How to Clarify Meaningful Goals and Achieve Success with Dan Millman

How to Clarify Meaningful Goals and Achieve Success with Dan Millman


What does success mean to you? What are the steps to get there? An accomplished author of 17 books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which was made into the feature film Peaceful Warrior starring Nick Nolte, Dan Millman shares his insights into how we can all find more meaning and purpose in our business and personal lives. Millman draws on his life experiences that include personal challenges, such as a devastating motorcycle accident, and professional achievements, including former world champion athlete, university coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor, and helps us to identify those changes we should be looking to make to positively impact our lives and businesses in 2021.

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Episode Transcript

Announcer  0:02
Welcome to the Biz Money Podcast hosted by Lee Korn. Lee is a financial advisor and principal at Opal Wealth Advisors. Each month Lee and his guests share their path of success and how they broke through to get to the next level. This podcast is available on our website at opalwealthadvisors.com/bizmoney. To receive updates on new show releases, you can subscribe on our podcast page. Now, here’s your host, Lee Korn.

Lee Korn  0:28
Welcome to the first episode of the Biz Money Podcast. I’m your host Lee Korn. And on behalf of my colleagues here at Opal Wealth Advisors, we’re excited that you’re able to join us.

Dan Millman  0:44
Life comes in waves of change, and we can’t control or predict those changes, but we can learn to surf.

Lee Korn  0:52
Our guest today is Dan Millman, an accomplished author of 17 books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, which was made into a feature film Peaceful Warrior, starring Nick Nolte. I guess I’ll just jump right in today, and many of our listeners may not know. But you actually started out as a top athlete, you are a former Olympic gymnast, and later martial arts teacher. What many of you might not know unless you’ve watched the movie is that when you were 20 years old, you had a devastating motorcycle accident. And I guess I was just curious, how did that influence your calling to become an author, a speaker?

Dan Millman  1:32
Yeah, that’s a relevant question. To make it even more relevant for your listeners. Lee, I would say that, it seems to me that any adversity has hidden gifts, because anybody, everybody has experienced physical, emotional and mental pain in their life. And I think we can all agree that because of that difficulty that challenged that adversity, we are a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser, and have a broader sense of perspective in terms of what’s the big stuff and what’s the small stuff. So that motorcycle crash, in which I shattered my right leg and broke a few other things, too. But they were minor. The leg was shattered in about 40 pieces. I was actually scheduled to fly to the World Gymnastics Championships a few days after that. So the timing wasn’t good, although I’m not sure when the timing for a broken leg is good. So that accident, yes, it was devastating. It dislocated, disrupted my life, what I’d been working for, for 10 years or more pretty intensely. And I had no idea whether I’d ever come back again. And my book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and the movie to some degree is about that comeback, among other things. It did shake me up and I’m pointing up right now upward, because that accident, made me ask deeper questions, it shook me up. And I started looking at life’s bigger picture. I realized my own mortality, even at 20 years of age, where for most young people death is just a rumor, a distant rumor. So those questions led to several decade long search. And it ended up in an approach to living I called the peaceful warrior’s way that deals with this bigger picture that all of us are actually addressing in our lives. So you know, when I was a young gymnast and coach, I was looking for how to create more talent for sport, and whether it could be developed or whether it was just innate. And to me it was it could be developed the ability to learn faster and easier and rise to higher levels, which is what we normally refer to as talent. And my theory did work in practice, because I actually trained the gymnasts at Stanford University. On those foundation elements of talent, rather than focusing on the gymnastics moves, for the first year, we built up that foundation of talent and the team went from the bottom of our conference to one of the top teams in the nation in about three years. So my theories did actually work in practice. But at the same time, I realized that being able to do skills of gymnastics, handstands, cartwheels and so on, didn’t really help me when I went out on a date, or when I got married, when I had children, dealt with financial challenges, and career decisions, the stuff of daily life. So that impelled me into those bigger questions of life, of how can we develop talent not just for sport, or in another field, but talent for living? The things we aren’t really taught in school set of life skills, if you will. So that’s what led me to what I do now. And I thank you for the question.

Lee Korn  5:04
Right. So it’s interesting you talk about adversity. And I think as we sit back and think about the last year, many of our listeners clients had certainly faced adversity. Now this podcast is, you know, our audience are mostly entrepreneurs. I think about my brother, who owns a company that does event production. He was on top of the world a year ago, and then, you know, Coronavirus, COVID hits, and his business is almost decimated. And I’ve read a lot of your books, I know you have the concept of surfing. My brother has certainly had to learn how to surf the different waves that come at him. I’m curious what advice you would have for those entrepreneurs, individuals that are facing that adversity dealing with, you know, the consequences of a situation that wasn’t a consequence of their actions. It just came at them.

Dan Millman  6:01
Well, you know, I’m not going to give anybody a bumper sticker slogan, I want to get into it really, now, when adversity or difficulty or challenge comes. We’re not, we don’t have to pretend to like it, or recite some positive saying, we can realize this is difficult. But we can also remember the difficulties we’ve had before, which becomes a master metaphor, every time, every difficulty, every small issue you overcome, makes you stronger. For the next one, you know, digging our way out of a hole, can develop the strength to climb the mountain. And I think that is a truism, not just a slogan. And I think people know this deep down. They see what they’ve, how they’ve arrived to where they are now. So there’s no pretending we have to face the reality. My daughter and I wrote a book on writing called The Creative Compass. And in there we say, constraints breed creativity, when we’re limited, when we’re shut down, when we have constraints. We have to be creative. Like my wife and I are moving soon to a smaller apartment here in New York, and we’re going to downsize again, you know, we started small, then we downsized. But that we’re gonna have to be creative and how we managed to fit everything in and make it look nice and make it work for us. So that’s what I can say about creativity. You know, life is a form of spiritual weight training, daily life, not just the big hard things that happen like pandemics. But even in everyday life, the issues we meet with clients and with other people, the difficulties. If we don’t have any weights to lift, we don’t get any stronger. And that’s a fact. So at least we can keep a thread of attention to. Alright, this is going to make me stronger. Now, what will I do? That’s the most relevant question anyone can ask in their life. What do I need to do right now? Let me explain why very briefly. So much of what many people have grown up with whether they have motivational coaches, or have gone to see therapists or a caught up in various spiritual teachings or personal growth work, we assume we have to fix our insides to have the right thoughts and the right feelings before we can live well. And I’m suggesting a radical approach, what I call part of the peaceful warrior’s way, is that if we focus on what we have more control of rather than less—and we have more control over our behavior, how we move our arms and legs and our mouth, what we say—we have more control over our behavior than we do about what thoughts appear in our mind. Sometimes they’re positive, sometimes they’re negative, or what emotions pass through us, like the weather, and they’re changing all the time. Rather than focusing on how can I get the right feeling and motivation and inspiration, you know? Or how can I have just a more positive thoughts that will help me just focus on what you need to do now? And that would be my advice, we can control our efforts, but we cannot control the outcomes. That’s a fact of life. It’s like a universal law. But by making a good effort, we vastly increase the odds of getting what we’d like over not making the effort. So the horse I’m betting on is not magical thinking and intending or visualizing it. The horse I’m betting on his effort over time. In other words, dream big, but start small, and then connect the dots.

Lee Korn  9:44
Great. I’ll quote you quote someone else, I think I heard you say, when running up a hill, it’s okay to give up as much as you want. As long as you keep your feet moving, keep your feet moving. So I guess we just have to keep our feet moving uphill and in the right direction. Thank you.

Dan Millman  10:01
Exactly, exactly.

Lee Korn  10:02
I would like to pivot here. It’s often said with entrepreneurs, leaders of companies, it’s lonely at the top. And in so many of your books, you talk about the role models, the mentors that you’ve had right in your in your first book, which was made into a movie, you talk about Socrates, right played by Nick milty, this mystical character. And if you could just talk about how value of role models and mentors in your life you have as you faced adversity. And not only how important is it to have role models and mentors, but to be a role model and a mentor for those in your company and those in your life?

Dan Millman  10:43
Well, Albert Schweitzer once said in influencing other people, example is not the main thing. It’s the only thing. And James Baldwin once said, children have never been very good at listening to what their parents tell them, but they never failed to imitate them. So the best way we can help our children, we can help our peers is to be a good example. Not perfect. We all make mistakes, that’s how we learn. But to own up to it to be open, if you want to. Other people can be more open people, you know, to be more authentic, be more authentic yourself. You know, if you want radishes, you got to plant radishes. You want carrots, you have to plant carrots, if you want love and understanding, that’s what you need to give. So that’s what I would say about being a role model. Look, it’s funny, you asked that question, because I’m currently working on the final like maybe the eighth draft, there’ll be probably nine drafts before I’m done. My new book is, is a memoir. And it won’t be out till late end of the year, or maybe even early next year. But the point is, I have thought a lot about my role models. And I’m going to actually go into four primary mentors who have most influenced my life and work. But so I’m saying your timing is good. And asking that I had role models in college I won’t take the time to tell you about now. But we all have we look back on our lives could be a teacher, an authority figure, a parent, or it could be someone we just grew up with. But there were certain qualities, maybe they weren’t a fantastic person in every way. But they had certain qualities, diligence, perseverance. They didn’t complain, whatever it was, and we can emulate that. And that’s why I was saying, you know, don’t envy emulate, take in those qualities. And so I think that’s important for all of us, which is how I created the character. You know, Socrates, the old guy, I met that old gas station mechanic when I was about 20 years old, in Berkeley, California, and he’s the primary teacher, like, like Mr. Miyagi was for Daniel-san, and The Karate Kid or, or Gandalf was for Frodo and Lord of the Rings, that sort of thing. So he was my teacher, and I learned a lot about life’s bigger picture from him.

Lee Korn  13:02
That’s great. Was he actually able to lift 10 feet in the air? Or was that just made for TV?

Dan Millman  13:07
Well, that was implied in the movie, it was also implied in my book. But we you know, there’s enough illusions in the New Age. And I don’t want to add to that, my book Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a blend of autobiography factual stuff that really happened with some fictional imaginative elements for the sake of the story. So that would fall into that category. By the way, since I talked about the Peaceful Warrior, I thought I’d mentioned very briefly, I see us all, everybody is peaceful warriors in training. And people may say, oh, that’s some kind of what’s called in a group a special label. Not really, it is an accurate description of all our lives because who out there isn’t striving to live with a more peaceful heart, more serenity, equanimity, in the face of daily circumstance. But at the same time, there are moments in our lives, we need a warrior’s spirit. And it’s not about fighting, necessarily, but it’s about rolling up our sleeves, standing up tall inside of ourselves, and marching into life and doing what we need to do. So that’s what I mean by the term Peaceful Warrior. And why see everyone as a Peaceful Warrior in training,

Lee Korn  14:22
Right, I choose Peaceful Warrior as opposed to stress warrior. I’d like to be a Peaceful Warrior. That’s what I strive for. Thank you. So Dan, you know, Opal, we’re in the wealth management business. And we spend a lot of time with our clients not only talking about their money, but really trying to help clarify and crystallize what they want for life, what are their meaningful goals? Curious, what advice would you have for someone, trying to help them crystallize and figure out like, what success means for them, right? So many people just don’t know.

Dan Millman  15:00
Sure, sure. I have a number of things to say about success here, let me say the standard, conventional observation now to be successful at what you do, and you know this and Opal Wealth Advisors as well, you have to be good at two things, you have to be good at what you do. And that’s why we continue to practice and improve with experience over time. You also, the second thing is we have to be good at marketing or promoting what we do. Because we can’t serve anyone who doesn’t know we exist. So like it or not marketing, promoting, letting people know about us and our work, the selling of ideas, that’s a part of this conventional idea of success. However, when I was an athlete and a coach, I, I encourage my athletes to not aim for success. Aim for excellence. And there’s a big difference. Because we cannot control whether we succeed or not, no matter how we define it, though, there are ways to define it, which I’m going to do right now that we can actually reach it. But it’s not in our control whether we win the basketball championships, or make $100 million. That’s not in our control. But excellence is in our control, the quality of the efforts we make over time, the quality of the work we do, the diligence with which we practice it, the learning we’re constantly doing, that is in our control. If we aim for that, we’re more likely to reach what we call success, no matter how we define it. Now, I would personally, after many years of striving for success, as a young man, I would now define success as making progress toward a goal that’s meaningful to us. So it’s not just about defining success for ourselves, it’s what is meaningful to us defining that. And if we’re moving toward that we are succeeding every day. It’s like we’re going up a mountain. And many people define the top of the mountain a success. So they all, they’re failing every day by definition because they haven’t reached the top of the mountain. And they’re hoping for future success, future happiness. But there is no such thing as future happiness. We’re happy now or not. Because in the future, it’s always the future. So the point is, in the Peaceful Warrior movie, you may remember this Lee, Dan and his old mentor, Socrates, hiked to the top of a big, big, very tall hill. And Dan has a realization, the character, my character in the movie. And he says, I just realize it’s the journey that makes us happy, not the destination. And you know, that’s a nice realization, positive thing, there’s a lot of truth to that, because most of our lives are spent on the journey. But without a destination in mind, there is no journey, we just wander around. We’re hardwired goal seekers. So from our point A, we need a point B, we absolutely need that to be human, something to move toward whatever that is, that day, that moment. And in many of my books, a number of my books, the life you were born to live, the four purposes of life, and so on, deal with life purpose. So there are various kinds of purpose, and maybe the most important one is our purpose in this present moment. Always. That’s our moment of power. And I know my purpose right now, you know, your purpose at this moment. And so do your listeners. Right, so that that is the most important purpose to focus on, and focus on and live purposefully.

Lee Korn  19:06
That’s great. Thank you. I was watching one of your TED Talks the other day, and you tell the story of the young college kid who comes up to you and only has $1. Right, your famous six words, I’ll let you say them instead of me saying them, but what? What was that advice for $1? I’m giving, I’m giving $1 to Gary, who’s sitting here next to me.

Dan Millman  19:29
Well, yes, actually, he came up to me after a talk. I gave it a college and he said, Dan, I know you. You must do personal consultations with people, but I know you charge good money for your time. But what can you tell a poor college student for $1. So that was where the dollar came from. And I gave him six words that could change his life. It’s a lifetime practice. And it’s gonna be a whole weekend seminar, actually. But keep it simple. Those words are here and now, breathe and relax. And those words actually open doorways to freedom from stress from the debilitating effects of stress. They open doorways to simplifying one’s life or one’s mind, and clearing the mind. So there are many aspects to that. That’s why I say it could be a whole weekend seminar, but here and now, breathe and relax are key life skills, and we practice them. For the rest of our lives, really.

Lee Korn  20:28
It’s so important, especially in today’s day and age, there is no shortage of 24 hour news cycle, outside influences. The list could go on and on. And sometimes it’s great to just hear and now, breathe and relax.

Dan Millman  20:47

Lee Korn  20:49
Thank you. Going back to goals, right? So a lot of the conversations we have, when many people think happiness success, they think money, you know, if I only had $1, if I only had a million dollars, if I only had significant wealth, and I guess we know, history is littered with evidence that many successful people and, you know, money doesn’t equal happiness. And just curious what you would say to that young entrepreneur who’s got big dreams, and is, you know, I’m gonna grow my business, I’m gonna get to the next level. And they’re just doing it because that’s what they think they should do.

Dan Millman  21:29
A young man came up to me once he was on the build, you know, and, Dan, I think I’m doing 100%. But still, I don’t know if I’m reaching my full potential. And I looked at him and said, oh, maybe you have, yesterday. So maybe, maybe, maybe from now on, it’s a recess, it’s vacation time. What would you do if you knew that you reached your peak, because it’s crazy-making, that we’re never good enough, never quite there. You know, the best thing about going to college is we find out it doesn’t make us happy. Some people who didn’t go to college, think if only I’d gone to college, I’d be happy. If only I found the perfect relationship, I’d be happy. If only I had children, I’d be happy. If only I hadn’t had children, I’d be happy. If only I made more money, I’d be happy. If only I went on more vacations, if only I had more status and respect, if only I retired, and so on. And eventually we realized again, happiness is either now, it’s something you bring to life. It’s not just a private feeling, a giddy feeling, because they change all the time. But it’s a sense of foundational sense of radiating into life, knowing how we behave when we’re feeling happy, and behaving that way. That sounds kind of radical. But it is a practice. And like any practice, it gets better over time. So you know, those who have a good deal of money, realize money itself, you know, what you…we all know the statistics at something like $75,000 a year, you’re happier, if you make more money, it feels more stable. And you know, you’re less than an emergency situation, and so on. But after that, it doesn’t make you happier, the more money you make, you don’t get correspondingly happy. So where is that? It’s, first of all, there’s nothing wrong with money, I believe we can make good money doing what we basically enjoy or find suitable while serving other people. And that really is the key. This serving, knowing we’re doing something for other people. Because what we’re looking for in life is not just happiness, a good feeling, we’re looking for meaning and purpose and connection, that our lives mean something, that they’re worth something. And every time we interact with someone else and uplift their day in some way you know, that can make a huge difference.

Lee Korn  23:54
It’s great. It’s simplicity, I always talk to my partners when I go to a restaurant, I want the bar mitzvah menu as a nice Jewish boy, chicken, beef or steak I don’t want 30 different options. I want simplicity.

Dan Millman  24:07
There’s a saying that the writer Barbara Rasp once said, the lesson is simple, the student is complicated. And we do complicate our lives. So part of this is remembering the important things. And it’s again, this isn’t any idealistic, incredible, impossible task. It’s just noticing each day. We think all the world is so chaotic. I’m reading the newspaper or listening on the news. But we look outside we see birds singing. Even in the winter here in Brooklyn, we heard little birds tweeting and flying up to the bare branches, and remembering those little things just around us in our lives while we’re doing what we need to, to build to grow, and to do all all that we do if we view ourselves as athletes, even if we’re not doing a sport, but if we approach life like training. To me this, this really gives us a little adventure, a little drama, how will I train and improve today. And by the way, the way I trained and improved in gymnastics is I crashed 50 times a day trying this trying that, like a child, you know, when the kids fall, they get up and go do it again. They don’t worry about who’s watching. And I think, you know, Picasso once said, it took me years to paint like a child. Great.

Lee Korn  25:32
So for those, those out there who are either in a business, starting a business, you know, they want to get started. There’s a world that lives between knowing something, wanting to do something, and actually doing it, right. What advice would you give to those, you know, what are the steps that you take?

Dan Millman  25:52
Sure, let me, okay, I want to say something right now, to progress toward your goals, choose one of the following methods. First, here’s the first method, find a way to quiet your mind, create empowering beliefs, raise your self esteem and practice positive self talk, to find your focus and affirm your power to free your emotions, and visualize positive outcomes. So that you can develop the confidence to generate the courage to find the determination to make the commitment to feel sufficiently motivated to do whatever it is you need to do. And the second method, which I practice, you can just do it, because life always comes down to it, all these complicated half steps and preparations. Life comes in as in waves of change. And we can’t control or predict those changes, but we can learn to surf. And so that’s how we approach life. We don’t have to prepare for it. We’re preparing all the time. We just show up. That’s the key and take things in the moment. Like an improvisational dancer actor would do. When the moment what what does the moment bring to you respond to that like a good martial artist? Don’t fight the force, flow with it, use it to lift and to grow. So that’s what I would say about that.

Lee Korn  27:22
Right? You bring up the force, I’d say right, what is Yoda say? There is no try. There’s just do. So just do it.

Dan Millman  27:30
I’m not so sure George Lucas didn’t get that from one of my books, because I wrote, I’ve been saying that for a long time before Yoda.

Lee Korn  27:41
Well, we’ll give you the trademark. So that’s great. You know what? Wrapping it up, I have one last question. So 2020, certainly, tumultuous year, so much uncertainty. With all the things that we talked about, we’re going into 2021, we all want to have a great year, we all want to inflict positivity into our lives. You know, what last thoughts would you add for our audience?

Dan Millman  28:15
Well, don’t be positive, don’t be negative, just be authentic. You know, we’re human beings stumbling toward the light. And that’s, that’s the best we can do. Just be ourselves. I mean, we’ve heard it many times before. But you know, this is and next year, maybe two? We don’t know. We don’t know what’s coming in daily life. We never know. But again, we learn to surf, we face it squarely and address it and respond to the moment because the quality of those moments become the quality of our lives.

Lee Korn  28:52
I love it. Well, Dan, this has been amazing. I want to thank you so much. We’ve learned so much. Practice surfing, just doing it. You know, we didn’t talk about it, but your law of surrender, things happen. You’ve imparted so much wisdom on us. Again, I want to thank you, and have a wonderful evening.

Dan Millman  29:11
My pleasure, and you too.

Lee Korn  29:15
Thank you for listening. For more information on how you can take control of your finances and enjoy the life you’ve always wanted. I encourage you to visit our website at opalwealthadvisors.com. You also can find our podcast page at opalwealthadvisors.com/bizmoney, where you can subscribe to be kept in the know on what’s coming in our series. And of course, feel free to email or call me with any questions. I can be reached at 516-388-7980 or drop me a note at Lee dot Korn at opalwealthadvisors.com. Thanks again for joining us and we’ll see you next time on Biz Money.

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