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Mike Bayer is one of the best known life coaches in America. In today’s episode, Coach Mike shares his philosophy on how to live authentically. Can one decision really be the key to a better life? What does living authentically even mean?
Coach Mike answers all that and more as he reveals some insights from his new book. He’s used these techniques with Dr. Phil, J.Lo, and other celebrities.
Mike Bayer is a one-of-a-kind life coach. Often called “Coach Mike” by the thousands of people whose lives he’s helped transform, he also has decades of experience in the mental health space as the founder and CEO of the CAST treatment centers. A New York Times bestselling author and one of very few openly gay life coaches, Coach Mike also hosts his own podcast, is a sought-after speaker, and is called on as a guest expert in the media.
It’s his practical, accessible, and innovative approach, his deep expertise, and his creative methods in helping people unlock their authenticity that earned him the spot as the first ever regular contributor to the #1 rated Dr. Phil Show, and helped him inspire millions.
Coach Mike’s first book “Best Self” was a runaway success, hitting the New York Times Bestseller list, published in 14 languages worldwide, and taught in classrooms across America. His newest book is “ONE DECISION: The First Step to a Better Life.”
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Inside Mental Health podcast, I’m your host, Gabe Howard, and I want to thank our sponsor, Better Help. Get a week free by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. Calling into the show today, we have certified life coach Mike Bayer, who is often called Coach Mike. He not only has decades of experience in the mental health space as a professional, but has dealt personally with mental health challenges. Coach Mike is a New York Times best selling author and the first ever regular contributor to the Dr. Phil Show. Coach Mike, welcome to the show.
Mike Bayer: Thanks for having me, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: Today we’re going to be discussing your new book, One Decision: The First Step to a Better Life, specifically the premise that by being your best self, you can make more authentic decisions. Now, how does an authentic decision differ from a plain old regular decision?
Mike Bayer: Well, that’s a good question, and I think it’s the struggle of everyone because we make over 35,000 decisions a day. So it’s really figuring out, OK, what decisions really matter? When I talk about authentic decisions or making a decision from your best self, making a decision from a place of who you truly are. So in terms of someone identifying who their best self is, I help them create a character avatar that represents their best self. So in my case, it’s a wizard named Merlin. I love wizards.
Gabe Howard: I love it.
Mike Bayer: They are all over my house. Yeah,
Gabe Howard: I love it.
Mike Bayer: Yeah. So like I have a wizard tattooed on my shoulder to remind me to be my best self. And first it’s just helping someone understand who they truly are authentically, that they don’t need to do some big exercise when they’re in the moment of crisis or stress or struggle or when someone identifies who their best self is, it’s a pretty quick resource someone can tap into.
Gabe Howard: Do you find that by working with people that the actual root cause is ever simple or is it always major?
Mike Bayer: I find that it’s more almost thematic and it spreads across all area of a person’s life, so somebody may say, oh, I need to make more money, but usually if you peel back a bit, it’s they want to feel more safe or secure in their life. When we take it a step further and look at the other areas of a person’s life, that area or that sense of not feeling safe or secure kind of crosses a lot of different areas. They may not feel like that in their social life. They may not feel like that in their relationship. What is that theme and how can we kind of rewrite or change the story?
Gabe Howard: Do you find the way that the things present impede people from getting help? Like let’s use the money example, if somebody says, oh, I need to make more money, somebody says, oh, he’s fine, he’s got enough money, he doesn’t need it, and therefore they’re not helping the person be more safe, secure? But they’re sort of having two different conversations. Right? So the way things present can impede a person from getting real help or making progress.
Mike Bayer: Yeah, I think whenever we need help, often it’s because we don’t know what the solution is. With anything. Like when there’s a problem or something, you know, for a lot of us, me included, there could be something that circles our heads week after week. It could be some insecurity or fear or what have you. And it’s often we have blind spots when something’s not working. We don’t know what the solution is. So often we don’t really even know what the problem is.
Gabe Howard: And then, of course, we can’t articulate it to others.
Mike Bayer: Yeah, and that’s why personal growth and reading books and, you know, the way I write is as if I’m working with someone as their life coach. I try to create as many exercises that hopefully can shake out what is going to help someone improve their life. You know, other authors may just write from a place of being very inspiring. My kind of strategy is more meeting someone where they’re at and helping them assess, come to some new awareness and then have an action plan to change.
Gabe Howard: I want to jump back to something you said a little earlier. You said we make 35,000 decisions a day. Now your book has a way to organize all of those decisions. We’ve got autopilot decisions, conscious decisions, and authentic decisions. Can you tell us the differences?
Mike Bayer: So autopilot decisions are decisions we make just every day, our bodies just do them, we go to sleep, we get hungry, we need to eat food. Conscious decisions would be OK, what am I consciously p utting in my body? So I’m not just going to eat anything, but what am I going to kind of eat that’s going to maybe nourish me? And authentic decisions would be making decisions that line up with your lifestyle, who you are, what you’re trying to achieve, what you’re trying to get to. And overall are decisions that you can make from a place of letting go of the outcome.
Gabe Howard: Along those same lines, is there one decision that can change the trajectory of our lives and if there is, what is that decision?
Mike Bayer: Everything starts with one decision. Any change happens with one decision and the single and most important decision that someone can make is a decision to be themselves throughout the day. And when I say be yourself throughout the day, it’s consciously making decisions from who you truly are, not what others want you to be, what you’re not trying to avoid, but purely from a place of authenticity. And I know it sounds kind of like, well, that sounds really easy, but I don’t know who I am. That’s where in One Decision we really get a clear roadmap for who you are. And how do we get from point A to point B?
Gabe Howard: Let’s talk about fear, anxiety and stress for a moment. We all struggle, at least sometimes with fear, anxiety and stress and depression as well. These struggles are very real. So aren’t these things also a part of our authentic selves?
Mike Bayer: Well, I think it depends what it is. There are real fears, like anxiety is the fear of something that will happen. It creates a story. You know, I talk about in One Decision, this idea of telling the future. We can’t control the future. But if I’m afraid of, let’s say, losing my job or that person is going to reject me. Now, the person may not be interested. They could say, hey, I don’t want to be with you, but if you show up authentically, you can handle it in a more mature way. You can look at it through a different lens. I don’t think anxiety is a part of being authentic. I think that’s like unresolved fear. But there’s degrees. There’s so many degrees to anxiety. And it’s also how negatively does it impact your life? I think anyone with kids is going to have some degree of anxiety because they’re trying to keep their kids safe. But there’s also a difference between trying to keep them safe and trying to keep it perfect.
Gabe Howard: Would it be fair to say that our society confuses anxiety and worry? Anxiety is this real deep seated psychological symptom or it’s an illness all in of itself. Being worried that your kids aren’t OK or that they’re not going to grow up to be good? That’s just part of the human experience, right? They’re similar maybe, but not quite.
Mike Bayer: You bring up a great point, because the terms anxiety and depression have become so mainstream that I don’t believe culture really thinks of anxiety as a clinical diagnosis or a clinical condition. If someone says, yeah, I feel anxious, that’s like almost the same as I’m going, oh, well, I’m worried. It kind of takes away from someone who really is. Has debilitating anxiety. That person’s a lot different than a parent worrying about their kid getting on the bus.
Gabe Howard: Absolutely, and I only bring that up because, you know, I’m 44 years old and my grandma worries about me and I don’t want to cure that. There’s this little part of me that’s like I love that my grandmother wakes up every morning and worries about whether or not I’m happy. I think that makes us bonded, that she’s still thinking about me all these years later, as if I’m, you know, five. But if somebody said, hey, that’s anxiety, that’s a symptom, you need to get her to a doctor, well, that changes that bond and that love and it turns it into something sinister and scary. And also would imply that my grandmother has suffered every day since I was born. Is that why it’s important to understand what part is authentic? My grandmother loves me. And what part is not authentic? If she were having symptoms of a major mental illness.
Mike Bayer: Well, also, it’s helpful just to see other negative consequences. It would be one thing if your grandma is worried about you being safe, insists on staying at your house, sleeping in your bedroom and giving up her health. There’s no negative consequences going on. It’s not affecting anyone. There’s nothing wrong with it. I think the challenge, though, is figuring out that line between this requires somebody actually seeking help and this is just part of life.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be back in a moment after we hear from our sponsors.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with New York Times best-selling author Mike Bayer, discussing how to be your best self and make more authentic decisions.You know, Coach Mike, there are a ton of self-help books that can get you motivated and fired up. Your book is inspirational, but what I like about it is that it focuses on concrete tools and exercises. Why did you decide to shape the book this way?
Mike Bayer: I’ve been in mental health now for over 18 years. I founded a treatment center over 15 years ago, I’m the CEO still today. I did interventions for years. I was a counselor. I’ve worked in so many different capacities in mental health. And what I believe or what I’ve seen is to help someone really make a change in their own life, you have to help somebody look within themselves and put pen to paper and to make changes so they actually are taking the action. It would be a wonderful thing if we could just change in life by thinking differently. But from my experience, it takes that next step of making a decision to act differently, to do something differently. If I really want to help people improve their lives, I have to figure out how to meet them where they’re at and get them to make changes that they’re choosing. I know I’m actually making more change for people than reading a book that just inspires them.
Gabe Howard: Coach Mike, what is your favorite exercise from the book and can you walk our audience through it?
Mike Bayer: Gosh, my favorite exercise, I get into this section, which I think is timely, that I talk about getting from being the victim to a victor, I’m like, this is me narcissistically loving myself right now. But I like how I presented how we all show up at different parts in our life with being kind of a victim. Victim is a term that is widely used and widely overused. When we complain, when we feel like people aren’t doing things a certain type of way or when we criticize others. What I tapped into was how that can mirror actually how we show up as being a victim in our own life. And no one likes being called the victim. If they want to be committed to being the victim, they just end up forever struggling. But give someone a shot and create some exercises so they can edit or change parts of their life with becoming a victor, you can make big change. I mean, look, I love helping people create their anti-self, that part of them that’s keeping them from being their best self. Like, mine’s a male witch, named Angelos. Male witches, you never really see them. They don’t seem to have any friends and they get really cranky and everything. I love helping people create their anti-self. I created something called the boogeyman. When we’re kids, we’re afraid of whatever it is, darkness, something under the bed, whatever happened in our childhood, it evolved, you know, at a younger time in our life, we may think the kids don’t like me, say we’re not popular when we’re younger. And then all of a sudden we evolve a little bit. The story becomes, I won’t get accepted into those colleges or I’m not good enough or I’m not smart enough. Then all of a sudden we’re 40 years old and we think no one’s going to hire me. And it’s the evolution of what I call the boogeyman. So I like helping people figure out, is the boogeyman still living in their life today?
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you’ve talked about is, you know, creating avatars, you mentioned, the wizard, you mentioned the witch. And to a pessimist listening to this, they’d be like, wait a minute, I’m not a teenager. I’m not playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not creating these things. From a psychological perspective, what is the benefit to your mental health and how do you use this to move forward? Because I’m assuming that you’re not suggesting that people show up at work and say, hey, I’m a wizard.
Mike Bayer: Listen, let me tell you, I’ve worked with Fortune 50 companies, Dallas Cowboys, pop stars, very type A executives, and I’ve all had them do this exercise. Some are pessimistic and some are not. What it helps reveal. See, everyone authentically has their own version if they allow themselves to do it. Like I just did this for a group called The Head, a software company. There was a thousand people on it two weeks ago and I took them through this exercise. And I do have to preface it and say, some of you are going to dig this, some of you are going to be like, this is lame, Mike. What am I, a little kid? But the reality is what it creates is a resource. When you can add humor to that part of you that shows up in your life. That other people who are close to you know when that part of you shows up, it’s more difficult to just go, hey, you’re acting angry. Yeah, I’m acting angry. Person gets defensive. But if I say you’re acting like whatever their anti-self is, it’s a little funny and you can really deflate the ego and the grandiosity and the shame and the blame. You know, I even had Dr. Phil do it.
Gabe Howard: [Laughter]
Mike Bayer: He created his. Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner do it with me on, they’re friends of mine, and we filmed it. And look, I’m 41 years old and my best self is a wizard. I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll look myself in the eyes and I’ll be like be your best, your best self. And when I need to get a little more grounded, I’ll be like be a wizard. He’s wise, he’s compassionate, he’s loving, he’s fun. People love to be around him. That allows me to go, all right, let me sink into who I really am. If I just look in the mirror and go, I’m loveable, I’m great, it just doesn’t work for me and I don’t see it working for others. For example, my last book, Jennifer Lopez is on the back, she gave me endorsements. She’s a friend of mine. J. Lo’s a character. Right? Who she is day to day is not the same woman she is on stage, but it’s a part of her that she taps into. And when we’re all able to do it, it’s like tapping into our own superstar.
Gabe Howard: It sort of reminds me of how we discuss our private self, our public self, our excitable self, our brave self. This concept has been around, I think, for a while. But you’ve made it cooler and more relatable.
Mike Bayer: And it’s less clinical, yeah, it’s a lot cooler. I had a whole tattoo parlor do it, artists and street artists and the greatest thing about it and why I love it so much is everyone’s authentically different and everyone’s best self and the anti-self is always different. And no two drawings look alike. It could be a cloud. It could be a line. But when I tap into someone with their anti-self and I go, well, what is that thing about you that is showing up in your life right now that is bothering you or when was the last situation you got into where afterwards, you went, why did I behave like that or that? I don’t like it when I’m like that. But you did it again. You can’t just go, OK, don’t do it again. Well, what does that do? We do it again because we don’t have any resource or tools to go with it. My style is finding humor in the darkest of places. When you can help someone laugh and feel good about themselves and smile, and have their light turn on a little bit when they are in a state of mind where they haven’t felt that emotion in a few weeks. I find that’s when change happens. And so if you can help someone find a little bit of humor in looking at that part of themselves that they actually hate at times, there’s so many and I can rant about this, but there’s so much of these people who are like mental health stigma, you know, all this stuff. And like half the people shouldn’t even be talking about it because they don’t even work, don’t even work in mental health. But part of the stigma is you have this idea that it can’t be fun. Working on yourself, it’s fun. It’s cool getting to the other side of your fears. It’s fun and cool. If it always has to be this painful process. I don’t think a lot of people I’d work with would work with me.
Gabe Howard: No, I absolutely love it, I run a Facebook group, it’s a private Facebook group, and it’s called Bipolar Depression Positive Outlook Group, and I get angry emails from people and they’re like, there’s nothing positive about bipolar and depression. And on one hand, I very much want to write them back and say, I completely agree. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying let’s talk about positives. Positives are getting into the doctor. Positives are six months worth of recovery. Positives are, you know, wrecked a relationship when you were manic, depressed, anxious, whatever symptom, and then repaired it. Like, that’s what I mean. Let’s find positive ways to move forward. And I like what you said about it not being clinical because clinical is scary. It’s medical and it’s difficult to remember. I can remember, all right, Gabe, you’re going for a job interview. Be a wizard. Like I can remember that versus, all right, Gabe, you’re going for a job interview. Be professional. Well, what is professional? I mean, well, like, you know, like like act right. Well, like what does that mean? Well, you know, like like you’re at a job interview. Well, how do I do that? I don’t know. Act like a wizard is that’s like a much cooler shorthand. And I’ve stolen your wizard. I want everybody to know that I’m picking the Mad Hatter. As I understand it, that’s how it works. Right.
Mike Bayer: The reality is it’s whatever works for a person. With coaching, it’s a little more like I’m right alongside of you. I’m checking in with you beforehand and checking in with you afterwards. Hell yeah. Let me congratulate you and celebrate. With clinical, for many reasons, it’s going to be more like exploring and healing and resolving. Now when somebody has to be on medications or you’re saying with being bipolar, you know, that’s going to be a different context and construct. Like everyone’s, we’re always evolving and it’s just figuring out authentically for a person what works for them. I find a lot of people I don’t know where they learn the story, but they believed if it didn’t work the first, second or third time, that’s just not going to work for them. When the reality is I’ve probably been to twenty different therapists through the years. People maybe blame themselves when things don’t work out, but you just got to keep trying new approaches. I mean, I’ve had so many different ways of exercising. mental health, to me, it’s the same thing as physical health.
Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. I have no earthly idea why we separate our mental health and physical health, why can’t we just have health? Our brains live in our bodies, people.
Mike Bayer: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: I want to end like on a really positive and high note, because I know you’re that guy. You’re a coach. What inspiration do you have for our listeners as they move on from Inside Mental Health into the rest of their day?
Mike Bayer: Well, I find that people are more capable than they believe they are. You, me, whoever’s listening has the opportunity to push ourselves. Pushing ourselves is never comfortable. It feels OK to play it safe. Often we don’t do things because we feel like we’re not going to be very good at them, but no one is good at something. It takes years to become an expert in anything. I would really just encourage people to realize they’re more capable of doing more in their life and to take it easy on themselves and realize that no one was good the first time they did it.
Gabe Howard: Coach Mike, thank you so much. Now your book, One Decision: The First Step to a Better Life, is probably available on Amazon.com, but where else can folks find it?
Mike Bayer: Yep, Amazon, the audio is available, Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and pretty much anywhere books are sold.
Gabe Howard: Do you have your website?
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much, Coach Mike, for being here and to all of the inside mental health listeners, we literally can’t do the show without all of you. Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please subscribe. Please rank and review. Take a minute and tell other people why they should listen and share us on social media. My name is Gabe Howard and I’m a nationally recognized public speaker and the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole, which of course is available on Amazon.com. Or you can grab a signed copy for less money directly for me and check out my website over at gabehoward.com. We’ll see everybody next Thursday.
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