Sept. 28, 2022

Michael Unbroken on The One You Feed Podcast | Trauma Healing Podcast

I'm very excited about today's episode. I always love when I get to share the content from me being a guest. Think Unbroken has been a...
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I'm very excited about today's episode. I always love when I get to share the content from me being a guest. Think Unbroken has been a love and joy of mine over the years and something that I've used as a mechanism to teach everything that I know about healing childhood trauma for free.

A behavior coach, Certified Interfaith Spiritual Director, podcast host of The One You Feed Podcast, and writer, Eric Zimmer is endlessly inspired by the quest for a greater understanding of how our minds work and how to create our lives and want to live intentionally. 

And so, I'm honored to share my experience from his show with you here on Think Unbroken today.

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 “I have found over the course of my life, that there is a truth to the reality that it takes as much effort and energy to destroy your life as it does to build your life.” - Michael Unbroken


Eric: Hi, Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael: Eric, it is my pleasure, my friend, I'm very excited to be here with you, man.

Eric: Yeah. I'm excited to talk with you. We're gonna talk about your book Think Unbroken Understanding and Overcoming Childhood Trauma. But before we get to that, we'll start, like we always do with the parable. In the parable, there's a grandparent talking with a grandchild and they say in life, there are two wolves inside of us that are always at battle. One is a good Wolf, which represents things like kindness and bravery and love. And the other is a bad Wolf which represents things like greed and hatred and fear. And the grandchild stops and thinks about it for a second and looks up at their grandparents, says, well, which one wins? And the grandparent says the one you feed. So, I'd like to start off by asking you, what does that parable mean to you in your life and in the work that you do?

Michael: Yeah, I mean, it's so spot on. I believe that inherently, we all have the ability to create the life that we want to have. And I have found over the course of my life, that there is a truth to the reality that it takes as much effort and energy to destroy your life as it does to build your life. And in that, I mean, it's so much about which wolf are you feeding and for many of us, we don't know which one to feed because we don't have clarity or worse, like in my case, you're set up for failure and so you find yourself in this position of just being like, is this who I am? Is this what I'm supposed to be doing? And you kind of get lost in that, I know when you can get to this place in your life, where you make declarations about who you are, you'll find that you are choosing which wolf that you feed.

Eric: I love that. And I wanna go into some of what you just hit on there, which is the not knowing and how childhood neglect and trauma often. You say it screws up our GPS so I definitely want to hit that. But before we do, let's give listeners a little background, the book starts, I don't know if this is the first line or if it's in the early part, but it says it was November of 2013 that I decided to change everything that was happening in my life. I was 150 pounds overweight, cheating on my girlfriend, sick with a bacterial infection from drinking too much, smoking, almost two packs of cigarettes a day and getting high from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. So, what was it about that day that caused you to decide to make a change?

Michael: Well, I was just tired of my own shit, man. You know, I think that the truth about this experience is at some point you have to recognize that your life is bad because of your choices. And that's where I was, I had been set up for failure. I mean, I come from an incredibly traumatic background and I'd let everyone else always dictate who I am. You know, you're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you're not capable enough. And I started to believe it. And then I started to act like it. And then that became my reality. And you know, to be sitting 350 pounds smoking two packs a day, my life is a disaster, but I'm doing really well in business like that's stupid. Like what is that? That makes no sense to me. There was so many, just last straws, did I quit smoking 5,000 times? You know what I mean? I quit being a monster 5,000 times, but it was like, I just kept going back to it, back to it, back to it ‘cuz I realized like I was just still that hurt loss little boy from all the experiences of my past and as I was really starting to step further and deeper into this journey it was on the backside of me putting a gun in my mouth. I was so miserable with my life and I'm just like, this is not who I am. This is not what I want. Why does this keep happening to me? And I realized that it was happening to me because I was allowing it to happen to me. I realized that my life fell upside down because I had let all of the people ingrained and embed and groom me into believing that I'm supposed to be a loser. And Eric, I was a loser because I let them tell me that I was, and I was so terrified that I could be me. And the thing about this is so many people experienced this, where it's like, you're sitting here, you're looking at your life, you're like, why does this keep happening? Right. And you're like you can continue to be the victim, which I did really well, man, it was your fault. My parents' fault. Community's fault. School's fault. Obama's fault. Like, dude, it was everybody's fault, except mine. We're not culpable for the bad things that happened to us as children like, let's be very clear. Like I have scars, cuts, burns, my mother cut my finger off when I was four years old, like that's not on me. And the thing that I realized in that moment as I was like, reconciling all these experiences was very simple. I'm no longer a child. And that to me hit me like a brick to the face because it meant that I had to start taking accountability for the direction I wanted to go in my future.

Eric: And what you're talking about is a really difficult and conversation to have, and it needs a certain degree of nuance because what you're saying very unequivocally, it is not my fault for the damage that was done to me. It is not my fault for the patterns that may have kicked off, but it is my responsibility at this point to change it. I'm the only one you make that point often in the book, like nobody is coming to save you.

Michael: Yeah, there's no Disney moment. Like whatever it is that you think's about to happen, where somebody's gonna ride in on the white horse like that, ain't going down. It just isn't and I wish it was man. Like, honestly, I swear to God, like, I wish that life was so much easier for people. I wish that the suffering would go away. I wish that, you know, that thing that you needed when you were a kid was given to you, cuz then you wouldn't have to be listening to this right now. And I would be obsolete and I would be doing literally anything else with my life, but that's not the cards that were dealt, that's not what we were given, that's not the reality of the world. And so, you have to be willing to understand that everything that you do from this point forward is on you. And that's a hard pill to swallow because that means you have to take responsibility, radical, radical responsibility for who you are. You have to own your mistakes, but also you have to own your amazing accomplishments and victories, you have to take your flowers. You know, that's one of the things I think people struggle with so much is because we're always told to be small, be quiet, you know, walk on the right side of the hall, raise your hand to go to the bathroom. And I'm like, that's nonsense. Be big, be loud, be you own your space. Don't apologize for being you ever. And that's one of the things I think that comes along with this healing journey is confidence. And ultimately the only way you're gonna build confidence is you're gonna have to repeatedly do incredibly difficult things, ad nauseam, and eventually on a long enough timeline, you'll look at your life and it'll be different.

Eric: I don't wanna spend a lot of time on it here, but let's spend, I don't know, one minute on your trauma background. I mean, you mentioned some of it, your mom cut off your finger, we could stop right there, that would be sufficient but there's more to it than that. Kind of give us a quick run through of it, just so listeners have a sense of kind of where you're coming.

Michael: Yeah, man. So, mom was a drug addict, an alcoholic cut my finger off when I was four, my stepfather super abusive, the kind of guy who prays, never your stepfather put me in the hospital multiple times, never met my real father. I was like, oh, he must be out saving the world. No that fool just did not come. You know, and I was homeless as a kid. I lived with 30 different families between like eight to 12 years old, getting bounced around place to place to place, my grandmother adopted me when I was 12 and I'm biracial black and white. And my grandma's an old racist white lady from a town in Tennessee you never heard of. And so, insert identity crisis, I got high for the first time when I was 12, drunks at 13 expelled from school at 15 must have been in a hundred fights, stole a hundred cars, got shot at by the cops, watched my three childhood best friends get murdered. I mean, we can keep going.

Eric: Yeah, we got sexual abuse in there. Let's not forget that.

Michael: Well, there's that there was a religious abuse growing up in the Mormon church. There was dude, there's this thing called the ACE survey, ACE study and it's a great marker for long term health ramifications. And, you know, I answered yes to all 10 of those questions. Like, look, it's not a competition, I wanna be very clear about this. I have the worst childhood of anyone I've ever met and I've met some people had some dark shit happen to them, but it's like, you know what, that's what I was dealt, man, those were the cards and I can't change it. I cannot change the abuse, the homelessness, the evictions, the sexual abuse, the religious abuse, I can't change any of. Right. It all shapes and forms who you are. And let me assure you, man, I've had to spend a lot of money and a lot of hours to be able to even be functional to where I am now. And I look at my life and I go, but I'm still not even close to where I'm going. And I think that's the thing I decided I made a decision. I'm not gonna be a damn victim anymore. And you've gotta be willing to rise, you know, I wrote in the first book, I said, you know, my life was like standing inside of a house that I had set on fire and I was holding the matches, that's what it felt like, man. I was like, damn, I'm burning everything down all the time; relationships, friendships, community, money. I mean, I was making six figures with a fortune 10 company with no high school diploma or college education and I'm in debt like 40 grand, it's the chaos, I'm ruining every relationship, I'm ruining my body. The thing I hate more than anything that people who had traumatic experiences say is that I thrive in chaos. You shouldn't have to like, that's crazy to me, man. And so, I had to discover through discomfort that on the other side of chaos is calm and be willing to thrive in that, and that's been the journey.

Eric: So, you just a minute ago said I made a decision. Right. And I'm curious about that because we make decisions and then if there's trauma in our background or mental illness in our background, we are not one person inside. Right. You know, there's all these different parts of us running around. So, Michael makes a decision, but the next day there's loud screaming, voices going, no, dude, like do this, do that. How do you make a decision like that, that acts as an anchor point that you keep coming back to again and again?

Michael: Yeah, that's such a great point, man. I remember making that declaration after looking in the mirror and being like, I'm gonna change my life. I wish I would've wrote this in that book and when I revise it, cause I'm going to, I'm gonna actually add this. The next three years were so incredibly difficult. Dude, it was like one step forward, 8 million steps back. I would be like, oh man, I finally did something right today. And then I'd go burn it down. I finally went to the gym today and then I smoked a cigarette like it was just three years of constant and like pushing, like crawling, like I think about being in a pit and like you're crawling up this wall and you make it to the top, you put your hand on there and then you fall back down, you gotta do it over and over again. And, and what happened was I just, I looked at my life dude, and the real truth of this, and I didn't write about this in the book either it's actually been kind of a weird thing that I've been sharing recently. I used to call myself a terrorist. I used to go in the mirror and look at myself and call myself a terrorist because Eric I don't negotiate with terrorists. And what happened was it started to be this mind game, I played with myself to force myself into the discomfort because you asked how do you like make that north star? And I looked at my life and I said, I've let myself down in the same way that everyone else has always let me down. And I was just so tired of it, man. I just said no more, go do it anyway, deal with it suffer. Right. And I hate to use this word, but I don't have another word to use, I believe that you have to some extent suffer through creating your life because rehashing the past to suffering, going to the gym and losing 150 pounds of suffering writing books is suffering, like there's different levels of it, right? And because I was so clear of not negotiating with myself. No excuses Just results. Right? It's a huge part of this book, it's a huge part of the narrative. And the book's not even necessarily about me, right? There's parable in it in my stories. But like the reality is it's about tools and the tool that I believe is the greatest tool and the human experience is the mindset that you take into everything that you must face.

And when I adapted this truth, no excuses just result. Like, man, I meant it. I meant it because I knew that if I didn't force myself, literally force myself into what's next I would never be here talking to you. And that forcing that process is about understanding what you're capable of doing because one of the things that I do believe people do not understand about trauma, dude, it's not the finger, right? It's not that, it's not the cuts, it's not the burn, it's not even the sexual abuse, it's none of that stuff that I carried that I had to fight through, it was the theft of my identity. Right. Cuz thinks about this, what is the service of the brain? Survival. That's it, it does not care about anything else. It does not care about your goals. Doesn't care about your dreams. Doesn't care about the color of your shirt. It cares about you surviving. And so, we understand that the brain is so adaptable and malleable that when you are in these traumatic experiences, when you're going through this, your brain goes, wait a second. Hold on. If I'm me, that means I suffer. I get hurt. I get beat. I get locked in a closet. I get my head slammed into a wall. Well, I don't wanna be me anymore. Right. And so, you learn how to turn off, it's an adaptability, it's a survival skill, it's a autonomic response to the stimulus of the environment. And so, the worst part about this is it serves you for a period.

So, when you're 8, 12, 17, it keeps you safe, that's what's so crazy about it. And then you're 25, 37, 52 years old, you don't know how to say yes. You don't know how to say no, you've never been yourself before. And so, now you're in this crazy juxtaposition of trying to reconcile the past and look at the impact of the truth that we are the sum total of all of our experiences leading to this moment while simultaneously balancing this nuance idea and understanding that maybe you can be you, but you've never been you before. You've never been allowed to be you before. And the only way that you're gonna discover how to be you is by choosing that north star doing incredibly difficult things and just trying to figure out if it's true, that your hypothesis, that this idea about what I think it is that I want is actually correct.

Eric: Yeah, there's about 50 different ways we could go. I'm gonna back up a little bit though, to you're talking about those three years and how it was like one step forward, eight steps back, because I think this is a really important point. People will often ask me when I'm being interviewed, tell me about how you got sober. Right. And I'll pick up the story of when I got sober that time, like while I went into this treatment center but what it's missing is everything that happened before that all the half starts that I tried it would be a long ass story. Right. We don't have enough time on the podcast for me to talk about all the different ways that I tried to get sober before it actually worked. Right. And so, many of these stories of quote unquote, redemption that people hear yours or mine or anybody, right? Wait, lots of people have them, they're not that special, but they're these tidy little narratives that miss just how brutally difficult this process can be. And I think it's critical to talk about cuz people who are in the middle of them who are in the middle of their story right now are going, this is brutally awful, and I must be doing something wrong and I'm like, no, you're not, you're not, this is hard.

Michael: Dude. I'm a decade in, and I'm still in the middle of this, you know what I mean? It's kind of like always being in recovery like you're always like, I'm just trying day in, day out, but like I had been going to therapy. like I'd been going to therapy for years. I've been going to therapy since I was seven years old. But I learned how to not tell the truth to therapist because I thought it was safe and then they'd go tell my parents what I said. And so, you learn to turn that on, I'm like, all right, cool, I'm just gonna go pay these full hundreds of dollars a week and I'm gonna lie to him, for what?

Eric: That's so funny, it reminds me of, I was always stealing from the time I was just a kleptomaniac from early on and I remember getting arrested one time and being sent to therapy. And I remember the therapist coming out and telling my parents, like, he seems like a really well-adjusted young man. I can only imagine the snow job I gave that woman, I can't fully remember, but I surely didn't open the doors to my inner chaos.

Michael: I became a masterful liar, man. I will argue today, this is why like, I think values are so important. My number one value is honesty because I became a masterful liar, I watched my mother and my stepfather manipulate everything and everyone. Anyway, that's another tangent cause I want to answer your question cuz I know how important it is. I would be in these situations that I said, I'd never put myself in again, the random hookups on the internet, drunken the bar at 11 o'clock at night on a Tuesday, there I am again, at the damn gas station buying a pack of cigarettes. Man, I said, I wasn't gonna do this anymore, this is the thing that I think is so important that I hope people will take away is that I noticed that the more work I did, the more effort I put in, the more therapy, the me personal development, the more they weren't really called podcast then but the more of those I would consume the further distance and time between those actions. And that's the thing that I think people need to hold onto if you're in the middle of this, because if you haven't stepped into that vice in six weeks, that's fucking awesome. I’ll give you context. I'd get off of work and I'd drive to the gym every day for year. I did this literally for years, you talk about like chaos.

And in the gym parking lot was a bar and a McDonald's like talk about perfect place to put a freaking McDonald's right next to the gym. And they're gonna sue me one day.

Eric: It's like the good Wolf, bad Wolf in a parking lot, right?

Michael: Dude hundred percent. Here's what I would do every day for years, Eric bags packed it's in the passenger seat. I'd get in the parking lot. I'd look at that gym. I'd smoke a cigarette. I go to McDonald's, go to the bar, get in my car tomorrow. I'll do it tomorrow. And that was years of that man, just suffering through the inability of being aware enough to understand that the choice that I make was killing me. And as I started the journey into healing and I got deeper into this, it started being like, okay, cool, what if I just don't do the McDonald's today? I'll go to the gym and then I'll get a drink. Right. And then what if it was, I won't go to the bar, but instead I'll go to the gym. I'll get McDonald's, I'll do the salad right, this time on my way home. And it was just like this iterative process again and again and again and again, and now I haven't had, McDonald's like 10 years. And so, I think about that and I'm like, you know, this process, it sucks, dude it's so freaking hard. But again, what happened was even though, and here's where people will get caught up in the black, but I thought you said you don't negotiate with yourself. But it's just, you are learning, you're going through this process of understanding who you are, what you're actually capable of doing, because if you've never been allotted the space to do this before, you gotta give yourself some grace. And I say that, because think about this, Eric, we've never had this conversation before, this is the first time we have ever done this. You are going through this process of the human experience and discovering things that you've never been exposed to. Right. So, in that space, in which you're like, all right, I'm trying to be sober. I'm trying not to hook up with strangers. I'm trying to go to the gym. I'm trying to eat well, like you're learning through failure, right? John Maxwell writes an amazing book called Failing Forward, I believe everyone should read because it's so much about this idea of like, you're gonna fail towards your goal. You're gonna fail forward. You're gonna trip over the finish line. Right. But you're gonna make it there if you keep going. And then now I look at my life and I go; I don't get drunk. I don't eat fast food. I'm 150 pounds lighter. I don't smoke cigarettes. I don't get high when I wake up. You know, it's not that I don't still have my moments cuz dude, sometimes a movie will come on there, like smoking a cigarette I'm like, damn, I want a cigarette right now. And I go, no, you can't have one dummy. It's not allowed. And so, it's that thing where the triggers are always gonna be there. But if you adapt these tools and you bring them into your life, when you have them, whether it's, you know, you have a sponsor or you have a coach or you have that meditation or that journal, you go to that thing instead of the vice and in a long enough timeline, you'll find that six weeks turns into six months into six years into the rest of your life then it's just simply this process of just keep going forward. Don't stop ‘cuz you screwed up does not mean you all of the effort you don't rewind time. Time's gone forever. I'll tell you something really interesting. If people understand what I'm about to say, it'll change things for them.

When I go to restaurants and I put my name on the list and it says time, I write now because the time is now, that is the time it is. And so, if you are willing to understand that right now is the thing that matters the most, not yesterday and not 10 minutes from now, but right now, the choice you're making in this moment is the thing that matters the most it will change the trajectory of your future forever.

Eric: You talk about how trauma really corrupts you call it your GPS system, right? And it's got you thinking that what you really need is a big mac, what you really need is a drink, what you really need is a cigarette. And those voices don't go away right away. Right. So how is it that you were able to sort of decide who you really are and which of those voices you wanna listen to? And which of those voices you don't wanna listen to? And I'm just gonna add to that a little bit, because part of the problem is that all those voices talk in our voice, they all sound the same, it would be, it would be great if the one that told us to do the self-destructive thing sounded like the Tasmanian devil, it would be easy to be like, oh, that's not the right voice. Right. So, they talk in our voice and sometimes the ones that are pushing us in quote-unquote, the wrong direction is really loud and the one that's saying here's who I am, here's who I want to be is very quiet, how do you stay oriented?

Michael: Yeah. That's that is the question. Like literally, if I make a pill and sell it, I'd be the richest person on planet freaking earth because that is the question. Ultimately, I think it comes down to understanding a really fundamental truth about this is that this thing right here called a pin is the most powerful tool you'll ever own in your life. And what I did in the beginning is I sat down with a piece of paper and I wrote who I wanted to be. I wrote it out top to bottom. Massive, massive, massive clarity. I said, this is the person I wanna be. This's the impact I wanna make in the world. This is how I wanna show up in my relationships, my friendships, my career, my business, my personal life, all of it. Right. And I just started moving towards it, little bit every single day. Cause without the clarity, it's like being in a rudderless boat, you're just gonna end up wherever the breeze takes you and then you're gonna be like, oh my life sucks. Well, yeah. Cause you weren't clear about where you wanted to go. If you're on a desert island it's cuz you let yourself, get there cuz you weren't super clear about where you wanted to be. And so, in the beginning it's so difficult because people don't understand the power of the mind. I truly believe what I'm about to say more than anything that I will ever say in front of me, there's a sign that says mindset is everything. I believe that so inherently in my soul, in my body that I mean, it's the most true thing that I know. But in this personal development space that I live in, everybody's always like mindset, mindset, mindset, but nobody tells you what it is. So, I'm gonna tell you what it actually means in a practical way that will help you navigate those voices ‘cause I promise you, man, they don't turn off.

I tell people when they come into coaching with me, I'm like, man, this is the rest of your life game. Don't think that this is just gonna be over. Cuz you did some coaching. It ain't I promise this is the rest of your life game, but one of the most important tools you have in this game is mindset.

And mindset means this, what you think becomes what you speak, what you speak, become your actions and your actions become your reality. And some of you listening to this right now are being so mean to yourself. That if you said it to me, I would punch you in the face and you're expecting yourself to be successful. There's something wrong with that picture. What I want you to do is I want you to take this pin. I promise you will change your life. This is the most important dollar you'll ever spend in your life. And you're gonna write down what I'm about to tell you. And then you're gonna convince yourself that this is true…

 “I am the kind of person who is kind to myself”

“I am the kind of person who is kind to myself”

And I know what you're thinking, Michael, you're six foot four covered in tattoos, gold nose ring, what do you know about kindness? Everything. Because here's the truth about it. If it is true, which I believe it is that what we think becomes what we speak and that becomes our action and our reality. Then, if we're operating through a scope of kindness, when we are faced with making the difficult decisions and hearing those voices battle back and forth, you have the mechanism for deciding which one is louder, because you'll ask yourself when you're in challenge, when you're in struggle, when you have to do the difficult thing, what would a kind person do right now? How would a kind person show up? What would kindness look like? How do you deploy kindness in this moment? And then, because you're thinking that you will act that and because you act that that will become your reality, ‘cuz Eric dude, I don't know about you, but the voice that says you’re loser, you're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you're not capable enough, you're fake. Like that voice never fucking turns off. But I don't listen to that voice because I operate through kindness because I have clarity about who I am and my goals and my mission. And when you start to add on other layers of this, ‘cuz dude, it's like putting together a cake, you gotta throw all the ingredients in. Right. And when you add on the layer of like your values. My values are honesty, kindness, leadership, self-actualization, and no excuses. Those values become a funnel for the decision making that I'm making every single day. Great example, you invite me to come on this show. I listen to this show. I go, I'm not on alignment with this show. It's not gonna move me towards my goal. I don't do the show or it does so I am so I'm here, but I have to filter it through my value system first, because if I don't, then I don't have clarity about whether or not it's moving me forward.

Do this applies to dating, to the food you eat, to the things you consume and watch on television to the internet, to your phone, to your body, everything because when you start operating and understanding that mindset is everything it changes when you are in that moment of those voices going to war, because I don't know that I've ever had a moment where they haven't been there and it's just like, one's gonna be louder, ‘cuz I'm choosing to make it louder by executing against the tools that I have that I know work in this process.

Eric: Yep. So, you're saying basically you get clear on your values or some orienting ideas. I'm gonna be kind to myself and then any voice that isn't saying, that isn't reflecting, that you go, that's not the voice that I listen to. Like I've decided which messages I'm going to give credence to and anything that's not that even if it's yelling in my head, I go, Nope, that's not me, that's not who I want to be, that's not the direction I'm going wanna be, that's not the thing I'm following, which is easy to say and very hard to do of course, like to your point.

Michael: Let's go step deeper, cuz I'll tell you exactly why what I said is not gonna work for people. I will lay out exactly the roadmap for why what I just said is gonna leave somebody in four minutes from being like that's nonsense, because one of the things that you have to understand is causation and correlation. There is a direct connection to everything that's ever happened in our life that has led to this moment. We're the sum total of all of our experiences. And so that means every single thing that has ever happened in our life informs us. And so, think about, I'll paint a picture, let's say you're in third grade and you're coloring a house and Ms. Smith comes up to you and you just colored the moon purple and she chastises you and criticizes you in front of the whole classroom. And they go, Eric, the moon's not purple and all the kids laugh at you and they don't play with you at recess. And then your brain goes, oh man, when I'm creative, when I'm artistic, when I try to do something that makes me feel like me, they laugh at me, they take me out of the play time, the teacher embarrasses me. I'm not gonna be me anymore. I'm not gonna be me anymore because it's too painful. And so, now you're in this place where like, you're hearing this idea about, wait a second, but I can create myself. The thing about this journey is like, when you get to this moment and you're hearing what we're saying, and you're like, I want to have the good voice be louder. You want that so desperately you have to understand that the loud voice that has controlled you for so long has been enmeshed in you, ingrained in, you groomed into you, it is not you, it's not you, it has never been you, but because of the brain's autonomic response for survival, it becomes this thing that keeps you safe and you really have to understand the truth. The only way you squelch that voice you make it quieter is you have to challenge the narrative of who you believe you are. You have to be willing to do things you've never done. You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to step onto the edge of the diving board and jump.

People will get 70% into this. They'll get 84% into this and they won't take the final step. And this means really innately is when you have these moments and these thoughts and the silence, right? Especially at bedtime, getting ready to go to bed at silent, your brain won't turn off, it's like do that thing, just keep hearing it, do that thing, do that. And you're like, no, I'm scared. Yes, of course you are. You've been told to be scared of being you. You've been told to be scared of quitting the job, leaving the unfulfilling relationship, starting the business, doing the pot, you've been told to be terrified of it, but the only way you make the voice about who you are bigger is by feeding the wolf. Right. Going back to where we started this, feed it, be willing to step into the unknown because you choose to.

I think one of the greatest aspects of healing and I think if people really understand what I'm about to say, it will be impactful. I only do what I want to do and I never do what I don't want to do. Like if you called me and you're like, Hey, Michael, do you wanna go to this country concert? I'd be like, no, absolutely not. I hate country music. No way, dude. 15 years ago, I've been the first one to say yes because I wanted to feel like you made me feel good about myself. I needed that from other people. I needed other people. I needed to bend who I am to have community, to have brotherhood, to have companionship. And you know what I got out of that, a lot of drunken nights, a lot of hookups, a lot of bragging in my bros, a lot of bullshit. And as I changed, Jay-Z has my favorite quote of all time, he goes “people around you staying that you changed well, I didn't do all this work to stay the same.” Who do you want to be? Who do you want to be? Because without putting in massive action, that voice that you want so desperately to be the voice that is predominant will never be heard.

Eric: I wanna go back to what you said a minute ago about I never do anything that I don't want to do. I assume you mean that you might very well know that going to a recovery meeting or your therapist is the right thing to do, but you don't quote unquote want to do it in that moment. Reconcile that with what you just said.

Michael: Yeah. Look, it's really simply about this. Let me actually preface this. You have to do things you don't want to do, that's just the nature of the world. There's monotony like you're gonna have to do the same thing 8,000 times, right? Yeah. You know, that's how this works. What I mean at a deeper level is the things that bend your identity are the things that you are not in alignment with? Are the things that are against your values, your wants, your needs, your interest, your moral compass, right? It's going to the strip club or the bar when you're like, that's not who I am anymore. It's the smoke in the joint in the morning when you're like, that's not who I am anymore. It's like those things I don't do the things that I don't want to do because you peer pressure me because I feel connection. One of the most interesting things that has happened over the course of the last decade is watching the people move away from me who have been in my life as I've changed as I've grown, as I've said, I'm not gonna go to the bar with you tonight. As I've said, I'm not going to go, you know, do that thing that we used to do. And then, you know, it's really funny cuz I'll pop on social on the occasion and they'll show up in a feed and they're doing the same thing we did 15 years ago. It ain't different. I'm like, I'm changing cuz I don't wanna do that stuff anymore. Right. And that's what that means is you taking full ownership over who you are in all aspects. And I literally mean all aspects, I mean your career, I mean your relationship, the food you eat, like if you're like I hate coffee and you're going and drinking coffee, cuz you want to fit in with somebody, you need to question and check yourself. Right. And the things that I want to do, I wanna be healthy, I want to eat well, I want go to therapy, I want to have a coach, I wanna invest in personal development, I wanna have a business that changed the world, I want all these things. So, I only do things that move me towards those goals. Anything else does not bring value to my life. I will say this, Eric ‘cause I understand why you asked the question. You cannot do this without the massive clarity that we've been laying the track work for, trying to figure out. You've gotta be able to step into that because if not, again, you're just gonna be on this rudderless boat not going anywhere.

Eric: Yeah. I love that. I don't do things that bend my identity. I think that's a great way of saying it because you know, you've got your own business, I've got my own business, there are lots of tasks within that, that I don't there are times I'm like, I do not want to do this. Right. But I know that it aligns with the direction I want to go with the person I want to be. In the book talk pretty eloquently about the fact that there was no sort of single modality that led you to change. Right? You have done a lot of things. Right? Brought us through a list of some of the ways you've worked on healing.

Michael: How much time do you have, man? Well, look, I'll go back to, what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have. No excuses, just results. Do that literally meant I'm gonna do everything. Everything. I'm gonna try it all ‘cuz I don't know what works and I don't know what doesn't work because I haven't done it yet. And so, it was therapy, group therapy, men's group therapy, men's group trauma therapy, gestalt therapy, CBT, EMDR, NLP, ABC, all the acronyms dude it was literally all those things. I went to all the support groups, AA, NA, SA just trying, filling, seeing is this right? Is this wrong? Do I belong here? Do I not? It was getting a coach, going to personal development, investing in seminars, reading the books, dude, I've read over 700 books in the last decade, right? It was going and listening the podcast, getting certifications in trauma education, it was all of the things, man, it was body work, acupuncture, Reiki, you know, you name it like I did it all, man. I was like, something's gonna work shit. I don't know what, but we're gonna find out. And it was the willingness to dedicate myself to it and it cost every penny I have and it cost every second of time I had. And even at one point early on, I had to borrow money. I was like, dude, I need this therapy I don't have any money, somebody I reached out, I asked for help because I was like, I gotta do something here, man. I'm going to therapy four times a week, I'm going to groups on Wednesdays and Saturdays, you know, spending time on body work, I'm healing my body cuz I got so sick from all the drinking dude. I mean, I literally spent probably a quarter million dollars and a hundred thousand hours on this, you know, because I looked at it, I go, what price are you willing to pay for your health? I don't care how much it costs, sign me up. And I found in that process, like some things worked really well. And some things just, I did not connect with remotely and I will never do again. Right. But I wouldn't have known that had I not ventured into it, but I will say this like, honestly, and I mean this, I've thought about this a lot over the years. If I could go back in time, the first thing I would've done is I'd hired a coach because the therapy wall is very, very important and should be a part of your journey, it wasn't getting me out of the habits. There was still no accountability, there still was no roadmap or game plan. And that's the thing that it would take me a few more years to discover and that's ultimately what changed my life more than anything. You know, there's a symbiosis in it like, let's be clear about that, but bear, I believe that I really like leaps and bounds, like started really laddering in this was when I hired a coach and I got deep into personal development because I realized there's this interesting distinction therapy to me, felt like making meaning of past experiences of being able to understand again, causation and correlation, to be able to have rhyme and reason like, oh, I act like this because of that and then putting it on a shelf. And then I realized like, oh wait, therapy's not actually propelling me forward, it's really, really beneficial for this stuff over here, but it's not giving me what I need to go to over here. And so, that was a really, really powerful decision in my life when I got into coaching and in deeply, deeply ingrained into personal development.

And look, I'm the guy who used to be like, Tony Robbins is full of shit.  Right? You know, all these personal development guys, they're morons, they don't know anything about life and then you get in and you're like, wait a second, maybe they do. And that became really interesting when I switched to that type of investment and it became super powerful for me, like there is no question, like all of the modalities help. There's always a benefit to everything that you're willing to try. If for no other reason, then you'll learn something. But ultimately, I don't think there is no one single right thing. And even I have my own qualms with therapy at times ‘cause I'm like, you've been here for seven years. Is it really working? Right. Like I had those moments with myself, I'd sit in my therapist's office, same Wednesday, five o'clock, same part of town, same chair, same tea and I'd be like, why am I here, man? Like, what are we doing? This is nonsense. Right. And it just took so much effort and energy to realize like, man, you gotta clear the slate, you gotta wipe this thing clean so you can bring in all the new stuff. And so, you know, I always tell people, try it all, I know it's not cheap borrow money. I don't care. People will take out debt for shoes, but not for therapy or a coach. I literally sold everything I owned. Like how committed are you to have in your life? And you know, you got three grand in your basement right now of bull crap, you don't need. Sell it. Go make your life better. Read a book, you know, you gotta want this. Nobody's gonna give it to you. And I think that that's part of the journey is just the willingness to bet on yourself first.

Eric: Yeah. I think it's interesting people often ask me, like you, I've done a lot of different things over the years. Like, you know, I've been in therapy on and off. I don't know how old you are, but I've got a good number of years on you so, I've got X number of years to do this stuff. And you know, people would be like, well, did that thing work? And I'm like, you know, at this point I can't even twist apart, what worked and what didn't and would this have worked? If I hadn't done that thing first, if I had it's like, you gotta try for yourself and see what's helpful. I coach people as well and one of the distinctions I often make about a therapy and coaching thing is I say oftentimes like therapy is really valuable like therapy could get me really clear on why, when there's an adult male in my life, who's older than me, who seems like they're in a bad mood. I want to go crawl in the closet like, okay. It's pretty clear, I know why that is. I know why that is. The reality is though it still happens, knowing doesn't make me not wanna hide.

So, what I need help in is what do I do right in this moment when that fear is coming up, when I'm in that situation that has paralyzed me in the past, how do I stay in it? You know, and that's really where I think coaching can be helpful, ‘cuz it's really focused on right now or moving forward.

Michael: Yeah. A hundred percent. And I think that societally everyone's like therapy, therapy, therapy, and I'm like, yes, but, and…

Eric: That’s right. And for sure, we've talked a little bit about this, but I'd like to hit it again in more detail, which is talk about the power of community and other people.

Michael: Well, I mean, name somebody, who's done something great on their own. Name them. I got all day, man. You know, you can't like, I'll speak to this from the perspective of you and I sitting here as men, right? We grow up in this society that says, figure it out, put some dirt on it. Don't be a pussy, you know, all this toxic shit around what it means to be a man, that's actually why I wrote my third book it's called Unbroken Man is because like, we're lied to. I'm gonna tell you right now, the greatest thing that has like really changed my life is the willingness to ask for help. I need help somebody, please. You got the answer. Give it to me, please. For the love of God, help me. And this idea that you can do this by yourself is a lie that comes from shame and guilt. And it's not even just about men it's about the society women go through however you identify it as a matter. We all go through that especially if you grow up in the United States, name your neighbors, what are your neighbors names? You don't know, ‘cuz you are not willing to go over and talk to 'em. You know, I was in the gym the other day, I'm new in this gym, I've never been there. I'm trying to like figure my way around some things. I got this big facility. I walk up to this woman I introduced myself. Five minutes in the conversation, she goes, I am so scared to talk to people. Thank you for saying hello to me. And I thought to myself, that's the society we live in, go be ostracized, go watch TV, go be in your cell phone. Don't be in person. Like you have to understand that that is not working for you. And so, if you're in this place, like, especially, especially, especially at the beginning of this, again, this thing about that suffering, you have to suffer through the discomfort of asking for help of putting yourself out there. And I don't mean crying on Instagram, let's be very clear about that, that's nonsensical. What I'm talking about is going to the meeting, going to the group, signing up for the program, doing the thing that's with other people, because you'll be amazed at what you take away from that. Not only because of what you bring in, but even what you give and offer and deliver to other people.

You know, there are so many people that will reach out to me they're like, I'm so low. I'm so depressed. I'm like, what are you doing? What are you doing with your time? One of my mentors taught me something that changed my life, which I really believe is actually probably the catalyst how Think Unbroken started they go, when you're at your lowest, you need to go serve. Go be a value to other people because you're being selfish, ‘cuz you're only thinking about you and your problems. And that felt so true to me ‘cuz if you think about it, we are a communal species. Everything about our experiences really until the last 15 years has been about community has been about going and being a part of something. And I think one of the most dangerous things that you can do is think that you're alone because you're not. There's 8 billion people on planet earth, I promise you are not the only one with that problem, it's called Google, use that shit, right? Go and find it go cultivate it. It's not gonna fall in your lap. Right. People are so fast they're like, oh, I'm gonna hop on Amazon, I'm gonna order this thing I don't need. Well, why don't you hop on the internet and find a group you can go be a part of? Find a coach that can help you find a mentor that can support you. Find the community that you can go and foster and build into. Give your time, give your effort, give your energy, it'll be reciprocated to you. But I wanna say this, Eric too, cuz I think this is really important, I think as a coach, you'll appreciate this. You gotta invest into this shit. You gotta put some skin in the game. I came up with this acronym a couple years ago, (TEEM) Time Effort Energy Money. You're gonna have to invest one, but you're probably gonna have to invest all four. And if you want your life to be different, you've gotta be willing to make sacrifices. You've gotta be willing to put yourself in that room, in that community, in that group, show up for it, make effort, put energy into it, cuz again, it takes as much energy to destroy your life as it does to build your life.

So, what are you building? What do you want? What are you willing to do to have it? And if you think that you're gonna do this on your own, let me break it to you, you're not cuz I promise you the more I tried to do this by myself, the worse my life got. And so, be willing to step into the discomfort of saying, you know what? I can't do this alone because if you are willing to do that, watch how the universe starts to bend itself to what you need. It's incredible.

Eric: You are very clearly sort of a, like you said, no excuses kind of guy, you know, no excuses, you know, just do it, get to it. Right. And yet you also, I know, talk a lot about being really kind to ourselves. And so, I wanna talk about what do you do, how do you talk to yourself? How do you work with yourself when you don't live up to your expectations? Right. When you make an excuse or when you don't do that, because you clearly have this balance of holding yourself accountable, but also treating yourself kindly talk about how those come together for you.

Michael: Yeah, man, look, I'm human like everybody else. I struggle like everyone else. I'm not some super human. I'm not some super hero. I'm I'm not, I promise you, I'm gonna fuck up. I guarantee I will bet you everything in my life that I'm gonna make a mistake.

Eric: Probably by midnight?

Michael: I probably already did. I've been up since 6:00 AM, man. I probably already screwed up 10 times today, you know? And it's like fine. We're iterative, we are a processing machine like you have to understand the power of the human brain, like, and its service to be able to learn and to adapt. There's no other species known to man that is as powerful as we are. And when you recognize that first and foremost, I don't allow myself to talk to myself negatively. I don't, I refuse it. It's a non-negotiable for me. You will never hear me put myself down, ever. I took that out years ago. Even the notion of it, nah, I just don't even, I don't align with it. And so that becomes precedent. Now let's be clear about this, cuz you're like, well, what happens when you do screw up? And I screw up massively, you know what I do? I own it. I totally screwed that up. I drop the ball. I messed that thing up. I made a mistake. I fell back. I did the thing I said I wasn't gonna do. Yes, I did that. I own it. 100%. I'm sorry. I learned something. I understand. Here's where that sorry, comes into play that I think people need to factor in as well. What did you actually learn from that mistake? And how are you going to adopt that into your life? Because guess what? The thing about this is often, especially the deeper, I think you'll agree with this, the deeper you get into this work, you start to identify your triggers better. Right? Same reason you're like, oh, wait, older guy than me I run and hide. Got it copy. Right. But now, you know, that trigger and I think that's what mistakes do for you. They give you the ability to recognize the triggers and when you can do that more effectively, that's where that gap in time really starts to show itself.

And so, in these moments where I make a mistake where I screw something up, where I go against my character, I go, there was some reason why that happened, I need to uncover that reason. And look going back to the point about therapy, you know, I've had the same therapist for five years and I will literally call him and be like, I got this dude on speed dial ‘cause it's like, I don't need therapy every day. I don't need it every month, even. But about once a quarter, I'm like, Hey man, I need to talk to you, you know what I'm saying? And so, that's the thing about this. Be willing to find out why. Don't beat yourself up. Beating yourself up isn't gonna solve anything. You have never solved a problem once in your life by beating yourself up. But if you're willing to sit in it, make meaning of it, figure out the direct correlation between the past experience and the current moment then now you have a framework and a roadmap for the next time that thing happens, which assuredly, it will happen to be prepared for it because you have the tools that you can deploy against it, because now you understand it.

Eric: Yeah. And it's why being kind to ourselves, I think is so important. In addition to the fact that it just feels a whole lot better to live in a brain that's nice to itself. Is that when we beat ourselves up and we go into shame and we go into being really hard on ourselves, we don't learn, we're not capable of learning. We go into that shame at precisely the moment that we most need to learn. Like you said, why did I do this?

Michael: Yeah. Well, and look, I mean, where does that shame come from? Like really let's tie this together really strongly right now. When you were a kid and you made a mistake, you suffered through shame and guilt. So, as an adult, when you make a mistake, you shame and guilt yourself, ‘cuz you believe that is the way that you handle those experiences. And it's not until you reframe that understanding and recognize the truth that is not shame and guilt that will take you to the promised land. But instead, it's understanding patience, grace, hope, love, and compassion that will, and that's the thing about this, and you have to adopt that you have to bring that into your life. You've never experienced this before. So, the only thing you know is I'm gonna beat myself up, but I'm not, I could destroy my whole life today. I could, I'm not gonna beat myself up over. I'm like, damn, what happened? Something dark must have went down.

Eric: It was that talking to Eric Zimmer, man, that really screwed things up.

Michael: Dude really ruined my life. And so, I'm like, wait a second, but now I know I'll never talk to Eric again. I can make meaning of it. But that's the truth, we're joking and we're ingest, but like, that's the truth of it, man. You've gotta be willing to recognize that we are habitual creatures that operate on behavioral patterns that are ingrained in us in our developmental years, whether you like it or not.

Eric: Well, Michael, thank you so much. This has been a really fun conversation. Your work is really powerful. Your story is really powerful. And thank you so much for taking the time to come on and share with our listeners like I think we could probably riff on this for another hour, easy for sure but we are out of time so thank you so much.

Michael: Yeah, Eric, it's my pleasure, man. Thank you so much for the opportunity and I wanna acknowledge you for researching cuz I do hundreds of these a year and you know, the fact that you took the time outta your day to understand what this conversation would be to help your audience means the world to me. So, I just want to give you some gratitude and say, thank you, my friend.

Eric: My pleasure.

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.

Eric ZimmerProfile Photo

Eric Zimmer

Eric Zimmer is a behavior coach, author, and the host of The One You Feed Podcast. He is endlessly inspired by the quest for a greater understanding of how our minds work and how to intentionally create the lives we want to live. At the age of 24, Eric was homeless, addicted to heroin, and facing long jail sentences. In the years since, he not only found a way to overcome these obstacles to create a life worth living, he now helps others to do the same.
Eric works as a behavior coach and has done so for the past 20 years. He has coached hundreds of people from around the world on how to make significant life changes and create habits that serve them well in achieving the goals they’ve set for themselves.
In addition to his work as a behavior coach, he currently hosts the award-winning podcast,
The One You Feed, based on an old parable about two wolves at battle within us. With over 400 episodes and over 20 million downloads, the show features conversations with experts
across many fields of study about how to create a life that has more meaning.