“I had to heal my mind in order to heal my body. I knew I had to start my mornings differently, but I also had to get my noggin straight because I was a mess up in my mind and I knew that was delaying the type of progress I really wanted to make.”
Michael O’Brien’s last bad day was July 11th, 2001. Riding his bike in New Mexico, he was hit head on by an SUV traveling 40 miles per hour and left crippled on the side of the road.
“I remember the sound of me hitting his grill… the thud I made as I crashed onto the asphalt below, and the screech of his brakes.”
Wanting to make the best of the situation, Michael promised himself that if he survived, he’d stop trying to chase happiness and begin truly enjoying every day—a profound lesson we can all learn from.
In today’s episode, Michael shares the story of what happened on his last bad day and how he reframed his situation over the course of several months to heal his mind and body. We dive into how he discovered Pause-Breathe-Reflect meditation, what his daily practice looks like, and how you can immediately begin applying his mindset to your life.
- How changing the conversations we have with ourselves helps us become more compassionate when we talk with others.
- Why Michael had to shift his mindset to truly heal after his accident–and how the day of his injury became his last bad day.
- Why all events in our lives are neutral until we label them–and how Michael processes bad, angry, and sad moments in his life without letting them define his experience.
- Why Michael does something monumental on the anniversary of his injury every year–and why he’s going on a 4,300 mile bike ride from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia this summer.
THIS EPISODE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY:
Organifi makes the highest quality nutritional products, which are made from whole food ingredients (not synthetic vitamins) that I enjoy nearly every day, and have for many years. Visit Organifi.com/Hal, and use the code HAL at checkout to get 20% off of your entire order. I hope you find something there that you love! :^)
Hal Elrod: Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals Podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod, and thank you for tuning in today. I really, really appreciate you listening and being here. And as always, I want to make sure I deliver a lot of value for you. Today is an interview. It's a conversation with Michael O'Brien. Michael is someone that my good friend, Brianna Greenspan, who you might know as the co-author and co-creator of The Miracle Morning Art of Affirmations coloring book for adults and kids. Brianna knows Michael. She met him in the Miracle Morning Clubhouse room, and she's been telling me for the last six months or so that we need to connect, we need to connect. And part of the reason was that we have such a similar story. He was hit by a car head-on. Only he was on a bike. I was protected by my car. He was on a bike, hit head-on by a drunk driver or I don’t know if it was a drunk driver, but by a car, and he nearly died. It was a really inspiring story, not just the story, but his mindset, his journey, and you're going to hear that today. He is also the founder of the Pause Breathe Reflect movement, which is based on the Pause Breathe Reflect, the meditation practice. He's going to share that with you today as well.
And what I love about Michael is his mindset around what he calls his last bad day. The day that he was hit by that car and almost died, he has decided that is his last bad day. And you're going to hear him talk about that, and something that I really adhere to is making every day of your life the best day of your life. Because why not? There's no good reason that I've come up with not to do that, not to approach that today is the one day that I have to live. I'm going to make it the best day of my life, and Michael really embodies that mindset, that spirit, and he's just a great guy. I think you're going to love our conversation today.
Before we dive in, there are two things I want to mention. Number one, of course, I want to acknowledge our sponsor, and I really want to thank Organifi. You know, I always share with you Organifi as our sponsor. They make some of the world's most nutritious, authentically organic, whole food-based supplements in the form of powder that you can put in a glass of water, a smoothie, etcetera. But I want to thank them because they've been our sponsor now. This is their third year and they make this show possible. There's no other way that I'm able to generate any finances for the show and invest the time and energy that goes into it, except for our sponsors. And really, I keep that very minimal. And Organifi is if you want to improve your health, if you want to improve your cognitive ability, if you want to think clear, if you want to have more energy, head over to Organifi.com/Hal. Check out their assortment of products for your immune system, for your energy levels, to sleep better at night, etcetera, etcetera, to build muscle, lose weight, you name it, all-natural supplements. Real natural, not just called “natural” but whole foods supplements. So, Organifi.com/Hal and then use the code “HAL” at checkout.
And one other thing I want to mention, this is exciting, if you've been a listener to the podcast or part of our community for a while, for the last few years, twice a year, one to two times a year, I invite Chandler Bolt to host a live training for our community, and Chandler is a six-time, now a seven-time bestselling author. He's the founder of Self-Publishing School, and he's going to sit down with our community on April 19th and walk us through the exact steps that you need to take to go from blank page, you might even have not an idea for a book right now to a published author in 90 days in as little as 30 minutes a day. And again, I do this with Chandler twice a year for one reason, writing the Miracle Morning and self-publishing it, changed my life more than anything that I've ever done, and doing that required me to overcome my own fears and my own insecurities that some of which you might share, right? Imposter syndrome. Who am I to write a book? I'm not a good writer. I can't focus. All of these things held me back from writing the Miracle Morning and thank goodness, I had a guy like Chandler. It wasn't Chandler but I had a book coach, if you will, that helped me to overcome or really just face those insecurities and those fears head-on and write the book anyway.
And again, writing that book changed my life so much, I want to pay that forward and share that with as many people as I can. If you've got a message, if you've got a story, if you want to create expertise, if you want to create a passive income source, whatever your reasons are for wanting to write a book, Chandler can help you do it. And we're doing this training together on April 19th. Register today. Secure your spot. Head over to Self-PublishingSchool.com/Hal. That’s Self-PublishingSchool.com/Hal and register for this free training. It's completely free. It'll be about an hour long, and every time we do this, we've had hundreds of people from our community, hundreds of members of the Miracle Morning Community that have written and published their first book as a result of what they've learned from Chandler and what you're going to learn on the 19th. So, last, one more time, head over to Self-PublishingSchool.com/Hal and you will get access to that training to register for that. I think that's it for the announcement.
Now, for today's podcast, a conversation with my new friend, I love this guy, Michael O'Brien. Let's talk about how to have your last bad day.
Hal Elrod: All right. Michael, let's just pick up. You were saying you were in the Miracle Morning Clubhouse room and let’s go from there.
Michael O’Brien: Well, so the first time I found Miracle Morning on Clubhouse, I just stumbled upon it, and one could say, maybe I didn't stumble upon it. I was led to it. And I actually thought you were going to be the host, right? Because I saw your icon. It was the Miracle Morning. I know Hal and I knew your story. I'm like, "One day I’m going to meet this guy,” because what happened to you and what happened to me, so many different parallels, and there Brie was, talking, hosting. And I'm listening and I had to like a little bit of a scrunched-up face. I'm like, “Is this woman for real?” Like, she had high octane energy. I'm like, “Is this legit?” Because it was almost like so much you didn't know whether to believe it or not. And I listened for a couple of hours and I was like, “You know what, I'm going to go back again tomorrow.” And she was the same way the next day. And then I was like, “Well, I'm going to show up again.” And then she was the same way that way. And then I was like, “I have to figure out like, what's her deal? What's her story?” And then I connected with her on Instagram and then did a few sharing and the rest is history. It was like over a year ago but, yeah, like such high octane juice, such an abundant way of showing up, serving others, trying to level the whole consciousness of humanity. Yeah. It was like one of the beautiful things about Clubhouse is connecting with people that weren't previously in my orbit but now are, which is really cool.
Hal Elrod: Very cool. And for everybody listening, I know you all just dropped in the middle of the conversation. Michael started telling me a story. I go, “No, no, no. Let's hit record. I don't want to miss any of this.” He is referring to, of course, Brianna Greenspan, who is the co-creator and co-author of the Miracle Morning Art of Affirmations Coloring Book. She is the host of the Miracle Morning Clubhouse room. She was my coaching client when I thought of the Miracle Morning, so she literally is like, what do they say, patient zero? She's like in the top first five people I told about it and she's now single-handedly bringing the Miracle Morning into schools across the country. I think she's got it in over 100 schools now where they are practicing the SAVERS or the CHARMS, which is from The Miracle Morning, the book for parents and families. Yeah. And like you were saying, and she's just a force for good. I mentioned to you, right, that her fiancé, Josh, is a good friend of mine. He's on our team, actually. I said, “Yeah, Josh is so nice. I didn't trust him for a while.” Like, when I first met him, I was like, “Okay. All right. Nobody's this nice, you know?” And eventually, you get to know somebody and see enough scenarios and you get to know the real them and you go, “Oh, he's really that nice, right?”
You know, every day he's wearing a shirt that says, “Kindness matters,” or, “Be kind to others,” or, “Everything is right about you,” or, “Pause, breathe, reflect,” right? He's wearing your shirt. Or Miracle Morning, like he's just an ambassador for like love and kindness. And him and Brie I think that's a match made in heaven, for sure.
Michael O’Brien: Oh, absolutely, like the type of people you want to have in your life. And I think that, hey, the world at this moment in time needs a few more Joshs and a few more Bries. We need to do something to stem the tide of like divisiveness and find a way to come together even when we don't necessarily see eye-to-eye but find a way to see the commonality in our humanity. And as to humans as they are, I think they're doing a wonderful job and certainly changing lives along the way is, as I like to say, they're rippling some goodness out into the world, and I think it's important now to ripple some goodness out into the world.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, maybe now as much as, if not more than ever. And I love what you said, which is we have to find a way to come together based on our shared humanity based on our commonality. There will always be differences, you know? But fundamentally, we're the same. We're all human beings on a journey called life, striving for love and connection and safety and abundance, right? And, "Oh, wait a minute but you're in that political party? Oh, never mind. I don't like you. I don't view you through a lens of humanity and empathy and love and compassion anymore because you vote differently.” You know what I mean? Like, it's gotten kind of crazy to me.
Michael O’Brien: Well, it's even bigger too than this political party. It can be like the state you live in. “Oh, you live in California? Oh, you live in New York? Oh, you live in Florida. Oh, Texas?” Where's the neutral state? I don't know. Maybe it's Maine. I don't know.
Hal Elrod: Montana. I don't know, something.
Michael O’Brien: Or Hawaii or whatever because it's like the rainbow, but I think we've gotten very used to judging really quickly. And you know this, Hal, from your work is that when we're judging others, it’s the body armor we put on because we tend to judge ourselves a lot. And so, if we can change how we look at ourselves, change the conversation that we're having with ourselves, maybe we can be a little bit more compassionate with ourselves. And as a way, we learn how to be compassionate with others, even though, yeah, we might disagree. You know, the country is founded on disagreement, right? So, we found a way to come together and try to build a more perfect union as we go forward. Even though it's messy and wonky and choppy, we can find a way to do it.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. You just said something that resonated with me. I just grabbed my family values and you said something about love. And one of our family values is we are lovers of life. Love is the foundation of how we experience ourselves, others, and all of life. And I think that's what you said, right? Is that if we judge others, it's because we typically just judge ourselves. It goes back to that concept of how you do anything is how you do everything. If you're hard on yourself, you’re hard on other people. And when you see someone that's hard on the people, you often can actually, like for me, I actually flip it from judging them to empathy and go, “Oh man, they must really have it hard. In their head, they must really be beating themselves up a lot to take it out that way on other people.” Michael, let's do this. Before we keep just going down the good old conversation, let's get your background here. You mentioned we have very parallel, very similar stories where we almost died based on being in a car accident. Yours was you're riding the bike. I was driving a car, a Ford Mustang. Let's talk. Share your you call it the last bad day story. Share your last bad day story.
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, the anniversary of it comes up this summer. It would be 21 years. I was out in New Mexico, north of Albuquerque, for a company offsite when there was a flight out on Sunday, a flight back on Friday type of affairs and I was training for a bike race. I was 33 at the time, so it's 2001. This is before social media just to frame, bring some context to it. I'm married seven years, two young daughters. Elle was three-and-a-half years old. Grady was seven months old. Brought my bike out in the morning of July 11th. I was doing this loop on a hotel property about a two-mile loop and I was getting about 10 laps in. That was the plan. Get a little exercise in, a little air of New Mexico, and go to the meeting. And on the fourth lap, I came around the bend and a Ford Explorer crossed fully into my lane. It was traveling about 40 miles an hour based on what the police estimated. And I remember everything. I remember the sound of me going into his grill, the sound I made when I went into his windshield and sort of popped a hole in it, the screech of his brakes, the thud I made when I came to the asphalt below, and I got knocked unconscious after that. And then when I regained consciousness, I asked the question that only another cyclist can truly appreciate. I was like, “Hey, how's my bike?” You know, I was trying to cut the tension because I could feel the tension. I was in the worst pain of my life with a little humor. That's how I dealt with things back then.
Hal Elrod: Now, you and I have even more in common as I'm hearing this because I’m the same way.
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. And I was just like, “Well, just try to laugh it off,” as opposed to like staying in the muddy conversation. I'll make a joke and everyone will laugh and then we'll forget about it, right? And I just remember like lying there and I had EMT from fire, police, ambulance. They’re calling the helicopter, the whole thing, and I'm lying there thinking, "This is not how the story is supposed to go. This isn't the script.” I was part scared out of my mind but also part irritated because I was like I was following the script. Like, I was told to do so like do this, do that, and then you're going to have success. And the reality was back then my success was sort of framed like chasing happiness and all that external merit badges like the new house, the new car, the new job, all that stuff. I was chasing my happiness. And I remember, this is really funny now when I look back, I was like, “Don't fall asleep, Michael. Whatever you do, don't fall asleep. Stay awake. Stay awake.” Because I thought if I was awake, if I was conscious, I could control the situation. I could direct things and I was in no shape to direct anything. As they put me on the medevac, I made a commitment to whoever was listening. I said, “Listen, it's a total bargain. If I live, I will promise to stop chasing happiness.” And then they flew me to Albuquerque for surgery. It took about 12 hours. I needed 34 units of blood product to save my life and my leg.
I broke a whole bunch of everything but the big injury was when the left femur shattered, it lacerated the femoral artery of my left leg. So, the doctors reported to my wife, “We're not really sure how your husband survived. He lost so much blood. You know, had he been 10 years older or not in shape, he would have died before he even got here.” I spent the next four days and change in ICU, and then I came out, and then my world was turned upside down.
Hal Elrod: Wow. Yeah. My left femur too, by the way. The more you share the story, I'm going, “Wow, we have so many things in common.” So, you go through this traumatic experience. You're 33 years old. You've got two daughters at the time, you said?
Michael O'Brien: Yeah, two daughters. Yeah.
Hal Elrod: And what ages were they?
Michael O’Brien: Three-and-a-half years old and seven months.
Hal Elrod: And just a baby. Okay. So, three-and-a-half years old. And so, how long was your recovery? How long were you in the hospital? How long was the therapy, that kind of thing?
Michael O’Brien: So, I was in New Mexico for a couple of weeks and they flew me back to New Jersey. That's where I live outside of New York. In total, like about three-and-a-half months, I probably could have stayed there longer but insurance basically kicked us out. So, we can get into the medical healthcare system some other time. Not for this conversation. So, then but I had probably 12 more surgeries in front of me and a lot of outpatient rehab. So, although I was an inpatient, I was still going to outpatient three times a week, if not every day. There are some times when I was going every day and just more and more surgeries to fix more and more things. When I first came out of the ICU, the doctor said, “Listen, based on your injuries, you're probably not going to walk very well again. You're probably never going to get back on your bike and you're going to have a lot of dependencies and you're going to have a lot of issues. There's going to be pain and suffering in your life.”
So, that whole concept of chasing happiness, Hal, was like, well, that's out the window because I couldn't see anything to be happy about. I went dark pretty quickly until I came back east and I had a moment where I realized this is very much like a Joe Dispenza moment of like I had to heal my mind in order to heal my body much like you had to figure out how do you have your pivot. And I knew I had to start my mornings differently but I also had to get my noggin straight because I was a mess up in my mind and I knew that was delaying the type of progress I really wanted to make.
Hal Elrod: So, what were the thoughts? What were the, I mean, would you call them victim thoughts like what were the thoughts and what were some of the hardest moments that you experienced during that time, mentally and emotionally?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, it was victim thoughts like this shouldn't have happened. The driver had to revoke license. He had five DUIs on his New Mexico state driver's license but I got hit on tribal land. So, we got into a whole lesson about that. You know, it was really good learning but a lot of it was, “This is not fair. This shouldn’t have been happening, and I did everything right.” As far as a cyclist was concerned, I was exactly where I needed to be. I was wearing bright-colored clothing. I had lights on like I did everything wisely. And then this still happened. This is so unfair. Why me? Why this happened to me? I would say one of the hardest things, and you might be able to relate to this, for the longest time, I couldn't do anything by myself. I couldn't dress myself. I couldn't toilet myself by myself. And the loss of dignity when you have to like get up onto a bedpan and you have to call someone to help you clean up was like even like sharing it now, I get like goosebumps, just like it was so humiliating. Like, here I am. I'm 33. I have a good career. I'm following the script, I got the family, I got the whole thing, and I have to call someone to say, “Hey, can you help me clean up or shower?” And I just thought I lost at that point in time all my dignity. And I was like, “How do I climb out of this hole?”
And really, I pretended on the outside. Like, when people would come to visit, I'd be like, “Yeah, we're going to be happy and we're going to be optimistic,” and I put on the act as best as I could. I don't think I was really fooling anyone. Well, at the time, I thought I was but when it got quiet in the hospital, when it was only the beeping machines, I was like, “I can't do this.” I’m like, “Why didn't it hit me differently? Why am I even living? And do I want to live?” And it was like some of those really dark moments.
Hal Elrod: What was the turning point or even the series of events that enabled you to reframe, as you said, to heal your mind in order to heal your body? When did you start to think positively? And what were those thoughts, actually? And before you answer that, I know I read about I was reading over some of your material that a mentor shared that all the events in our lives are neutral until we label them. So, let's answer that on the back end. First, share your mindset when the pivot was for you mentally and emotionally to start healing your mind, and then we'll circle back to that philosophy that all events are neutral until we label them.
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, I think a lot of moments around change happen in like micro-steps. So, I think there were some things happening along the way that I was starting to see things differently. I could also see that I was making progress so it wasn't totally plateaued or stagnant in my recovery. Like, some things were starting to change. I was starting to feel maybe less pain but I was still in a lot of pain. And they flew me here and I had some skin graft operations, and then they took me to Kessler's Institute for Rehabilitation, and that's where they took Christopher Reeves, I’m totally dating myself, my version of Superman back in the day when he had his equestrian accident. And when I came through, there was a big poster. It was on the ambulance stretcher and it read, "Challenging the motivated, motivating the challenged.” And I'm like, “Oh, I'm sort of like that like I am definitely challenged but I'm also like feel like through my athletic experience, just motivated.” I wanted to get there. And so, I was like, “Okay. That was a little bit of a bright spot.” And so, then I just kept on working on things and then I got perspective. So, the first hospital room I had at Kessler, my three roommates were all quadriplegic.
So, keeping in mind, up until that point, I was the worst off in the hospital where I was stationed. So, my frame of mind was like, “Woe is me. I'm the worst off.” And then they wheel me into this massive hospital room and the three other guys I'm with, all quadriplegics, all trying to learn how to drive their wheelchair by blowing through a straw. And I was like, “Oh, hello, perspective.” So, that was another moment but I was still having challenges. I would still have my moments like I had bright spots and then I got angry again. Now, this all happened to me, and that's when the mentor called and I unloaded on him. He's like, “How are you doing?” And I’m like, "You really want to know how I'm doing? Here's how I'm doing,” and I was like pom, pom, pom. I went through the laundry list. He said, “You know what? Hey, everything in life is neutral until you label it. You get to choose your label. Right now, you're labeling yourself as a victim and, hey, no one's going to fault you because something horrific happened to you. But I'm going to submit to you. You can label that day and label yourself in a different way if you choose to. It's really up to you. So, how do you wish to see yourself?”
And at first, Hal, I was like, “What is this? Is this some like Star Wars thing? This is a Jedi trick.” And then I let it marinate for a bit. I let it process and I was like, “You know what, he’s right, sort of.” I gave them a sort of, not a full right at first. And I was like, "If that's true, then if I have my daughters and my wife and other people in my life, then how can I label the whole day as a bad one?” Right? Current day. So, I was like, I'm going to call that day, the day of my accident, my last bad day. And that's when I really started getting into gratitude fully. So, that was the beginning of my gratitude practice, and then I started looking at that day differently, started looking at myself differently. And around that time, too, I started my mindfulness practice and my moments where I would pause, breathe, reflect. And for the first time in my life I really started a morning routine and ritual to get ready for the day to set my intention. So, that was the beginning of the whole process.
Hal Elrod: Okay. Now, so perspective shift, I mean, it's amazing, right, when you change? A few weeks ago, I think I did an episode on when you change your perspective, you do change everything, and it's amazing how that was your last bad day. It went from being the worst day ever that wasn't fair and you didn't deserve it, and you're a good person, and this wasn't part of the plan, and you were doing everything right, which made you feel like a victim and made you feel disempowered. And then you shifted perspective and you went, “Oh, that's my last bad day. I still got a wife and I've got two daughters and I'm alive and I've got a limitless future.” Right? And it's incredible how nothing in terms of circumstances or events change. And I'm just saying this because I really want to highlight this for everybody listening. Nothing changed. So, if you're listening right now, you've got circumstances, you've got difficulties, you've got challenges, you've got situations, you've got people in your life that are causing you or that you're allowing to be a stimulus for you to feel a certain way. And Michael's a living example that you shift how you look at things and it shifts your experience of those things, of life.
So, the mentor calls. I love that, by the way, all events in our lives are neutral until we label them. It was just so powerful because people automatically go, “No, that's a bad event. That's a bad thing.” “Really? Why? Who said who?” You know, because I label it, right? So, you mentioned that you started a gratitude practice. What did that look like in the beginning and how has that evolved?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, great question, and I should say like since I labeled that day as my last bad day, I've had plenty of bad moments, angry moments, and sad moments. We all have moments, right? And so, I made a determination that I wasn't going to give any given moment more fuel than it deserved. So, I was going to feel what I had to feel. If I was angry, I was going to feel angry but I wasn't going to let it ruin the whole day or label the whole day. So, my gratitude practice really started. I got out of my hospital bed into my wheelchair and I wheeled myself to a quiet place in the hospital. And I sat there and just thought of three things I was grateful for. And again, this is before like really the internet or social media could tell us how to have a gratitude practice. It was only books. There was no TED talk. There was no Instagram or LinkedIn on how to do these things. But I knew enough just through some of the stuff that I had been doing in my career but also just in life, in sports. And so, I was like, “Okay. What's working for me?” Okay. Well, I woke up. I can wheel myself down the hall. My daughters, my wife are my life. This happened. One of the big things, like when we had processed guava juice for breakfast, I was like I'm grateful for that. And like, there's something to this day, it's full of sugar and all that but processed guava juice, I’m like if you want to put a smile on my face, Hal, that is how to do it like give me some of that stuff.
Hal Elrod: There’s an anchor to that?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. Just it made me, I don't know, just it made me feel good. It's like it tasted like sunshine, as corny as that sounds. I was like, “Okay. This is something.” It brightened my day.
Hal Elrod: For me, in the hospital, it was Donald Duck orange juice. Somebody brought me that like on day one, and that was my, yeah, I consumed so much Donald Duck orange juice.
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. I don’t even know what real guava juice I think tastes like. So, I did that and then I spent five minutes just being quiet. So, it was my silence and I called them PBR breaks because I thought it was funny because people thought of Pabst Blue Ribbon and there was also a metric at work called profit before royalty and I was like, “Oh, well, they're like my pause, breathe, reflect breaks,” and I would just get quiet for five minutes and then I would go to do some exercises in my chair like stuff I could do with my arms because I couldn't do anything with my legs. And then I would put on Depeche Mode’s Violator CD, Sony Discman back in the day. So, a whole bunch of CDs in the back of my wheelchair, and I would fire up Depeche Mode and I would have a dance party in my wheelchair and that was my morning ritual. And now I'd wheel myself to rehab for the first morning session. And that's how I began.
Hal Elrod: This was in the hospital?
Michael O’Brien: And this was in the hospital. Yeah. And then that's like, so eventually I'm making more progress. I’m shaping how I'm approaching my rehab sessions because they were twice a day every day. And then eventually I got approval to put full weight on my legs, started learning how to walk. And then once I was there, they were like, “Okay. Now, you can leave the hospital,” and I'm like, “I'm not done yet.” And they're like, “Oh yeah, you are, and we're going to do outpatient.” But I just continued my gratitude and my mindfulness practice ever since, and it's evolved. My gratitude practice now is at night. So, one of the things I found when I went back to my corporate life is to have a gratitude practice at night as a way to sort of settle in and get ready for bed. Because what I was finding is like a lot of the work stuff was coming into my head as soon as I hit the pillow. So, I would get ready for bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, and then practice my gratitude. I'm not necessarily a big - I have a journal but I don't necessarily journal my gratitude because I also have bad penmanship, so I can't read it. So, I usually just say talk it out and think it out. And then it's a beautiful way for me to get ready for bed and then off to sleep I go.
So, that's my gratitude practice now and my mindfulness practice is in the morning, and then taking moments throughout the day just to come back to the present moment, come back to my breath as a way to realize I have a lot to be thankful for. And there are a lot of different ways I can show up in life to send a powerful ripple out there in the world.
Hal Elrod: What does pause, breathe, reflect look like for you in terms of the practice? Is it, okay, I actually pause, I breathe, and then the reflect is there. Actually, I think of a thing, I think of what I'm grateful for, I think. So, yeah, what's PBR look like for you?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, I'm trained as a meditation teacher and mindfulness-based stress reduction, which is something I've found through my recovery. So, my actual like meditation practice is much longer than a simple five-minute pause, breathe, reflect break. So, I do either some type of body scan or mindful meditation in the morning for about half an hour and also couple that with yoga, which is a good way to also practice mindfulness. And then the pause, breathe, reflect breaks, they can be a minute long. The stuff I do on Clubhouse are five minutes. So, it is dropping in with an anchor. It could be your breath, we could do a body scan, and it usually ends with a reflection prompt. So, it can be like any prompt but some of the things could be like, “Okay. How can I show up in life and be courageous or be kind or be loving? Or maybe it's in the moment that you're in a meeting and you just come back to your breath. You paused. You come back to your breath and reflect, “Okay. What do I want to say or do next?” So, that could also be a reflection. So, I use the reflection piece of it as a prompt, as a point of curiosity, really, because I'm a big believer. Curiosity also helped fuel my recovery. So, the reflection piece is more about that. Like, how do I show up? How do I wish to be as a way to put a more powerful ripple into the world than just be thoughtful, be intentional?
Much like in the Miracle Morning like, how do we want to frame our day so we can be as intentional about our day as possible? So, we show up for ourselves what we show up for everyone else, those inner lives that are really close to us, but also those that we may never see during the day but we know our energy makes a connection to them, nevertheless.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Absolutely. And I relate to the gratitude practice, especially I do the same thing. It's not written. It's not even formal. Just when I lay down to bed at night and I find myself, like you said, mind's racing about I got all these things on my mind and got problems, and I got things I'm worried about and dah, dah, dah. And it's realized, “Wait, this isn't serving my objective of falling asleep peacefully and getting quality REM. And so, I just think of what am I grateful for? And I just get in a state of, "Thank you God for my wife.” And I'll just feel that and I just do that until I fall asleep. So, it's such a simple but really profound practice. And here's what I found that's interesting. I'm curious if you have found something similar. In the Miracle Morning book, I talk about how your first thought in the morning is typically your last thought before you went to bed, right? If you went to bed thinking of something you were stressed about or dreading waking up in the morning, then as soon as you come to consciousness in the morning, you immediately feel or think that same thing, “Oh God, it's the morning. I got that meeting today. I'm worried about this thing.” And so, what I found is that, oh, when you have a gratitude practice and you fall asleep like I woke up this morning and I'm just like, “Hmm,” like I just feel so happy.
And the negative is like actually, I don't want to get out of bed because I go, “I just want to lay here and continue feeling grateful like I did when I was going to sleep before I went to bed.” So, I'm wondering, do you find that the gratitude before bed impacts how you feel in the morning?
Michael O’Brien: Absolutely. In fact, you had your experience last night. I had my own experience. So, I'm training for a big ride across the country and my body, to be honest, is feeling it. And so, last night I spent a lot of time being grateful for my body. The fact that I could even train for such an adventure to ride across the country. So, I spent the last part of my gratitude practice really trying to put as much positive energy into my body as possible to allow it to heal because I have a little bit of an overuse injury that I'm currently dealing with. And I woke up today and I went immediately to my body and just noticed even before I hit the ground, just noticing how my body felt in bed. And you know, it's getting better each day I think because of the care I'm trying to provide to it. But yeah, so certainly, I think it serves as the anchor as a grounding point as far as like what I think about or even sort of I think prompts what I dream about from time to time. Although, I'm really horrible at remembering what I actually dreamt about. Sometimes you can remember but certainly last night, my big part of my gratitude practice was around my body, what my body's been through, what we've been able to recover so far and it really helped frame the start of my day just as I work on this injury and trying to get back to training the way I want to train for my event.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. That's powerful. And anybody listening, I encourage you. It's such a simple, really even unstructured practice, which is just to once you lay down to bed and if you can start it even before you lay down to bed as you're brushing your teeth or whatever, but just go through, just go through things that you're grateful for and just feel it, just almost like a little smile as you imagine the things you're grateful for, and then you drift off to sleep, drift off with that energy and that peace of mind that gratitude brings. Talk about Pause Breathe Reflect. This is it went from a daily practice for you to now it's really become a movement. In fact, it's funny. I wore my Pause Breathe Reflect shirt yesterday and then I threw it in the wash and I woke up today. I go, “Oh my God, the interview with Michael is today. Why didn't I wear my Pause Breathe Reflect shirt today?”
Michael O’Brien: It's still with you. Yeah. Well, the way that all started and it started very quietly in the hospital. And then when I came out of the hospital and to my corporate life, I didn't tell anyone about it because I didn't know anyone that did mindfulness or meditation. Like in the corporate crowd, keep in mind, it's 2001.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Michael O'Brien: So, this is like very woo-woo like this is like hippie-dippy, crunchy granola, whatever like label you want to slap on it. I was like, “I'm not telling anyone about this because they're going to think I'm going soft,” because there's a whole bunch of Judgy McJudgy going on. So, I'm quiet with my practice and my practice is evolving. And then I left my corporate job in 2014 to do what I'm doing now. And I started talking to some clients about, “Hey, why won’t we just take a moment to pause, breathe, reflect and take a PBR break?” And occasionally I would reference it in a blog post but I wasn't necessarily too overt about it. So, fast forward to the start of the great kerfuffle, as I like to call it, the pandemic, and a bunch of my clients were reporting back to me like, “Michael, we need to talk. It's a PBR kind of day,” and I'm like, “Huh?” They’re like, “I need to grab a whole bunch of pause, breathe, reflect.” And then I was like, “Oh, this is something.” And then as we got deeper into 2020 with this whole experience, I think we all realized, “Well, this is something that's not going to go away anytime soon.
And what I realized too is like I had this thing, this practice I was doing, and for the most part, I was keeping it to myself. And I was like, “Well, how selfish is that?” And you're keeping it to yourself because you don't want to be judged by other people who think, may think that you're soft. Look at what you've been able to do. Like to come back and to cycle the way I ride and create a life. And so, you're worried about these people judging you, and that's why you're not talking about the importance of mindfulness and meditation. There was a little bit of like shame on you. You're keeping this to yourself.
Hal Elrod: It’s selfish of you, Michael. Selfish.
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. And so, then I was like, “All right. So, we're going to start sharing it more openly.” And that's when I started doing things more openly about it, and we created our first design of our t-shirt because I did this 19-hour ride inside for 19 charities supporting COVID-19 relief on July 11, 2020. So, it was a way to celebrate the anniversary because I like to do big things on the day of the accident to celebrate life. And I create a shirt and then a whole bunch of people bought the shirt. We sold out the shirt and I was like, “Oh, this is really a thing.” And so, it was more than just a commercial we're going to sell t-shirts. It's more about people needed to find a way to get through these hard moments. And I was introducing them to mindfulness. People that didn't meditate at all, thought meditation was soft and woo-woo, through Pause Breathe Reflect, we’re giving them a portal, a way in to try it out. Then Clubhouse launched, and then I realized, well, I sort of have a known entity as far as like how people saw me on LinkedIn and other social platforms, but I wasn't really known as a meditation teacher because I never talked about it. But along the way, I got my meditation teaching credentials through mindfulness-based stress reduction.
And I was like, well, through Clubhouse and through some encouragement from Brie and all the work she was doing with Miracle Morning on Clubhouse, I was like, “I'm going to start hosting rooms.” And then I hosted one room and then a couple and a couple of people showed up and a few more. And now we do four or five rooms a day, and about 100 people show up each time. And we're exposing people to mindfulness in small bites. You know, these are five-minute practices, maybe 10 minutes at some duration but really helping people, whether the journey that they're on and find mindfulness, find meditation. And for those that have a practice, it’s a great way to come off the mat and check-in and drop in during the course of the day. So, yeah, it was something that changed my life profoundly that I kept to myself until the pandemic and I realized I have a responsibility to share it with the rest of the world. And that's what I'm trying to do.
Hal Elrod: Amen to that. I believe that we all have a responsibility to share whatever has helped us with anybody else to get help, right? And if really that becomes a mission in life for all of us to use our tragedy or trauma or our success or achievement and the lessons that we can extract from those to help other people. So, you've mentioned a few times this ride you're doing. Talk about that. What's this ride? And every year over your accident day, you do something monumental. What's this ride across the USA you're doing this summer?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, it's June 14th to July 31st from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia, about 4,200 miles but I say 4,300 because I think I may get lost at least 100 miles. So, I'm baking in getting lost a little bit, setting up expectations.
Hal Elrod: So, you’re going to ride 40. I’m just going to make sure I can process. You're going to ride your bike 4,300 miles over the course of two-and-a-half months or no, a month-and-a-half.
Michael O’Brien: A month-and-a-half. So, it's about 100 miles a day. So, we're going to do this ride last year but my left knee gave out and it needed to be replaced.
Hal Elrod: Well, how old are you now, by the way, if you don’t mind me asking?
Michael O'Brien: I am 54.
Hal Elrod: So, 54 and riding 4,000. Okay. All right. I'm starting to wrap my head around it.
Michael O’Brien: So, yeah, so last year, we're going to do it last year but the knee… So, they had predicted that both knees would be replaced five years after the initial trauma. So, that would have pinned it about 2006. So, the right one is doing fine. Original equipment. The last one, we got 20 years out of it, which is remarkable. And I do credit like how I've approached life and making that last as long as it did but it needed to be replaced. So, we got it replaced last July. So, this summer, we're going to do it on a brand new knee, bionic knee, and it's my wife in an RV and our two dogs and we start again in the Coast of Oregon and, yeah, about 100 miles a day. And for me, it's a celebration of life. It's also a chance to really stand in a big way. Gratitude to all the people. Each day, we're going to celebrate someone that made an impact in my life because like my journey, like I'm here, but I could have easily brought like 100, 200, 1,000 people who have impacted me in some form or fashion along the way. Much like your story, right? You know, we both went through the recovery and the rehab but we didn't do it alone. And so, for me, it's about celebrating life but also rippling gratitude, the benefits of mindfulness, and the power of community.
And again, this is something that I always go back to. When I got hit, the EMTs came. They got called to come. They knew some guy had been in an accident. They didn't know the extent of it. They didn't know anything about who I was. They didn't know who I voted for, who I pray to, who I love. They didn't know anything about anything. They just came to help save someone's life. They didn't ask me a bunch of questions of what color state I live in or anything. And along the way, like a whole bunch of people from all different ways of looking at the world, all have had some type of impact on who I am today. And in that power of community, even if we don't see eye-to-eye, we can find a way to like celebrate each other, celebrate as we started off, celebrating the humanity in all of us. And along the way too, I hope people can fall in love with our country, even though it may not be perfect or we're all striving towards building a more perfect union, as we say. But this country has a lot of beauty, and through the videos I share, I want to share the beauty of our country and the beauty of human beings in our country and help people realize that we have more in common than what separates us. And sometimes the news media wants to separate us for whatever reason, mainly economic, and I want the ride to be that type of goodness ripple.
And so, yeah, it's certainly I've never done anything like this before. It's hard to train for. For my cycling friends, they're like, “I get to like, "Whoa,” but I don't get to, "Whoa, you're crazy.” It's like, "Whoa, that's ambitious.” And so, it's just crazy enough to get people's attention. And it's been on my list of things to do. My wife and I have wanted to go across the country in an RV. We're doing it with our dogs and each other and really just celebrating life and just celebrating everyone who has had a positive impact on us along the way.
Hal Elrod: It's beautiful. So, is she following you in the RV, following you behind, and then you'll sleep in there?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. We're going to sleep there. I think she's not going to be like following me for all 4,300 miles. I think she's going to give me a kiss and say, “I'll meet you for lunch,” and there will be times where she was going to be out with the dogs doing her thing and maybe meeting me up at a rest stop, the water bottle refilled, that type of stuff. And we're going to sleep in the RV and see the night sky and do a lot of crossword puzzles and connect with each other and talk about life and hopefully meet a lot of wonderful people along the way. So, that's the goal. Yeah.
Hal Elrod: Where are your daughters at now? They're all full-grown?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, my oldest is in New York. She started her professional career and my youngest is a junior in college. She'll be at home. So, she'll be home with the cats. And so, for her as a 21-year-old, she's like, “I have the house to myself?”
Hal Elrod: Yeah. That’s a dream.
Hal Elrod: So, she's like, “Sign me up.” So, she's going to have to do little household responsibilities but that's okay. I think she's pumped. The girls are pumped. Elle remembers a little bit of it. Grady was way too young at the time, so they don't remember pre-accident daddy but I think they see what mom and dad are about to do is something really cool. And yeah, we're totally pumped for it. I'm calling it the Rise 2 Ripple challenge. Rise speaks to resilience, 2 is about connection, and ripple is about the energy we all have. And the challenge piece is easy because it's going to be a challenge.
Hal Elrod: Speaking of challenge, I mean, riding a hundred miles in a day feels like a huge accomplishment. But doing that day after day after day after day after day for a month and a half, I commend you for that. What's the furthest you've ridden or the most amount you've ridden consistently? Like, what would be up until this point that you can point to as evidence that you can do this?
Michael O’Brien: Proof of concept, right? So, I've done 100 miles a day for seven straight days. And the good news about this gives me optimism. I'm not racing it so I am going to have a little bit smell the roses, jump in a creek, take a look at the bears like all that stuff. We take photos. So, and also at this age, I am much smarter about how I recover. So, there's a lot of things I've studied about just prompting recovery. So, the good news is that I'm not going to go with a lot of intensity. The 100 miles a day for seven straight days, that was more intense. We were going much faster. So, my plan is like, well, we'll get the right type of hydration, right type of nutrition. So, I think we're all, well, at least there's enough information out there for all of us to be smarter about recovery. So, I know the power of sleep, the power of nutrition, and hydration. We have a couple of rest days in between. And true to what Brie preaches a lot like plan tight, hang loose. So, we're going to have a tight plan on finishing in 45 days. If something pops up where we need to call an audible and just go with the flow, we’ll go with the flow because this is also a representation of life, right? You can have the best plans in the world and you can try to control everything. And I already know that some things are going to be outside my control and I'm just going to go with the flow on the ride. If that means stretching the trip out for an extra week, so be it. We still cross. We still make it to the other side and we still celebrate everything that life has to offer.
Hal Elrod: Michael, this is great, man. You're an inspiration and I thank you for taking your life experience and continuously using it to inspire other people. What's the best way for somebody listening to follow your work, get a Pause Breathe Reflect t-shirt, follow the ride? You know, how can they connect with you and how can they make the support?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. So, great question, Hal. I want to say too like you've been a really great role model for me from afar because when you had your accident and you wrote your book like it was about maybe a year after I think your book came out, one of my friends said, “You should read this guy's book. His story is very similar to yours,” and I read it and I was like, like, “Yes, it's like the same.” But you read books from authors all the time. You're like, “Oh, you'll never meet.” So, it's good to me at least through pixels here just to thank you because your story has been an inspiration to me as I go through my recovery. So, I just want to let you know that you touched me in a lot of different ways that I didn't think to express because I thought, “Well if I send them a message, it's just going to get lost,” and that's going to be my own story. So, thank you for being you and sharing your story initially. It's given me the courage to share mine. So, I appreciate that in you.
Hal Elrod: You got it, man. I appreciate you.
Michael O’Brien: And I think that the best way is I'm sending out a daily text message to folks. It's inspirational. We’ll have photos of where we are. It's a great way to follow the trip. So, all you have to do is they can just send me a text. They can put in Miracle Morning and they send the text to 503-487-5957 and I know you can put that in the show notes. That's the best way. Simple text message, “Hey, we're in Idaho. We're in Kansas. We're still in Kansas. We're still in Kansas here each day,” because we'll be in Kansas.
Hal Elrod: Can you give that number one more time for anybody that wants to just text the number now? What's the number?
Michael O’Brien: Yeah. 503-487-5957.
Hal Elrod: 503-487-5957. And they text “Miracle Morning”?
Michael O’Brien: Miracle Morning and that'll be perfect. Yeah.
Hal Elrod: Cool. Yeah, man. Well, keep doing what you're doing. I'm so inspired by you to this ride. I mean, 100 miles a day for a month-and-a-half is just as wild.
Michael O'Brien: It's nuts.
Hal Elrod: Good on you, Michael. Well, it's great to finally connect. I've heard so much about you from Brie and Josh, and they've been telling me in my ear, "You got to connect with Michael. You got to have him on the podcast,” and I'm glad that I finally got a chance to do that. So, yeah, brother, keep doing what you're doing, and I look forward to connecting again.
Michael O’Brien: Cool. Thanks, man.
Text “Miracle Morning” to 503-487-5957 to get daily updates from Michael
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