Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, Stanford University coach, martial arts instructor, and Oberlin College professor — has authored 16 books published in 29 languages, including his classic, Way of the Peaceful Warrior (released as a film with Nick Nolte by Universal in 2007). A popular international speaker, Dan has influenced people from all walks of life.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I suppose this is another version of “What advice would you give your younger self?” I can’t honestly say I wish I’d realized something earlier in life. I accept that any realizations came at the right time and as a result of my life experience.
Of course don’t we all wish we had trusted ourselves more, second-guessed ourselves less, and had more confidence and humor than our youthful selves seemed to possess? But life is as it is. I accept and embrace that.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I appreciate the candor of your question. In the same spirit, I’m sometimes dismayed by enthusiastic but re-heated, unoriginal leftovers served up in self-help and spiritual guidebooks today —facile fodder, slogans, and platitidues as well as the (sheer but popular) magical schemes like “The Secret” as well as bouquets of illusion.
That said, there is no best book out there, only the best for each of us at a given time of life — so “one Light but many lamps” holds true here. People read what they need to learn, and over time, may develop a sense of discernment and critical thinking ability to sort the wheat from the chaff.
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?
Those familiar with Way of the Peaceful Warrior or who viewed the film (with Nick Nolte) based on that book are aware that when I was a young elite gymnast, at the peak of my condition and aiming at the Olympic Trials, I had a motorcycle crash that shattered my right thigh bone (femur) in about forty pieces and, according to the doctor, cut short my aspirations.
Prior to that time, like many fit young men, I thought I was bullet-proof, maybe immortal. I came out of that experience a more thoughtful, and humbled, young man. I might not have written any of my books had that experience not occurred.
However, I do not recommend fractures as an avenue of personal or spiritual growth! That’s just an example of how (overcoming) adversity — a year later I helped lead my team to our first NCAA Team Championship — can bring inner strength and perspective.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I’ve never aimed for success (which is an abstract and slippery idea) — I have always aimed for excellence. Because early on I grasped the reality that while we can control our efforts, we cannot control (or guarantee) the outcomes. But by making a good effort, over time — and persisting — we increase the odds of reaching our goals.
So, in a sense, effort is success, since that’s all we can control. So I aimed (and worked) for excellence in sport, and then in life.
What is your morning routine?
I generally go to sleep between 10 and 11 pm and awaken about 6 am. My morning workout begins as soon as I open my eyes — certain isometrics, wrist stretches, and core work.
Then I get up and go through “The Peaceful Warrior 4-Minute Workout” (available as an online course through my website), adding individualized elements my body needs (including certain kinds of push-ups and breathing elements, handstand push-ups, etc. After that, some days I go bicycling and other days to the Y to work with weights and swim a few laps.
After I shower and settle in, I practice “The Peaceful Warrior 4-Minute Meditation” (available soon at my website as an online course). Then it’s on to healthful vegetarian breakfast, and into my office to write and take care of other business.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I do what I teach, which is to first accept my thoughts and feelings (positive or negative) as natural to me in the moment (which means just letting them be without concern or needing to fix or change them — they will pass anyway).
Then I focus on a positive goal — what needs doing right now? And then I do what I can to progress toward that goal. In fact, I define “success” as progress toward a meaningful goal. I do this whether or not I feel motivated or inspired; whether or not my thoughts are positive or negative; whether or not I feel confidence or doubt.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
As someone who practices (and teaches) a 4-minute workout, and a 4-minute meditation, you can bet that using time efficiently is a priority for me. But I keep in mind Einstein’s reminder that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
And H.L. Mencken’s quip, “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution that doesn’t work.” So over-efficiency isn’t always a good idea.
Sometimes ‘wasting time’ or just sitting around or taking a nap or playing a video game or taking a day off or going on a holiday can be quite useful, and can help us get more done by year-end.
Other than that, I can’t recommend a specific strategy. (My life looks more like improvisational comedy than strategic planning.)
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
Is this a trick question? I refocus! Or maybe losing my focus is exactly what I need sometimes — to step back, take a deep breath and get some perspective. That’s often when ideas and inspiration appear.
I don’t know anyone (including me) who is always focused, never overwhelmed. Life is a series of moments: crazy moments, sane moments; intelligent moments, stupid moments; kind moments, callous moments; asleep moments, awake moments.
Sometimes this, sometimes that. Perhaps the best any of us can do is to increase the number of kind and intelligent and enlightened moments.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I could cite authors such as Alan Watts, Ram Dass, Carlos Castañeda, and even J.R.R. Tolkien. But the books that influenced my life the most are the 17 that I wrote — from my first book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior to my most recent, The Hidden School.
As C.D. Lewis said, “I write not [only] to be understood, but to understand. No one learns more from a book than the author who has to organize and clarify his or her thoughts and discover fresh revelations in the process of writing.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Collecting powerful, pithy, and witty quotations has been my hobby and calling for well over four decades. I have thousands of favorites and share two or three each week with my FB and Twitter followers. So it’s tough to single out one or two — but here are a few that come to mind:
- “When running up a hill, it’s okay to give up as many times as you wish, as long as your feet keep moving.”
- “Dream big, but start small; — then connect the dots.”
- “There are no ordinary moments.”
The first quote is by a Japanese psychiatrist named Shoma Morita; the second and third I coined.