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Book Summary: The Mindful Athlete – Secrets to Pure Performance

While athletes are considered superheroes by many, we all have an inner greatness that we can tap into to help us perform at our best. If you want to connect to your inner greatness, it’s time you cultivate a mindfulness practice. In this summary, you’ll learn how to connect to your inner calm and focus, even during your most stressful moments. Through mastering the Five Spiritual Superpowers, you can overcome external distractions and self-doubt to access peak performance.

Learn mindfulness from the man who taught Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and other NBA legends how to improve the mental side of their games.


  • Want to become a better athlete
  • Don’t perform well in stressful situations
  • Want a mindfulness practice to connect to your inner greatness

The Mindful Athlete (2015) explains how to unlock your hidden “superpowers” by practicing mindfulness. When you learn how to channel your own inner divinity, you’ll reach your peak performance – in sports or in any other field.

Have you ever seen someone make a 90-yard touchdown run or complete the 100-meter dash in under 10 seconds? If you have, you’ll know that such feats are things of beauty. They seem like things only a superhero could do – not the accomplishments of mere mortals. And these physical performances require more than just a well-trained body, so what enables these athletes to do what most people can’t?

It’s about training your mind and using its potential superpowers to reach top performance. But these techniques aren’t limited to improving your athleticism. Whether at work, in school or just to improve life in general, we’d all like to enhance our performance. Using the concept of the mindful athlete as a jumping-off point, we’ll explore the practices that’ll get you in peak condition.

Book Summary: The Mindful Athlete - Secrets to Pure Performance

In this summary of The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford, you’ll discover

  • why NBA legend Michael Jordan sees his failures as key to his success;
  • how to handle monkey mind; and
  • why soccer player Zinedine Zidane headbutted an opponent in the 2006 World Cup final.


The Chicago Bulls were behind the Utah Jazz by one point with 18 seconds left in game six of the 1998 NBA finals. Karl Malone of the Jazz had the ball, when suddenly, Michael Jordan came in with the steal, flew down the court, and made the championship-winning shot. This play would go down in NBA history.

Later, Jordan would comment that he was in the zone at the end of that game. At the time of that play, Jordan and his teammates had been working with mindfulness expert George Mumford for five years. Prior to being hired by the Bulls, Mumford had co-founded the Center for Mindfulness, teaching stress and impulse management to prison inmates. While doing this work, he started to understand that we all have greatness within us — it’s just a matter of knowing how to uncover it.

One of the best ways to connect to this part of yourself is by using mindfulness. As you read on, you’ll learn about the key components of mindfulness that Mumford calls the Five Spiritual Superpowers:

  1. Mindfulness: Teach your brain to focus on the present moment.
  2. Concentration: Ground yourself internally to cut out distractions.
  3. Insight: Know your mental weaknesses and address them.
  4. Right Effort: Direct your practice toward your goals.
  5. Trust: Bring it all together and have faith in your ability to handle whatever comes.

By cultivating your abilities in all these areas, you can access your inner greatness, just as Michael Jordan did in the ’98 NBA finals.

Growing up in an unstable household in a dangerous Boston neighborhood, Mumford always dreamed of escaping through professional basketball. When repeated injuries ended his basketball career in high school, Mumford turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. Even as he graduated from college, landed a job in finance, and got married, his drug problem deepened. Mumford was addicted to heroin when a friend dragged him to an alcoholics anonymous meeting. That night, realizing his ass was on fire, he knew it was time to make a change.

After completing a detox program, Mumford started practicing meditation. At first, he couldn’t even sit still, but he was desperate for a way out of his old life and pushed on. He quit his finance job, went back to school for a master’s in counseling psychology, and dedicated himself to becoming a meditation instructor. After co-founding the Center for Mindfulness, Mumford started teaching mindfulness to prison inmates, many of whom had tough upbringings similar to his own. A few years later, Phil Jackson hired Mumford to teach mindfulness to the players of the Chicago Bulls, reconnecting Mumford with his childhood passion for basketball.

Mindfulness: Eye of the Hurricane

You’re at the free-throw line in the final seconds of the championship game. Your team is down by one, and you need to make both shots to bring home the victory. What’s going through your head? If you haven’t practiced mindfulness in preparation for this moment, it may be hard to avoid compulsive thoughts, such as how you’d let down your teammates if you miss or how you just wish you were already celebrating in the locker room. With these speculations swirling, it becomes very difficult to make those game-winning shots.

Mindfulness involves training your brain to focus on the present. When an athlete is in the zone, their mind is only operating in the here and now. But this isn’t an easy state to achieve because the untrained brain tends to dive into memories and speculations on a whim, taking focus away from the task at hand. To reliably access the zone, you must exercise your brain just like you would any other muscle. In an untrained state, the brain is easily swept up, feeling overwhelmed and other intense emotions, which distract you from a task. You start to over-analyze the situation, doubt yourself, and imagine everything that could go wrong. Mindfulness is about unlearning these superfluous mental responses and simply letting instincts do their work.

So how do you go from frazzled to mindful? Just like the eye of a hurricane, you have a peaceful center that, with practice, you can connect to in high-pressure moments. Meditation is the means through which you cultivate this inner calm. Practicing meditation means sitting still and paying attention to the sensations in your body. When the mind inevitably wanders, you return your focus to the present moment through your breathing.

This may not sound like much, but when you meditate, you’re teaching yourself to witness thoughts and emotions that pass through your mind as if from a distance. As a result, your brain learns that just because emotions are present doesn’t mean they deserve your attention. The skills you learn through meditation can then be drawn upon in high-pressure situations, allowing you to move past emotions that might otherwise pull down your performance.

Beginning a meditation practice is simple: Just take five minutes before a workout to sit still and bring awareness to your body and breath.

Concentration: Focused Awareness

If you watch footage of the 2013 NBA playoffs, you might notice that, just before taking the court, LeBron James keeps to himself and has his eyes closed. In these moments, rather than thinking about the game, James is focusing on his breathing and connecting to his center of calm.

Conscious breathing works at a physiological level. Breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The former is connected to your stress response and hormonally cues the fight-or-flight reaction. When your bloodstream is highly concentrated with stress hormones, you lose your capacity to think clearly. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system acts as a brake to this stress accelerator. Deep breathing is the simplest technique to activate the brake and calm yourself down.

Another way you can take advantage of your physiology is through outcome expectation. Your brain can’t fully differentiate between what you imagine and what you experience. For example, if you watch someone reach their hand toward a blackboard and pull down as if scraping it with their nails, you’ll cringe — even if they don’t actually make contact and produce the horrible sound you expect. When visualizing a positive result, your brain rehearses the situation as if you were physically practicing it, better preparing you to come through in the actual moment.

Mindfulness can be applied to physical practice as well. To experience the benefits of mindfulness in your performance, you must develop a sense of intuition through repetition. You may look at professional athletes in awe of their innate talents, but their skills mostly emerge from their willingness to do something over and over until it becomes second nature. Staying present during each moment of practice will help you find a singular focus and ignore thoughts like “this is boring” or “I’m tired” — the very thoughts that could lead you to call it quits.

You can start practicing concentration by challenging yourself to focus for one minute on an outcome you want to attain. You can slowly increase the time when you feel ready.

Insight: Know Thyself

You’ve heard the phrase “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but it better serves your mindfulness practice to change this to “I’ll see it when I believe it.” Many spectacularly talented athletes set themselves up for failure because they don’t believe in their own abilities. Everyone deals with insecurities and negative self-talk that can pop up and derail you at any moment. To better overcome these adverse thoughts, you must first become aware that they’re affecting you. As a tool that allows you to explore your inner world, mindfulness can also help you pinpoint these emotional hang ups.

Negative thoughts about yourself can make you complicit in your own suffering. If you recognize when these inner darknesses are manifesting, you can begin to ignore them. According to Buddha, there are five main areas of hindrance: cravings, anger, apathy, anxiety, and doubt. It’s important to reflect on which of these barriers you run into most often, so you can start developing strategies to move past them.

One of the most common ways people punish themselves is by holding onto past failures. To leave behind your mistakes, you must emphasize to yourself that what happened doesn’t define who you are. Just because you sometimes fail doesn’t mean you’re a failure. To further reframe losses and mistakes, look at them as opportunities to improve. Instead of mentally chiding yourself for a mistake, explore why it happened and what you might be able to change, so it doesn’t happen again. Your failures are your best teachers because they show you where you need to put in work. Without adversity, you would easily become complacent.

To grow your insight skills, ask yourself one of these questions (or something similar) each day: What do you worry about? What emotions are the most and least comfortable for you to feel? Where does stress live in your body?

Right Effort: Forget Thyself

In the Myth of Sisyphus, a man is condemned to forever repeat the process of pushing a huge, round boulder up a hill, watch it roll back down, and then start pushing it again. No matter how much effort Sisyphus puts into his task, he’ll never make any real progress. Similarly, if you approach your goals with the wrong mentality, it’s unlikely that you’ll get any closer to achieving them.

In the context of mindfulness, make sure your actions are aligned with positive thoughts and feelings. If you don’t feel satisfaction while working on a task, step back and recenter. Ground yourself using conscious breathing, remember why you’re doing this work, and begin again with intentionality. By noticing when you’re not enjoying your work and then recalibrating your approach, you can avoid the kind of wrong effort that entraps Sisyphus.

As you work toward goals, you’ll be met with unforeseen adversity. This can be frustrating, but using a “right effort” mindset helps you understand these circumstances as opportunities to become stronger instead of hindrances that are here only to make you miserable. If anger toward adversity arises, notice it, let yourself feel it, and then use your breath to let it go. Remember that when you work with intention toward your goal, you’ll make gains. Your purpose isn’t to run away from the curse of adversity but to find joy in the work and trust that success will come from your continued dedication.

Right effort also involves quieting the mind as you work. In high-pressure situations, overthinking is wasted effort and only deters your progress toward the goal. If you spend enough time in focused practice, you’ll develop instincts you can trust in big moments. By practicing mindfulness, you’ll be able to connect to your calm center, ignore external pressures and unhelpful thoughts, and let your body and subconscious mind perform.

To work toward using right effort, keep a journal about the way you respond to a situation each day. What was the situation? What thoughts and feelings came up for you in the moment? How did you act during and after? What belief systems caused you to act the way you did?

Trust: The Space between Thoughts

Trust, or faith, is the final piece that brings all the tenets of mindfulness into harmony. It doesn’t matter what form your faith takes — it only matters that you have it. Trusting a higher power helps you accept new circumstances as they come because, no matter what you’re facing, your faith says you can manage it.

Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating a sense of our own divinity. As you practice connecting to the present moment through conscious breathing, you’re learning to find a sense of calm no matter the external circumstances. Grounded within yourself, you establish trust in your ability to handle anything you may face. Everything is more manageable taken one step at a time.

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can discover your superpowers.

People find enlightenment in different ways. Some travel to India; others do yoga. For George Mumford, the author, it was the pain of hitting rock bottom that drove him to discover mindfulness and, as a result, his own superpowers. Here’s his story:

In middle school, Mumford was a talented basketball player. He seemed poised for a professional career. And then he got injured while training. Instead of letting his body recover, however, he kept playing; this wore down his body, and ruined his shot at a career in professional sports.

So instead of playing for the NBA, he abandoned his dream and went to the University of Massachusetts, where he studied finance. Since childhood, he’d known only one way to deal with pain, whether emotional or physical: drown it in alcohol. To fight the chronic pain caused by his injuries, as well as the emotional pain caused by his compromised dreams, he began self-medicating. And his medicine of choice was Seagram’s Seven whiskey.

Mumford didn’t smoke cigarettes or pot because he was concerned about how they would affect his physical growth, so when he started taking drugs, he went straight for heroin instead.

In 1984, he got a severe staph infection. Mumford calls this his Ass On Fire situation, or AOF. His AOF pushed him to finally make a change, so he joined his first twelve-step program: Alcoholics Anonymous.

His AA program was where he was first introduced to mindfulness, which, in the ‘80s, was called “stress management.” Through yoga and meditation, he learned to listen to his body instead of dulling his pain with drugs.

For years, Mumford continued practicing mindfulness at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and eventually left his job as a financial analyst to devote himself to teaching mindfulness to others.

That’s how Mumford came to develop the concept of the five superpowers: mindfulness, concentration, insight, right effort and trust. In the following book summarys, we’ll look at each one.

Mindfulness, the key to high performance, is about focusing on your inner self.

Imagine you’re giving a presentation. You can’t focus because you’re worried about what the audience thinks of you. Mindfulness would be the savior here. But how do you become mindful?

Mindfulness comes from within. Everyone has a quiet, inner strength that can protect them from external distractions.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the godfather of mindfulness, said that mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment as if your life depended on it.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, because we’re constantly surrounded by distractions. Our minds jump from topic to topic like a monkey swinging from branch to branch.

Buddhists call this monkey mind. The monkey mind is hard to control, but you can pacify it by practicing Buddhism. And once you reach a high state of self-control, you’ll find yourself in the Zone.

In sports, the Zone is the ultimate experience; athletes enter it when performing at their highest possible level.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes the Zone experience occurs when your skill and the situation’s challenge are both high and equal to each other. The Zone is like the calm at the center of a storm. It’s what keeps the mindful athlete in the present moment.

So you need to be aware of your own thoughts and emotions. You can practice mindfulness meditation by sitting still, focusing on your breathing and practicing bare awareness: staying aware of what’s going on in your mind and body at the present moment.

It’s easy to get distracted while doing this. You might feel a breeze, for example, and recall a nice memory and start to dwell on it.

You can avoid this by becoming a Watcher. Being a Watcher means watching what’s happening in your mind instead of letting it control you. Stay in charge of your thoughts. Don’t let it be the other way around.

Concentrate by focusing only on your breathing.

In the 2013 NBA playoffs, some camera people caught LeBron James sitting courtside with closed eyes, focusing on his breathing. Concentrating on breathing like this is one of the most fundamental parts of practicing mindfulness.

You can enter a state of relaxation by controlling your breathing. Think of the space between an inhalation and an exhalation as your inner center, where your Watcher watches everything. This kind of Awareness of Breath, or AOB, brings you back to the present moment.

Our breathing works in tandem with two other parts of our autonomous nervous system, both of which regulate our heart rate and other body functions.

The first is the sympathetic system, which is activated by fear, anxiety and stress. It floods our body with stress hormones, increases our blood pressure and makes our breathing shallower.

The second is the parasympathetic system. It releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which lowers our heart rate and makes us more relaxed. And when you focus on your breathing, your parasympathetic system kicks into action.

Conscious breathing can also get you into moments of flow. The easiest way to practice AOB is to sit down, close your eyes and concentrate on the air moving in and out of your lungs.

You can also lie down and do an internal body scan, where you imagine breathing through different parts of your body.

You don’t get into a state of flow by stopping your concentration; you get into it by concentrating on as few stimuli as possible. Our brains generally focus on a number of things simultaneously. Reducing that number is what will get you into the Zone.

That’s why LeBron James was focusing on his breathing: it allowed him to be in the Zone when he stepped back onto the court.

Insight is about understanding your own thoughts and the impact they have on your life.

There are a lot of talented people in the world, but few of them reach their full potential. Why is that? Because they don’t fully believe in themselves.

Most people aren’t fully aware of the effect their beliefs have on their life. Our beliefs don’t just exist in our heads, however: they manifest themselves as habits.

So, if you want to change your behavior, you have to think about your habits and the underlying thoughts behind them. In other words, you need to understand the emotional blueprint your beliefs are founded upon. Here’s another way to think about it: scrutinizing the thoughts behind your habits is like looking under the hood of your car, rather than just staring at the dashboard.

Everyone has a unique collection of emotional blueprints, which includes their insecurities and other negative emotions. It’s important to be aware of these emotional blueprints, because the negative ones can build up over time and burst out in negative actions.

That’s what happened when Zinedine Zidane, one of the most talented soccer players in history, lost his temper and headbutted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup.

Succumbing to negativity like Zidane did will only hinder your progress. Practicing mindfulness means letting go of who you think you are. So accept negative emotions like anger or resentment for what they truly are: fleeting distractions that shouldn’t define you.

Look at mistakes and failures this way, too. Your mistakes don’t define who you are! And failures are just opportunities to learn and improve yourself.

Michael Jordan, one of the best basketball players in history, embraced this idea in his “failure” commercial for Nike. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career,” he said, “…lost almost 300 games. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That’s why I succeeded.”

Are you familiar with the Greek myth of Sisyphus? Sisyphus, a deceitful king, was punished by the gods. They condemned him to push a boulder up a hill; when he reached the top, however, the boulder would always roll back down again, and he’d have to start over. He had to repeat this task for all eternity.

The gods punished Sisyphus by forcing him to focus on a future goal, which he was doomed never to achieve.

In order to avoid a Sisyphean fate, be sure that you put in the right kind of effort when journeying through life.

A person who puts in the right kind of effort is a sort of spiritual warrior. Bruce Lee is a famous example. Martial artists like Lee use their intuition to connect with the Zone. They focus on the journey, not the final destination.

Carlos Castaneda, a famous anthropologist, once said that spiritual warriors don’t earn their victories by beating their heads against the wall. They earn them by jumping over the wall instead.

So when your actions align with wholesome, positive thoughts like love, kindness, compassion and generosity, that’s the right kind of effort for your path.

Another important part of reaching your maximum performance is letting situations play out by themselves. Mindfulness is about knowing yourself and focusing on the present, but you have to forget yourself again and let the situation go if you want to reach your highest possible performance level.

That doesn’t mean you forget yourself completely – it just means you keep yourself at a distance from the situation and allow it to run its course.

Shaun White, the famous snowboarder, did this when he won his gold medal in 2010 with a trick he’d never done before. He said he felt completely focused and, at the same time, detached from what was going on.

Unlock your full potential by trusting yourself and your inner divinity.

When you hear the word “faith,” you might think of religions like Christianity, Islam or Buddhism. Mindful athletes have another kind of faith, however: a faith in the self.

Faith is related to the concept of “God” – a word that means different things to different people. But the idea of God is really about trusting the divinity within yourself.

You have to understand the concept of God to master the last superpower. Anne Lamott, the famous author, said it doesn’t matter what name you give to this idea. You can call it a “force” or even something random, like “Howard.” The point is that it’s the divine spark within yourself. It’s beyond human comprehension.

Mumford calls this inner divinity the Buddha nature. We all have it and we have the potential to awaken it. It doesn’t come from the external environment; you find it by looking within.

That’s why Sheldon Kopp titled his book If You Meet a Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! He means that if you ever encounter someone who claims to be the Chosen One, he’s really just a false god.

Trusting in yourself instead of looking for guidance from others fosters your own self-efficacy. Mindfulness allows you to connect with higher forms of consciousness, and you can build a strong spiritual foundation by practicing it. And that, in turn, will keep you open to the unknown future, or whichever sport you play!

This openness is the ultimate form of self-empowerment. That’s why the fifth superpower, trust, is about self-confidence and staying open to new ideas.

When you live with full faith in yourself, mindfulness becomes your conviction. In the end, you’ll fully believe in yourself, and know you can handle any challenge along your path.

Insights from The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford

Pure performance occurs when you, as Eminem puts it, “lose yourself” and enter a zone of relaxed concentration.

Snowboarder Shaun White experienced pure performance while executing two inverted flips and rotating three and a half times over an icy snow-packed halfpipe in the 2010 Winter Olympics. White was asked what he was thinking during the move, and he said, “At that point, you’re really not thinking. You’re just letting it happen. It’s a mixture of being completely focused then slightly not caring.”

Hall of fame basketball player Bill Russell said when he experienced pure performance, “The game would move so quickly that every fake, cut and pass would be surprising, and yet nothing surprised me. It was almost as if we were playing in slow motion.”

Rower Craig Lambert explained his pure performance state as a “magical condition” where effort seemed to disappear.

George Mumford has taught mindfulness to elite athletes for decades. During that time, Mumford has uncovered the secrets to pure performance. You can use these secrets to find “the zone” during your next athletic competition or work presentation. I’ve distilled Mumford’s secrets down to a four-step formula:

  1. Crystal-clear intention
  2. Complete trust
  3. Conscious breathing
  4. Centered mindfulness

Crystal-clear Intention

While in a relaxed and positive mental state, see the outcome you want in your mind’s eye and feel the movements in your body. Believe with 100% certainty your intended outcome will happen.

Complete Trust

Trust a force beyond your comprehension (you can call this force the unconscious, subconscious, God, or the Universe) to guide your body through the necessary movements to get the outcome you desire. If you’ve practiced the skills necessary to achieve the outcome, the force beyond your comprehension should have no problem making it a reality.

Trusting a force beyond your comprehension to guide your performance without interference is like a parent who needs to watch their child perform on stage during a school play. The parent helped the child to prepare, but now they need to trust the child to perform without further instruction. Sadly, most of us are like a parent who yells instructions from the audience and runs onstage to direct the play.

Being vulnerable and trusting a force you can’t explain to perform for you is what Mumford calls “the ultimate form of empowerment.” In times of extreme crisis people let down their guard and ask for help from somewhere or something. As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in a foxhole.”

Conscious Breathing

“Musicians depend on the metronome’s regular rhythmic beats to master their scales, which are the basic fundamentals of their music. Now consider your breathing like a metronome, consistently and rhythmically connecting you to your own source and providing you with a regular mechanism for recentering yourself.” – George Mumford

When you concentrate on your natural rhythm of inhales and exhales (the beats of your inner metronome), you’re entirely focused on the present moment. When you’re entirely focused on the present moment, you leave no space for anxious thoughts and prevent tension from ruining your performance. As Amit Ray once said, “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

Don’t control your breathing, simply observe it. By simply observing your breathing, your autonomic system will optimize your breathing and generate a feeling of relaxed concentration.

Centered Mindfulness

Imagine the eye of a hurricane, that calm, quiet blue center of the hurricane. No matter how intense the storm gets, that quiet center remains. “We all have this quiet center within us,” Mumford says.

A championship athlete goes to their quiet center and watches their performance unfold without conscious interference. It’s as if their conscious ego-mind, who typically wants to control the situation, sits back in a comfortable chair and watches the body perform flawlessly. If you deliver a presentation while watching from your calm center space (your eye of the hurricane), the performance will seem effortless, and you’ll be free of that voice in your head reminding you what to say.

The goal of every performance is to remain in your calm center space and be mindful of your actions.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally, as if your life depended on it.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn


Ultimately, mindfulness is about helping you cultivate love for your work because it’s love that will drive your success. The more passion you feel for what you’re doing, the more easily you become subsumed in it, replacing any superfluous thoughts with deep, instinctual focus. The work has been put in, and the knowledge is there — just take a leap of faith and trust your subconscious mind to take the lead.

As you start your journey to mindfulness, remember the Five Spiritual Superpowers:

  1. Mindfulness: Teach your brain to focus on the present moment.
  2. Concentration: Ground yourself internally to cut out distractions.
  3. Insight: Know your mental weaknesses and address them.
  4. Right Effort: Direct your practice toward your goals.
  5. Trust: Bring it all together and have faith in your ability to handle whatever comes.

The key message in this book:

Focus on the present. Throughout the day, we’re distracted by all kinds of stimuli, but when you narrow your focus and concentrate on your body, your breathing and your inner self, you can unlock your full potential and connect with higher levels of consciousness. Mindfulness is the key to reaching your peak performance – whether you’re on or off the court.

Actionable advice:

Concentrate on only one thing for an entire minute.

Focus on your breathing, your walking or what you want to accomplish today. It’s harder than it seems. Once you manage to focus on only that one thing for an entire minute, try increasing your time to two minutes, then three. Narrowing your focus is key.

About the author

After injuries sidelined him from a basketball career, George Mumford dove deep into meditation and mindfulness practice. He’s made a profession of teaching mindfulness to executives and professional athletes and now works for the New York Knicks.

George Mumford is the sports psychology consultant for the Boston College men’s basketball team and the meditation coach to the LA Lakers. A public speaker, he’s shared his famous techniques with a number of NBA teams and coached athletes in other sports as well.

George Mumford currently works with coach Phil Jackson and has consulted on each of the NBA championship teams Jackson coached. He’s also consulted with high school, college, and Olympic athletes, inmates, and corporate executives, and he is a sought-after public speaker at both business and athletic conferences, nationally and internationally. He lives in Massachusetts.

A member of the basketball Hall of Fame, Phil Jackson is considered by many to be the greatest coach in the history of the NBA. He was head coach of the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers and holds the record for the most championship wins as a player and a coach. Jackson currently serves as President of the New York Knicks.


Body, Spirit, Health, Nutrition, Mindfulness, Happiness, Sports, Business and Money, Psychology, Self Help, Fitness, Personal Development, Philosophy, Sports Psychology, New Age Meditation, Leadership, Spiritual Meditation

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Paperback Edition 15
Foreword Phil Jackson 17
Introduction The Zone 25
Chapter 1 Ass on Fire: The Five Spiritual Superpowers 35
Chapter 2 Mindfulness: Eye of the Hurricane 65
Chapter 3 Concentration: Focused Awareness 99
Chapter 4 Insight: Know Thyself 143
Chapter 5 Right Effort: Forget Thyself 187
Chapter 6 Trust: The Space between the Thoughts 219
Acknowledgments 237
Notes 241
Bibliography 245


The all-star advisor to athletes like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan shares his revolutionary mindfulness-based program for elevating athletic performance—featuring a foreword by legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson.

Michael Jordan credits George Mumford with transforming his on-court leadership of the Bulls, helping Jordan lead the team to six NBA championships. Mumford also helped Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom and countless other NBA players turn around their games. A widely respected public speaker and coach, Mumford is sharing his own story and the strategies that have made these athletes into stars in The Mindful Athlete: The Secret to Pure Performance. His proven, gentle but groundbreaking mindfulness techniques can transform the performance of anyone with a goal, be they an Olympian, weekend warrior, executive, hacker, or artist.

When Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls to play baseball in 1993, the team was in crisis. Coach Phil Jackson, a long-time mindfulness practitioner, contacted Dr. Kabat-Zinn to find someone who could teach mindfulness techniques to the struggling team—someone who would have credibility and could speak the language of his players. Kabat-Zinn led Jackson to Mumford and their partnership began. Mumford has worked with Jackson and each of the eleven teams he coached to become NBA champions. His roster of champion clients has since blossomed way beyond basketball to include corporate executives, Olympians, and athletes in many different sports.

With a charismatic teaching style that combines techniques of engaged mindfulness with lessons from popular culture icons such as Yoda, Indiana Jones, and Bruce Lee, Mumford tells illuminating stories about his larger than life clients. His writing is down-to-earth and easy to understand and apply. The Mindful Athlete is an engrossing story and an invaluable resource for anyone looking to elevate their game, no matter what the pursuit, and includes a foreword by Phil Jackson.

“Self-consciousness is when you’re focused on how you’re doing instead of what you’re doing. We have to learn how to push and challenge ourselves, but not in an insensitive way. Honing your performance really comes down to being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”—George Mumford


“George helped me understand the art of mindfulness. To be neither distracted or focused, rigid or flexible, passive or aggressive. I learned just to be.” —Kobe Bryant

“George has ‘Mumfied’ the teams I’ve coached over the past 20 years. He has a style of mindfulness that goes beyond ‘just sitting/breathing’ to focusing while in action. For anyone needing to perform at the highest level, this book is for you.” —Phil Jackson, 13-time NBA champion

“The one thing that Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant could agree upon was that George Mumford was their secret weapon, the trusted advisor who brought clarity to their competitive minds. I know this because they told me personally. Mumford’s The Mindful Athlete brings to the reader the special insight that the world’s greatest athletes—from Michael Jordan to Scottie Pippen, from Shaq to Kobe—came to treasure. I, too, agree with them. Listening to George Mumford made me a better writer, a better thinker. Mumford has a gift, and now, he’s sharing it in this special book. It’s a treasure.” —Roland Lazenby, Michael Jordan, The Life

“A truly valuable, unique, and inspiring door into the cultivation of mind/body unity and purpose. George’s love of basketball and of life comes through on every page and shapes his remarkable story and the enormous impact he has had at the highest levels of The Game. But George’s real message here is that anybody can cultivate mindfulness through on-going practice, fine-tune his or her way of being, and thus, take care of what most needs taking care of and do what most needs to be done.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living and Mindfulness for Beginners

“George Mumford’s insight into mindful performance has helped many word-class athletes reach their true and full potential. This engaging book will help you to lower your stress level and raise the bar in your own game and life.” —Jim Afremow, PhD, The Champion’s Mind

“Full of wisdom and heart, both a moving story and powerful practices from a very fine teacher. George Mumford shows how to find freedom in a game fully played and a life well lived.” —Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart

“George Mumford has written a fantastic book—inspiring, funny, and insightful. I’m amongst the people who have urged George for years to write a book, and I couldn’t be happier for him, and all of us who get to read it and reread it. Qualities like mindfulness, concentration, trust and the forging of a team spirit really come alive.“ —Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness and Real Happiness at Work

“George steadily kept me mentally ready for games; building my self-confidence and keeping me calm and relaxed via self-talk exercises and weekly meetings” —Reggie Jackson, NBA point guard

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