Brian Bergford is a speaker, author, peak performance coach, athlete, and spiritual seeker. He is the owner of the Bergford Performance Systems, a company that offers speaking and coaching services designed to strategically elicit breakthroughs and peak performance. Bergford is the author of the book Transformational Dog Training.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I grew up in Colorado, about 30 minutes northwest of Denver. My childhood was…interesting. I had lots of experiences that have shaped who I am today, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll just sum it up by saying I experienced my fair share of emotional trauma. Because of that, I grew up fascinated by the subjects of psychology and human performance; I wanted to understand what made people behave the way they did, and I also wanted to make a major impact on others by helping them maximize their potential, regardless of what hardships they’d faced. Turning adversity into triumph is absolutely possible: I’m living proof, as are many of my clients. 

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

I wish I’d fully internalized the fact that my personal worth is not determined by my performance or what I do, but rather bestowed by my Creator and wholly inseparable from who I am

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

One of the biggies is telling people to accept themselves. This will seem like a contradiction in light of my answer to the previous question, but it really isn’t. I believe far too many people – usually, it’s someone’s “life coach” or therapist – ear tickle and tells clients it’s fine to be just the way they are. “Just accept yourself”, they say – “You are enough.” While this is 100% true in terms of personal worth (and important for people to understand and internalize), it is not the case with respect to one’s potential and personal evolution.

Coaches and therapists get away with saying trendy things like that because it feels nice to say and to hear, but it enables their clients to stay stuck and justify why they don’t need to change. After all, why would they need to “change” if they’ve fully accepted themselves for who they are? But here’s the key: None of us is anywhere near tapping out our full potential. Which means there’s a whole lot more inside of us that we can bring out and share with the world. Which means we have to dig in and do the hard work of changing and evolving, and not cop out with ever-convenient statements like “I’m fine with who I am.”

Going back to one of the quotes I referenced earlier by Joel Osteen: “It’s not what you have in you that matters; it’s what you get out.” So while our actual worth is both immeasurable and impossible to diminish, our choices, and the ongoing positive changes we have the courage to make, are what bring value to the world. I believe it’s possible to accept our personal worth without absolving ourselves of the awesome responsibility of constantly striving toward our ultimate potential. 

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

This goes back to the question from earlier where I mentioned my childhood. I’d say overall, I emerged from the emotional dumpster fire that it was because I decided to take all of the grief, pain, and other negative emotions like sadness, anger, and depression, and channel the energy toward growing as a person and cultivating incredible passion and drive. Emotional alchemy is one of the greatest skills a person can ever master, and I was lucky enough to be put in situations at a young age that evoked so much pain inside of me that I was forced to choose: despair and spiral downhill or rise up with an unmistakable fierceness.

Fortunately, I chose the latter. Out of all of that, I learned how strong I am, how much grace is in the universe, and about the magnificent strength of the human spirit. We all yearn for freedom and we can all find it within ourselves. I love sharing that message with people and helping them develop personalized systems so they not only maximize their potential but inspire the people around them as well.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

It’s actually what I don’t do. It’s my absolute inability to quit just because something is excruciatingly difficult or taking “too long.”

What is your morning routine?

I wake up around 4:10 am. I spend a few minutes just lying there and feeling gratitude for the blessings in my life, and then I put my feet on the floor and raise my hands in the air and express appreciation. In my bedroom by the door is a metal sign with the words “Audentes fortuna iuvat” which means “Fortune favors the bold.” Before quietly exiting my pitch-black bedroom, I always reach out and touch that sign to remind myself of the truth inscribed therein.

After that, I head downstairs, put on headphones, and blast some music that inspires me for about 5 minutes as I bounce on a mini-trampoline. Then I drink about 20 ounces of water and put on a pot of tea before reading some spiritual texts and whatever other primary book(s) I’m currently reading. Then I grab my swim gear (which I always get ready and put together the night before) and head out the door, drive to the pool, and dive right into an intense 2-hour swim.

Once I get back home, I head upstairs and meditate for 20-30 minutes. When that’s all done, I come back downstairs, knock out a few emails, and listen to some kind of podcast, audiobook, or watch something on a subject I’m studying as I’m feeding my dogs and prepping my food for the day.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Meditation/prayer and spiritual study.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

Planning is a big one. Having blocks in my schedule each week to reflect on the prior week and plan the week ahead – including my focus objectives – is so important. I also look at my schedule for the next day every evening and plan things out, but not in a rigid way. I just make sure I know what’s coming up so I can mentally prepare and get anything ready I need to have at my disposal so I don’t have to rush around figuring it out at the moment. There’s enough flying at each of us every day in real-time, so why add more to our plate by not planning ahead? 

I also focus a lot on long-term strategy and I am naturally good at looking way down the road so I can reverse-engineer my monthly, weekly, and daily actions. Some people have a really hard time seeing the bigger picture and I think that’s a huge impediment in many ways. However, it makes those people naturally better at living in the moment and not getting too far ahead of themselves. Since that doesn’t come naturally to me, I’ve learned I need to be very intentional about counter-balancing things so I don’t end up way out over my skis. 

As a result, I’ve found that in addition to being great at planning and strategy – and in order to be as productive as possible – I also have to carve out creative time for myself. In other words, I intentionally slow down and have “non-productive time.” I know that sounds like a contradiction when we’re talking about becoming more productive, but in reality, having thinking time as well as plain old sittin’ around time is what enables my “productive time” to be turbo-charged. A creative insight or new perspective gained can make everything you do afterward more leveraged in terms of getting things done. To be clear, “non-productive time” is not sitting in front of a TV or wasting my life on social media, or getting caught up in gossip. It just means I make space in my day where there’s no specific agenda other than doing something different, creative, and relaxing while having no expectations of myself. Not easy for a Type-A personality, but I’ve found that the payoff is huge.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

There are so many great books out there that have influenced me, but here are three I’ve read within the last 10 years that have affected me in a profound way…

  • Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda – For me, this was such a welcome departure from the typical Western spiritual literature and presented God in a very different light than what I’d grown up with. I found this book incredibly compelling, as it focused on the importance of deeply experiencing the Divine instead of merely studying and “knowing” about it.
  • A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle – I’m just about to reread this one. I first read it about 8 years ago, so I don’t remember details so much as I remember the effect it had on me. It was one of those books you read and you immediately connect with it at a visceral level. By far, Tolle’s most famous book (and one I also love) is The Power of Now. But for some reason, the way he explained the operations of the ego in A New Earth, as well as the necessary “flowering” of human consciousness that must take place in order to put an end to suffering and spur human evolution really hit home for me.
  • How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan – I was enraptured by this book and read the whole thing while on vacation in Mexico last year. As someone fascinated by the human psyche as well as our spiritual heritage and capacity, I was awestruck by this award-winning author and journalist’s work that explores the history and emerging science of psychedelics and their critical role in applications like overcoming addiction and trauma. I found the possibilities and implications of Pollan’s work both exciting and eye-opening. 

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

  • My all-time favorite: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
  • “It’s not what you have in you that matters; it’s what you get out.”  – Joel Osteen
  • “We say we waste time, but that is impossible. We waste ourselves.” – Alice Bloch
  • “It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.” – Dennis Waitley