in yourself are not a concrete thing, but more a series of cause and effect relationships.

BRIAN: I like that.

JESSE: So, you are there, it’s not that you don’t exist, it’s that there’s not something that’s staying still, you’re in constant motion and constant change. So, the idea that I am this person absolutely is not real because we consistently affect ourselves, and then there’s externalities that affect us as well.

BRIAN: [12:42] Yeah. We’re constantly changing, we’re all energy. Energy where it’s always moving, always changing. But we put ourselves into that safe box that says, Oh, I’m a triathlete, here’s the box of what a triathlete does. But anything that tests the limit of those borders is going to cause some distress in your belief system.
So, if you believe that you are just here in a movie and we’re just playing a part in a movie today, you’re a podcast host, I’m podcast guests today, this is what we’re playing our roles really well, but it’s not who we are, where we’re doing what we need to do in this moment playing the role, but we’re so we’re so much more than that. And I think that’s the connection that I believe athletes are ready for because they have that will and desire and determination to be better.

So, it’s just edging our way in there with this mindset that you and I are talking about, which is sort of like, it’s not tangible sometimes, right? Well, most times it’s not tangible because we’re spiritual beings, so it’s the energy around us, it’s the cause and effect, it’s the things that are happening and how we’re reacting to them and the power in the choices that we have and the reactions that we have to these stimulus that are happening.

And that’s where we begin to see like, Whoa, wait a minute, if I’m on autopilot all the time, who’s running the show, who’s making the decisions? If I want to go left and my mind is saying I want to go right, what’s happening here? there’s two things going on. And that’s what you’re talking like, strengthen that bond with that voice and notice the disturbances and experiences out here, but they don’t have to be who you are, they don’t have to be everything in your life.

You can choose different a different path every time, and that builds confidence and it builds a belief in you, not the physical you, not with your arms and legs, but who you are inside. And I think that’s what we’re here for, that’s what we’re here on earth school for, this is it. Every opportunity we have, if you see all these challenges as opportunities you’re going to continually grow and graduate from earth, screw it some point.

JESSE: [15:17] I have kind of two thoughts with that. So, my first more superficial thought, which is not superficial, but it’s more superficial than the other. I think about, I’m hesitant to call it a dual mind, but that’s how we would phrase it here. You’re talking about noticing the mind wanting to do this thing, and then the other kind of conscious more sense of self part of the mind saying, “no, I’m going to go the other direction.”

I noticed the best like highest performing moments as an athlete I have are not necessarily when I feel consciously like I’m driving that, but I notice say pain, for instance, the discomfort of whatever activity I’m doing when I’m pushing myself very hard, that’s that one mind that saying, this hurts stop doing that, I don’t like it. And the other mind says, that’s nice, you just sit over there and you just be uncomfortable, that’s okay, I’m going to relax and continue to do the thing that I do.

And the opposite of that being when that that mind that wants to stop kind of overtakes that other mind and says, no, I’m the latter voice, this is what you’re going to do and you’re not going to tell me what to do, we’re going to slow down. But the other thing I think about is you mentioned there being discomfort in trying to let go of that identity, that clinging to attachment of I am this thing, this triathlete in this case.

And I know recently I’ve been grappling with this myself. I don’t drink, so I didn’t use that as a way to cope, but I mean, the last couple of years I’ve been dealing with a loss of identity, a loss of self in the sense that I spent eight years trying to become a pro triathlete, so this identity of like, I’m trying to be this thing kind of faded away after I crashed and had an injury, and that kind of led me to a dark place where I felt broken.

And I knew I was. It was again that kind of dual mind where I noticed myself, and I can notice that I just felt broken. I didn’t have that hunger anymore, but I also didn’t really know how to combat it.

And only recently as in the last week and a half have my coach and I come to a place where we’re kind of charting a new path, a little bit away from triathlon, a little bit back to my own running routes. And there’s, even though I am aware of this conversation we’re having, I’m obviously versed in the language, the ideas, the concepts, and I’ve done it a number of times, changing identities, seeking new things, seeking new challenges. There’s still that fear in loss, of letting go of that thing you thought you were that you’ve been trying to have all the time, to move on to something new.

[18:41] So, I guess my question for you is, when you experience that situation with your athletes and they’re holding on to all of these things, be it medals or PRs or outdated identities, where do you begin the kind of gentle prodding to try to open them up to the possibilities of being something more than where they are now?

BRIAN: [19:05] Yeah, that’s a really good question. All our athletes are meditating, so they’re all given meditation. So, if you join team yogi triathlete, you in some form will have a mindfulness practice in the morning. And we can call it meditation, mindfulness, whatever, prayer, it doesn’t matter. It’s spending time with your thoughts every morning, and it ranges from 10 conscious breaths to somebody who is in a community where they meditate 30 minutes every morning, sometimes it’s walking meditation.

But what that does is it begins to create space between your thoughts and your actions. And so, this takes time. So, I’m not going to approach them about changing things just yet. it’s a process of meeting them where they’re at and keeping that momentum because momentum is really important for athletes is if they have a big goal, they need to keep that energy that we talked about earlier, they need to keep that moving forward.

And what usually derails the process is the mind, the mind interrupts, and it says, “I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough” or some other untrue thought. And what we do in this meditation is you’re building the confidence with yourself to understand that those thoughts maybe are not always true. Now, the seed is planted where, okay, well, now what’s going on here if you’re saying they’re not sometimes true, than what is true?
And so, this begins to create that conversation with the athlete that says, okay, I can finally see, I’ve been meditating with you for three or four months, whatever, that’s just an arbitrary time, everybody’s different, right? And they may have an aha moment where they’re like, “you said to me in the training workout that I needed to listen to my body and take it easy for the first 30 minutes, and then build my pace over the final 30 minutes for let’s just say a progression run.”

Whereas before, the mind and the intellect gets involved and says, “well, what pace, what heart rate does that first 30 minutes need to be? and then what pace, what heart rate should I be shooting for over the next 30 minutes?” and what I’m saying, and I encourage our athletes to do is feel into it, feel going easy, begin to understand that you can hold yourself back and push.

And then through the meditation, they’re creating the space so that when they start a run like this, for example, they may start looking at their watch and seeing the pace for the first 10, 15 minutes, and then they have this aha moment where they’re like, well, what if I didn’t look at the watch? What if I didn’t care about pace? What if I just listened to my coach and said, I’m just going to feel into this workout, this progression run, it’s unknown, but I’m just going to see what it’s like.

[22:09] And nine times out of 10, those that pursue this path, they give themselves a shot, they give themselves a chance, right? We all need people to encourage us to just be more of us. They give themselves a chance and they end up going through the run and they have an amazing experience. And they’re jumping for joy. And they’re saying like, “Oh my God I’ve been carrying all this baggage with me, numbers and heart rate and data” which is important, it’s an important piece, but it’s not everything.
And they become more confident in the choices that they make during a workout.

And this is what we’re doing as coaches, this is exactly what we’re doing as coaches, we’re nurturing the ability for athletes to self-regulate themselves. At some point, I’m not going to be there at the race site when they raised their data isn’t always going to work, they’re not always going to feel good, but that relationship with their inner self is always going to be there. So, if you’re not working on that relationship and being open to it, then you’re setting yourself up for potential challenges in the future. I don’t like to use failure.

So, to answer your question, it starts with meditation. You have to be still, and we talk about this on our podcasts, like is running my meditation? It’s a form of connection with self, but true meditation or mindfulness is letting the body be still, letting the mind swing from branch to branch, like a monkey, thought to thought, get on that thought train, and sitting still and letting that happen. And being there, like you were talking about being there in that experience to see how you react, and it’s sort of a temperature gauge to where you’re at.
[24:02] So, that’s what we do, it’s meditation. And then through the workouts, through the training sessions, just as I prescribe, I’ll challenge them with workouts that allow them to have a little bit of judgment, have a little bit of opportunity to self-regulate, and sometimes they fail, but that’s learning, it’s learning. I’m here to guide, I’m not here to lay the hammer down. I’m here to be the rumble strips on side of the road You’re going forward, you’re varying over to the left a little bit, and then you hear the rumble strips and come back to center.

JESSE: [24:35] It’s interesting. You kind of avoid the word failure. Thinking about identity. I think, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like maybe you avoid the word failure because people think about failure in the essence of, “if I fail, I am a failure” instead of realizing that failure is feedback that something isn’t working, it’s not a state of being or an identity. Am I on track?

BRIAN: [25:11] In the same way I don’t use the word, or I choose not to use the word pain. I tend to use the word sensation because it’s more generic. And I use that in my yoga classes a lot, you know? because you don’t want people to be in pain athletes get into yoga and they’re like, “ah, I can do this.” And that’s not what yoga is. Yoga is breathing and it’s just gymnastics, putting yourself in positions to breathe and to be aware and to be conscious. But I like sensation because it keeps it neutral.

So, yes, to your point. Yeah, keep things as neutral. People have that association with failure as I’m not good, I’m not good enough again. And we don’t need to beat ourselves down anymore, we do it enough. So, yeah, I like opportunities versus challenges, or challenges better than failure.

JESSE: [26:05] Yeah. It makes me wonder too, because I’m guessing you probably do have a reason. So, obviously there’s this connotation involved with the word failure or the word pain that is often negative So, it seems like you try to avoid using that because of the almost inherent, I would challenge that word though, use of those words as negative. So, why, and I don’t mean this in an attacking kind of way, but why do you choose to avoid the word versus trying to change the connotation?

So instead of avoiding the word failure and saying challenge, it’s obviously quicker to talk about the experience without the negative baggage of the word failure, but the other road is to say, okay, I want to use the word failure, but it’s not what you think it means, you know? It’s only feedback, as I mentioned. So, I’m just curious if you have a rationale as to why you go kind of the more neutral worded approach versus trying to wrestle with that negative connotation and switch it around.

BRIAN: Resistance.

JESSE: Okay. Well that seems like the simplest reason, but I just, I’m just curious.

BRIAN: [27:49] No, it’s a great question, and it gets me thinking. So, I’m in this realm of allowing more and less resistance allow more, and that’s sort of a surrender. And so, whoa, talk about a big word like surrender, what does that mean? That I just give up and not even try? No, it’s an allowing, it’s an allowing for things to unfold. But to your point about avoiding it, this is what’s so great about presence, in a yoga class I don’t read off a script, it’s just in the present moment I will speak, the words come, the poses come. If the situation allows and I feel that, and I say, failure, I may go into an explanation of my interpretation of it.

And it may get athletes in that class or yogis in the class to have that shift in their mind where maybe when I’ve been thinking about failure is not really what it is. So, I love that you brought that up because I don’t have hard lines. I’m choosing to put the positive spin on it because I feel like positivity has gotten me very far in my life. But yeah, avoiding, I wouldn’t say avoid it, I’m choosing another way. But I will speak to failure, that’s really a good question. I like that.

JESSE: [29:20] Well, and even the using the word avoid, it’s like I get into this conversation sometimes more often with my bilingual guests, but the idea about we’re trying to communicate ideas with each other through vibrating air, into electronic pieces across a vast network and wires. So, it’s an imperfect system to try to communicate concepts through words, and it often comes up with bilingual guests because they notice like I have, and I would not say fluid I’m out of practice, but I can get by in French.

And there’s just some things you can’t express in one language you can in the other, it goes both directions, that there’s words and they combine together. Germans are a really good example of this because they have so many very specific words for specific situations you just can’t translate, but it’s that thing too, getting back to like, how do I communicate this idea? and then in your case, let’s choose not to use the word that has this negative connotation, let’s choose to use this other word because it has the possibility the person’s going to be more receptive to the idea I’m trying to get across rather than bringing up that mental baggage that already comes across with that other word.

BRIAN: [30:56] Perfect. That’s perfectly said. Yeah, exactly.

JESSE: [31:01] I can see both— For full disclosure. I’m like pretty much everything moderate, but politically moderate, I’ll say politically, but I mean pretty much everything. So, I try to balance away both sides of whatever argument it is and slowly suss out the truth of the situation. So, I often get in arguments with everybody, and by arguments, I mean, discussions.

BRIAN: [31:27] It’s perspective, right? Perspective versus perspective, nobody’s right or wrong.

JESSE: [31:31] But that’s the thing, it’s coming from the place of, I know that I’m wrong all the time, so how am I wrong? What am I wrong about? and what can I learn from somebody who has a different perspective from me? So that’s kind of what’s leaving me in the middle. But I think like, when the conversation we’re just having about avoiding certain words or choosing not to use them or whatever, it often comes in for fire for, oh you’re just being like ultra PC and you’re stupid, to put it nicely, you know what I mean?

BRIAN: Yeah.

JESSE: But it’s like, you may be missing the part where, as you mentioned, you’re trying to approach somebody where they are, not where they should be or you think they should be. It’s, I’m trying my best to approach you where you are right now and bring you past that place to a more positive place for you.

BRIAN: [32:34] Yeah. I’ve gone the route of wishing for people to change. Like, you come upon something in your life, training, racing, inexperience, and you’re like, “I got it, I got it” and then you scream it from the mountain tops and you want your whole family and everybody else to jump on board and you’ve got the answers.

Rarely, if any, do those instances is there change in that person. You can wish for as much as you want, but if they’re not listening, they may be hearing you, but if they’re not truly grasping what you’re trying to say, they’re not going to change.

And we found this out firsthand when we became plant-based, we really, we felt so good and it was so easy and the foods tastes so amazing, and I wanted to scream from the mountain tops, I would go home to my parents’ house and be like, “you guys, you got to change.” And no one changes, like no one in my family has changed, and that’s okay.

But I had to have that process, so I had to learn that, what I wish for someone else is not always going to come to fruition. I can do the work because I love doing the work and it works for me and I can share how it works for me, and if somebody is listening and interested, great. If not, who am I to judge how they choose foods, right? I’ve done that, and it doesn’t go anywhere. You know, I’m absolutely guilty of it.
[34:13] So, this is where we meet people where they’re at. We have athletes that mostly are plant-based, but some are not.

We’ve had transformations of people just because they come and work with us. But we were always working on having an open mind and understanding that we’re all one, we’re all just trying to feel better. And in this instance, food, how do you feel? If you feel better, good. If not, then do something about it. And for some people it’s super quick, and for other people, it takes months, it takes years, it’s a process.

So, yeah, it’s allowing them to not feel that they have to give something up in order to change. It’s adding in little things here and there that eventually will override the things that they do want to change, and eventually it becomes a habit and then change occurs. But it’s a different for everyone, you know this. Yeah.

JESSE: [35:10] Oh yeah. I’ve been through this a number of times. And growing up, I’ve always been pretty self-motivated, whatever it is I’m doing, doesn’t matter, discipline, sports, art, music, if I want to do it, like nose down I’m doing it. And sometimes I wonder how much of that is genetic, you know? How much of that is just part of the genetic makeup of who I am? How much of it is personality? How much of it is experience?

Because I always, growing up, I always try to, and even now I try to approach life with a little bit of naive optimism, because I find that it’s useful in achieving outcomes. If I am already starting with, “this isn’t going to work” well, it’s probably not going to work. But if I’m somewhat realistic, but you know, ultimately optimistic, I think I have a better chance of achieving something.

[36:19] And I always felt like I could have enough motivation for me. If you have zero motivation, that’s fine, I’ll have enough motivation for both of us and I’ll get you going, but it doesn’t work that way. And this goes back to even episode number one with my coach, of the Smart Athlete podcast, motivation is everything. At the beginning of that episode, there’s a quote from him, motivation is everything.
And we talk about it in the sense of lighting a fire, like a coach can’t light the fire, they can only fan the flame.

BRIAN: Yes. True.

JESSE: [37:03] As like you were mentioning that you can speak to somebody, they can hear you, but ultimately, they’re not listening. It’s the same thing. It’s just, they’re not yet receptive to the message that you’re trying to communicate. And I don’t know about you, but that’s probably one of the most frustrating things when you’re speaking with another person.

BRIAN: [37:28] Because you’re entering that conversation with an agenda, you’re approaching the conversation with an expected outcome, and so this is where detachment comes in. So, when you begin to speak to someone, just because you feel alignment in what you want to say, like it feels on your heart and you say it, can you continually say it without them giving any response or even giving you backlash? Can you still communicate verbally what you want to communicate? That’s that gap I was talking about. So, can you talk without expectations?

JESSE: [38:06] Right. No, you’re absolutely right. I think, at least personally, it’s not— [inaudible] that’s not the right word. But it’s like coming from a place of love trying to affect this person, but then because you’re attached to the outcome of wanting them to change, yet they’re not in the place that they’re ready to, then becoming frustrated from the lack of movement.

BRIAN: [38:30] There you go. That’s it right there. So, if we can just number one find out what we love ourselves and move from that, always move from that, then everything else will take care of itself. So, now you have that same conversation with someone, if they’re doing the work on their end to align with something they love, then of course they’re going to be successful, and of course they’re going to eventually find the will to move forward.

What we’re trying to do is, and I’ve been guilty of this too so many times, we think we have the answers, we think we know the way, and we expect others to go along that same path and achieve the same thing and feel the same emotions and successes that we feel, but that’s not how it is. And what you were talking about before, your environment, what can you attribute your will to? To your environment.

Your environment will always be stronger than your will, so growing up, you probably were encouraged in some way, small way, from coaches, teachers, friends, in some way, and you took that belief to heart, and then eventually your will became so profound that it doesn’t matter what your environment is.

[39:52] That’s what I believe, because I was very nurtured as a loving family and I’ve got siblings and always encouraged to do things and go beyond. But there were things about that environment that were conducive to being a good athlete and eating healthy, and so now my will is so strong that I can separate myself from that and my will has taken over. I am one ponied focus, and this is what we want for our athletes, right? and as athletes ourselves, is get that one point of focus, and it doesn’t matter what your environment is, it doesn’t matter what the water temperature is on race day.

Oh my God, like if we talk about water temperature anymore [inaudible] sport. About water temperature how long the line is for registration. Like these are all external things, they don’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t.
And back to what we were talking about before, it’s just the movie we’re playing. We’re just being triathlete that day. Can you navigate your day like a master?

JESSE: [40:53] Yeah It goes to anything, whether it’s water, temperature or not. I mean, it doesn’t matter what the water temperature is, are you going to get in and flap your arms?

BRIAN: [41:05] Yeah. What is one thing different you’re going to do if the water temperature is 60 versus 62? What is one thing that you’re going to change in your world that would make you successful?

JESSE: [41:17] Right. Well, it’s like, even if you’re not at the place of like being detached from that, there’s still like a practical approach. Like, say it’s the difference between being 70 and no wetsuit and being 60 and wetsuit. Okay, well maybe warm up a little longer, like it’s just a little adjustment and the day is going to go just fine, you know? But it’s that attachment to that story like, I don’t swim well when it’s cold, I only swim well when it’s warm. Well, why is that? Are you not warming up? Are you getting yourself down before you get in the water?

BRIAN: [41:57] Are you not taking ownership of your training? Are you not training without a wetsuit? And this is what people don’t want, they don’t want to take that ownership. They want to blame it on the coach. “Well, the coach didn’t put me in open water enough.” No, take responsibility. The coach is there to guide you. Take responsibility, as an athlete, to do the things that could potentially happen on race day. Think about it. And when it comes down to it, they’re attached to their story because they believe the story will keep them safe, it’s they’re out.

Oh, I didn’t have a good swim because there was no wetsuit and I don’t really swim well with no wetsuit. Great, how’s that story treating you? Is it working really well for you? That’s what I like to ask them. Is it working really well for you? and most times they’re like, no, it feels icky, it doesn’t feel good. So, change it, that’s where change happens. And triathlon is just such a— What a sport for opportunity. I mean, there’s so many things going on for an athlete, so much opportunity to grow as an individual. So, that’s why I love the sport so much, there’s always growth opportunities.

JESSE: [43:04] Yeah. Well, trying to blame the coach for a failure, is that avoidance of failure and the idea again that failure makes me a failure, and then I’m not worthy, I’ll just go live in a hole and die. Like, it’s this whole spiral downwards, you know the spiral goes down that far if you go deep enough.

And it’s like, okay, let’s stop up here at the very top once you take ownership and realize that failure is feedback, not a state of being like, Hey, I didn’t warm up before the swim so my day didn’t go very well. Let’s try something different next time and then it may go differently.

Like if you stop it from there, you don’t end up down that like death spiral where you’re just like, I’m no good and I should quit and I don’t want to do this anymore. You stop from forever reaching that point and then you can begin to progress forward, athletically and personally.

BRIAN: [44:20] Yeah, we call that the sucks enough moment. Like, it doesn’t suck enough for them to change, and it didn’t suck enough for me to change until that that injury happened. And you. Like, there comes a point where it just sucks enough and you say, I’m done, I can’t take this anymore, I need to make a change. And everybody’s on a different timeline for that sucks enough moment. And we can see it in others once we experienced it ourselves, right, Jessie? like we experienced it, we can see them going down that path.

One of the rules, I guess, of yoga is non-stealing. There’s these eight, they’re called the Yamas and Niyamas, and one of them is non stealing. And you would think like non stealing, yeah don’t steal a bike or steal someone’s money, but it’s not stealing the experience from someone else, it’s being a guide, but you may have to allow them to go down that dark hole.

And that’s what my wife did for me. She saw me going down that road and she allowed it to happen. She was there for support and make sure I was safe, but it was allowing me to be disgruntled, allowing me to be stressed as if I would meet to be a little bit depressed. And then eventually I found my way out and I owe her the world for that experience because I’m a different person now, like there’s no substitute for experience is my point.

JESSE: [45:55] You know, it reminds me of— It’s not a parable, I’m trying to think what the right word is, but there’s like a story or an allegory about an old dog lying on a nail and it’s pocking him on the side, but not quite enough for him to move. And he just keeps lying there, like uncomfortable forever. It’s like that point before you reach the bottom, or whatever you want to call it, where you’re uncomfortable, but not uncomfortable enough to get up and move two feet. Do you have any thoughts on why we allow ourselves to continue to lie on that nail that’s just a little uncomfortable?

BRIAN: [46:42] Because it’s known. Our mind can associate what it feels like to be on that nail, and it references that point and it’s a safe— are you still there?

JESSE: Yeah.

BRIAN: Because it’s a safe experience, you know what to expect, even though you’re feeling some sensation from the nail sticking in you, you can expect that. So, the mind’s like, Oh, I can expect that, I have this file system, I can expect it, that’s cool. What it’s scared of is the unknown. What if I remove myself from this nail? what happens then? Who am I? What can I expect? And it’s that right there, it’s the unknown. So, it’s known versus unknown.

Anything in the unknown is fearful because we don’t have that catalog in our brain to associate with whatever it is we’re stepping our toes into, but we can associate something with where things aren’t so good, like laying up against a nail, but at least I know it, so I’m going to stay there.

[47:53] And so, that’s why we stay safe and small. And this is what the mission of Yogi triathlete is, is to dip your toes into the unknown. And the more you dip your toes, the more you begin to explore possibilities like you were talking about.

And we’ve had athletes that come to us trying to crush Boston marathon, and they end up ditching the road and hitting 50K trail races and never going back to the road just because of just one little seed was planted that allowed their imagination to take over.

So, it’s absolutely fear. And if you want to get into like the central governor, you know the central governor wants to keep us in homeostasis and wants to keep us safe. When we begin to step over the boundaries, right? Step over into the area of unknown, of a higher heart rate than we’re used to, of swimming in open water when we’re only used to swimming with a black line in the pool, there’s no relationship to base that on, we need to create it.

So, I think it’s Joe Dispenza, “the best way to predict your future is to create it.” So, create it in the moment. So, if you can, I know this sounds so easy and you’re saying like, no. But any fearful moment that you have, anytime you get a swirly sensation inside about something you’re about to do, do it. Most times we fall back on what’s safe and we don’t do it.

So, what I’m saying is like, take that step into the unknown, take that tiny, tiny step. And some people it’s all or nothing, some people you have to dip your toes into the lagoon. You know, we have a lagoon here and I can’t see the bottom sometimes, and it’s dark sometimes and it’s a lagoon, right? And so, what’s in the lagoon? It’s only one like, I don’t know, half a mile from the ocean, so ocean stuff can get in there.

If I consistently stop myself from having an experience there, then I’m consistently keeping myself safe and small. When I start to swim in the lagoon, maybe it’s for five minutes or 10 minutes, and today was five laps around the Lagoon, it was almost an hour, you’re exercising that muscle of facing fear and facing the unknown. And so, we want to make more of the unknown known, and that’s all we’re doing in life.

[50:30] You probably felt the same thing your first day at college, or the first time you went to your job for the first time. It’s all new experiences, and the more that we can have, the more we’re going to build confidence in the unknown stuff to make it known.

JESSE: [50:49] Yeah. You communicate that way, I communicate in a way that this is something that coaches have said to me over the years, and I coach counsel people and say this all the time, and I don’t know if they always understand what I’m saying by saying get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

As soon as you’re comfortable being uncomfortable, then the doors open, you’re free to go do all the things that everybody else is afraid to do and become the person or thing that you want to be to reach the potential that you’d like to reach, because you are now comfortable being uncomfortable, being afraid, being anxiety ridden or nervous.

And it’s like you said, working that muscle of dealing with fear, dealing with that central governor that says, no, don’t do that. And you’re like, okay, yeah, you say that a lot, so I’m going to go ahead and do that anyway because it’s really not that big a deal. I think some of that comes back to maybe an evolutionary thing where historically speaking, we’re talking thousands of years here, lots of things were dangerous, you go wander off into the woods by yourself, something might eat you. But we live in such a safe place now societaly, where we live in these cities inside of our houses detached from all of these dangers of nature, we don’t have to hunt for our food.

But there’s still that central governor, I even refer to it and many people do, the lizard brain, that kind of primal thing, it says that’s scary, don’t do that. And there may be too— Again, this is me theorizing and conjecture here, but there may be too a displacement of that fear onto small inconsequential actions because we don’t have anything that’s actually reasonably fearful.

Like, we don’t have a tiger stalking us next door to where we live, we just got Joe and he doesn’t mow his lawn every day and I’m upset about that. You know, it’s these like little minor things that don’t matter, but we project these fears that we’ve had historically, that we’ve inherited genetically onto these little things, and don’t know that that fear is way out of proportion with the scenario.

BRIAN: [53:40] Way out, there’s a big discrepancy there. And this is why the mind training, mindset training is so important. The mind wants to catastrophize everything. It wants to catastrophize preparation for a dinner party, it wants to catastrophize lining up at a race start during COVID times, it wants to catastrophize everything and it’s thinking about all the possible outcomes, because the mind is meant to think, it’s a tool, it’s not who you are, it’s a tool.

So, this is why the mindset training is super important. And it doesn’t happen when you line up at the race start, it doesn’t happen when you are in the water and you’re like, okay, now I’m really going to focus my mind on race day. It happens, like you said, when you notice every thought during the day, your neighbor doesn’t cut his lawn, oh, that’s interesting, why am I getting concerned with that? It really doesn’t matter. The next thing.

And then you’re onto the next thing, and then you begin to be the witness of all these thoughts, and you’re like, I’m not going to choose that one, I’m not going to choose that one. And there’s 70,000 plus thoughts a day and 90% of those are repeated every day, so you’ve got opportunity, lots of opportunity to choose what you want to indulge in and what you don’t want to indulge in.

So, if you’re not aware of these thoughts, then you’re just, you’ve got that crazy mind, that monkey mind that’s just swinging from thought to thought, and that’s where most people are. And so, we want to create that space where we’re awake athletes, like for every experience that presents itself in front of us. And it starts now, it starts with the actions that you take, brushing your teeth, putting the dishes away. That’s mindfulness, how you can make a mindfulness practice out of anything. So, just like you train your body, you got to train if not more so the mind.

JESSE: [55:40] Yeah, it’s something I don’t think is often talked about enough, but it’s becoming so much more a forefront with coaching, is focusing on that, and not just the quantifiable aspects of you ran this time, your heart rate was this, we measured your blood lactate levels, all have these quantifiable measurements, which are useful tools, but are just tools. I wonder, and I actually noticed that you spoke to David as well, I spoke to David Megan Roach [inaudible]. For those wondering, so Smart Athlete podcasts, episode 37, episode 215 of the Yogi triathlete with David Roach.

I kind of wonder how much intersection you have with them, because it seems like there’s going to be a lot of parallel roads or crossroads between kind of what you guys do and their approach to training and how they take on their athletes.

BRIAN: [56:45] Yeah. It’s building the person, it’s building the athlete. And the workouts are cool, but the more and more, and we know some of his athletes that train under him, a lot of it it’s just, it’s really simple, it’s consistent training. It’s allowing for recovery, it’s what are the stresses in your life that are outside of sports? It’s what’s your nutrition like? It’s how are you navigating your daily communication with others and what are the words that you’re using? So, it goes underneath.

And I think what David’s doing with his group and what a lot of coaches are starting to do, we’re finding is, yeah the plan is important, but the person is more important, and it’s okay if in the process the athlete that came to you discovers that this is not something that they want to pursue, that they don’t love and chooses to go in another direction.

And that’s amazing that you are allowing this person, you were there for them to see this happening an unfold. And I’ve seen that happen with our athletes. But yeah, with David’s approach, it’s just consistent work. We all know how to grit and grind and show up and day after day like hammer the body, we know how to do that. To me, that’s too easy. It’s the self-regulation in when to push, when to hold back, when to allow, when to trust.

I think David talks about this too. I think I asked him, like, you might’ve talked to him too, like how important it is to trust the coach. If you don’t trust the coach you don’t trust yourself as an athlete, and you probably shouldn’t be working with the coach, and that’s okay too. But yeah, I think that’s a big component for coaching.

But I love his energy, I love him and his wife and their puppy. And it’s super important to listen to your athletes. And they’re not always telling you really what they want to say.
And that the workouts are just one part of the coaching process. There’s more to that unique individual, there’s more growth to bring out their best, like you said, and most times it may not have to do with a PR.

JESSE: [59:28] Yeah. Brian, this is starting to wind down on time. There’s a question I’m asking everybody this season that kind of transcends sport disciplines and professions. But we’ve probably already talked or touched on what you’ll probably say, but I’ll ask it anyway. I’m asking everybody what do you think the purpose of sport is?

BRIAN: [59:54] Purpose of sport? Just general? just in general sport?

JESSE: However you want to answer that question.

BRIAN: Wow. Yeah, that’s a great question. What is the purpose of sport? You know, I think it’s our playground. It’s our playground to uncover and unravel the beliefs that we have built about ourselves. And I think sport allows you to test the mind. I know it tests the body, but I believe it allows you, if you’re open to it, to test the mind and to open up to possibilities that you may have not seen at all in the years of your life, but for some reason they appear. And sport can bring that out, and if you have a healthy relationship with sport without attachment, then it can be an education on yourself.

JESSE: [01:00:59] If people want to see what you’re up to, learn more about the yoga triathlete, any of that stuff, where can people find you?

BRIAN: I would go to Instagram, it’s pretty much the most popular place. So, Yogitriathlete is everything, the website, Twitter, Instagram, Yogi triathlete. And then I have my own personal account at BryanGumkowski, but everything’s connected through Yogi triathlete, and it’s all one word.

JESSE: All right. If you’re on YouTube, that’ll be on the screen. But if not, it should be relatively easy to spell. Brian, thanks for hanging out with me today.

BRIAN: Yeah. Thank you, Jesse.

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