062. Shifting Your Choices to Shift Your Life with Michael O’Brien

Michael O’Brien is the Chief Shift Officer at Peloton Coaching and Consulting. He elevates successful corporate leaders by preventing bad moments from turning into bad days. His award-winning, best-selling memoir Shift: Creating Better Tomorrows chronicles his Last Bad Day and near-death cycling accident recovery journey. He has shared his inspirational story and transformation from human DOer to human BEing and work and at home on the TEDx stage, with multiple Fortune 500 companies, ABC, Real Simple Fast Company, and many wonderful podcasts like Do a Day.

Michael was a successful sales professional and Marketing Director. The same stress that you and your team feel every day burdened him. There were many days when he just wanted to survive. He knew he could be better, but didn’t know how to consistently find the energy to thrive and get closer to being his best.

The sad thing is that he didn’t need to be chasing back then. He already had many wonderful reasons to be happy. He was a proud, new dad of two wonderful daughters, had a loving wife who was and still is his best friend, he was healthy, and he had a career filled with promise. But he rationalized his chase and, in hindsight, made up ego-based reasons why he had to keep living that way.

Many times, he caught happiness, but like a dog chasing its tail, he didn’t know what to do when he caught it. He was happy for a moment. It validated his pursuit, but then it floated away. So, he got back to stressfully chasing. He was exhausted but couldn’t tell anyone because he was the leader at work and the provider to his family.

He knew there was a better way, but he couldn’t see it.

Then, on Monday, July 11, 2001, while at a corporate meeting in New Mexico, Michael went out for an early morning bike ride that changed his life permanently. An SUV crossed the center line in the road and hit him head-on, going close to 40 miles per hour (plus Michael’s speed). As he laid waiting for the medical trauma helicopter, he told himself that life would be different if he lived.

His recovery was the catalyst to the seminal shift that changed his perspective, mindset, and actions. It put him on a path to create better tomorrows at work and in life, and sparked his executive career progression, which was instrumental to finding happiness and passion for business leadership development and creating his business, Peloton Coaching and Consulting. It also lead to his amazing book, My Last Bad Day Shift: How to Prevent Bad Moments from Turning into Bad Days.

Michael shares the story of his accident, and the shift that came as a result. His experience is the inspiration for many to shift their situation, so listen to this episode and find how you, too, can shift your life from whatever Last Bad Day you may have.

Key Points from the Episode with Michael O’Brien:

  • Michael is a husband and father of two girls, which is how he frames himself first and foremost
  • Secondly, he is a leadership coach, focused on sales and marketing leaders to help them change how they work as a portal to how we behave as a society. He described it as helping people be wealthy from the inside out
  • We got into the idea that we are a complete person, and can’t show up in one part of our life differently from how we do in another. If that’s what’s happening, we are acting in at least one part of our life. We are spending all our energy in one area, and left with nothing for another.
  • Michael talked about the idea so many of us live with around having just meh or vanilla days where “it is what it is.” To him, that’s not acceptance so much as settling and coasting.
  • He uses the brilliant cycling analogy around coasting – if you coast for too long, sooner or later, you’re going to stop.
  • Michael shared the story of his biking accident on July 11th, 2001 while in New Mexico at a work offsite meeting. He was hit head-on by a white, Ford Explorer that had drifted into his lane with a distracted driver behind the wheel. He suffered tremendous and life-threatening injuries, and had to be medi-vaced to the nearest Level 1 Trauma center. When this happened, his wife and two daughters (then 3 and 7-months old) were across the country at home in New Jersey.
  • His injuries were extensive, with it unclear whether he would lose his leg once his life was stabilized. After several operations, and months of grueling recovery work, Michael regained the ability to walk, and eventually to ride a bike again. Pinning a number on at a biking event today is the sweetest symbol to him of what he came through.
  • This event and the process that ensued created the basis for his book, Shift, which brings the reader up to and through this moment where his life shifted. He had been white-knuckling his life before, just working to get through. In losing almost everything forced Michael to step back and find a new way to define himself as he faced the idea of depending on others for the rest of his days, losing control of so much of his life, and more.
  • He realized the need to let go, trust in others, and trust in himself.
  • That included a journey of forgiveness. That included people who he thought would come to see him, but never did. He found himself focusing on those people, and as a result, he lost sight of those who were there. Bitterness and pain around who did not come out to support him consumed Michael. For them, he realized how difficult it was for those people to show up. In situations like that, we often don’t even know what to say. We get scared and overwhelmed, and they deal with and experience the situation through their lens. It helped him feel compassion and understanding for them rather than anger that consumed him.
  • He also found forgiveness for the driver of that car. It wasn’t about the driver, but rather about letting go of the energy toward the driver that was getting in the way of Michael’s recovery and his ability to appreciate what he did have rather than what he didn’t have.
  • His shift came in a specific moment during a physical therapy session. Michael wondered why some people were making progress and others weren’t. He wasn’t happy with the progress he was making, so he was curious. Michael realized how his mind was standing in the way of his progress. He needed to find alignment between his outward thoughts, words and actions and those within him, which were less positive.
  • Michael started a morning ritual of calm, breathing and reflection that framed his days in rehab, which he’s also used to frame his days since then. His goal is to show up with intention, purpose and drive, respecting the day that he has since he nearly lost all of it.
  • I had to call out this great line from his “20 Ways of Being” at the end of Shift. He says that you can never let someone out-hustle you on what really matters. It sparked thoughts about how hard it is to say, “No,” to things, but if those things aren’t what truly matters, then you leave the door open to be out-hustled on those things. He reminds us that every No is a Yes. When you say, “No,” to one thing, it allows you to say, “Yes,” to something else, which matters more. Looking at it that way helps with feeling ok saying, “No.”
  • We also talked about the word Peloton, which Michael uses as the name of his coaching and consulting business. It is the name for a group of cyclists, who must work together as a group to protect each other, share the burden of breaking the wind to ease the effort for the group and stay synchronized so no one throws the group off or creates a disruption that can lead to the group crashing. He uses the metaphor a lot in the idea of finding your peloton, and being mindful of who you bring into it to ride with you.


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