In this episode, the inspiring Bob Gardner joins us to share his unique and fascinating approach to true freedom, happiness, health, and well-being. Throughout our conversation, you’ll hear Bob’s journey of self-healing and personal growth and his passion for helping others understand that “freedom is a skill, not a pill.” Bob shared his thoughts on healing through body awareness, practical tools to dissolve trauma and achieve lasting freedom, how to build a desire to change, and why it is so hard “to let” others make their own choices.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our “Becoming Your Best” podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. We have a special guest with us today. He is the founder of The Freedom Specialist; it’s a body-based approach to happiness, health, and well-being — something we’re really interested in. Bob, looking forward to talking about that subject. He’s also the author of the book “Built for Freedom,” and the host of the podcast “Alive and Free.” So, this is gonna be a lot of fun. Welcome, Bob Gardner.
Bob Gardner: Thank you, Steve. I’m excited to be here. This should be a lot of fun, for sure.
Steve Shallenberger: Before we get going, I’d like to share a little bit more about Bob. His body-based, no-nonsense approach to freedom has since helped thousands of people leave their struggles behind and find real freedom and happiness. In addition, Bob’s intensive power-packed retreats, transformational coaching, and online resources have supported people struggling with everything from chronic pain, anxiety, depression, PTSD, childhood wounds, addictions, and OCD, so they can finally take their life back and begin to thrive again. For the past 15 years, he’s been incorporating multiple tools and knowledge gained from his years of martial arts, breathwork, functional psychology, deep tissue release, and numerous other healing modalities to help thousands of people permanently put an end to their concerns. This is the freedom that they get from what he does. So, excited to have you here, Bob. To just jump right into this today, tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you.
Bob Gardner: Well, my background is essentially that I messed everything up, Steve. I grew up as a military brat. We moved all over the place. My father was a fighter pilot. We lived in Germany for six years. We lived in a number of other different places. I think in terms of formative years, there was a lot there — you think Top Gun Maverick, that’s what I thought my dad was. He didn’t actually function that way, but I thought he did. So, I kind of grew up in the shadow of a hero whose footsteps I was trying to fill. And because we moved a lot, and because we didn’t quite live on the airbase or with all the other American kids, we were often in different areas, I felt like I didn’t belong. I think that I started to build some internal sense of feeling like there was something wrong with me or that I was defective, always feeling like an outsider. So, when I was a teenager, I discovered, among other things that happened with puberty, so also did sexuality come with it. And I discovered ways of using that to escape my social situation. So, we’re talking pornography, that eventually became what was considered a full-blown addiction to pornography, and then chasing other types of sexual experiences, and then using drugs and other types of psychedelic experiences to try and escape this overarching sense that there was something wrong with who I was, some deep-seated problem inside my life. As much as I tried to fight it off, and as much as I felt bad for what I was doing, nothing seemed to be working. I was doing counseling, coaching, and seminars of every possible shape and size. I was trying to make enough money and maybe that would solve the problem, or I was trying to have my wife be a certain way and that would solve the problem, and studies and everything else, and 12 Step Programs, nothing seemed to be working. And then finally, my wife was about ready to just be done. One night, she told me that she tried enough and this didn’t seem to be working, and she was ready to leave.
Bob Gardner: So there I was, suicidal. I was 32 years old, I was suicidal, I was depressed, and I already had a hard enough time just going to bed at night, not filling my ears with tears. And in that space, now, I was looking down the barrel of a gun saying, “Oh, yeah, and you’re gonna be alone for the rest of your life, and you’re not gonna see your kids anymore.” So, something in me kind of screamed, “I’ve got to find a way out of this.” So, at first, it was just willpower, it was controlling the situation as best I could. But that was unsustainable until I finally just decided that whatever I’ve learned, all the good things that I’ve learned, and all these different programs, as much as they gave me great experiences, they weren’t working. So I needed to find a way for me because even though I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t want to live the life I had. So, I tossed it aside and I went back to all of these things that I had access to, to breathing, movement, and posture, and just basic understanding of the anatomy. I traveled and searched out masters and teachers and I trained in healing methods and everything else I could figure out this one. I started to piece together a way of understanding how my mind and my emotions are directly linked to my body states, and I figured out that I could start to train them in such a way that all of the mental and emotional struggles I was dealing with went away on their own. And in short order, the addiction went away, and I started feeling wonderful. I also thought it was weird that it worked for me so I didn’t really mention it to anybody else. Until a few years later, I had a business coach, that was like, “Dude, there’s people struggling, you should help them.” And I sort of clued in. So, I started small and started helping people only with the sexual addiction stuff at first. And then their wives started asking like, “Is this only for guys?” No. We’re not really teaching about the addiction stuff anyway, because that’s just what got them here, that’s not actually what’s the real issue. So, then we started helping women with body image issues, food dependency, childhood sexual abuse, rape, and then men with anger issues, anxiety, and depression, and all these other things. Since then, it’s blown up from there.
Steve Shallenberger: Wow, I was just thinking, Bob, while you’re speaking, our listeners are so extraordinary; they’re amazing. They’re people that are working on becoming their best. They’re leaders at every level that you can imagine, in homes and large corporations and small entrepreneurial organizations, schools, teams, and coaches. So, it’s a lot of fun. But every single one of us is touched by these kinds of things that you’re describing. And I know that this group that is participating and listening are anxious learners, and I am excited as well to learn some of the insights that you’ve gained, some of the things that you’ve learned. And you’ve come a long way to go from where you were to where you are now, right?
Bob Gardner: Right.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, let’s dive into it. Let’s gain some of your perspectives on this. From your perspective, your experience, your reflection, what are some of the root causes of trauma, whether from childhood or adulthood? And is that helpful to understand that? And if you understand that, what can you do with it?
Bob Gardner: So, I take a very different approach than the common parlance, which is that trauma comes from some event in your past or some series of events, or the way you were treated. It’s always pointed outward. The difficulty with that, for me, particularly, was that I can’t change what happened. So, I could change my relationship to what happened and I can think about it in a whole bunch of different ways. And maybe that’ll help some things. And I’m sure that that has helped a lot of people over time. But I had to start looking at it differently in order for me to really walk free of it, to get rid of all the reactivity that was going on when I thought about it so that I didn’t have to sit there, like, “No, no, no, think about it this way.” So, I did this with the word “trauma.” I did this with the word “addiction.” I did this with the word “depression,” with “anxiety,” with all the things that are diagnosable. I was like, “Is it really a thing? Is there a molecule of trauma that is somehow floating through my bloodstream somewhere?” I was like, “Well, no, there’s not one of those.” So, what are we talking about then? And I realized that trauma itself is a label. It’s a common label. It’s becoming more popular. People discuss it all the time, but it’s just a label on the jar that’s pointing to something going on inside the jar. And the problem with labels is, when you put them on a jar, you can’t see what’s inside. So, if we rip off the label a little bit, and we go, “Okay, cool, what are we talking about?” When we’re talking about trauma, then we start to get into the stuff that you can actually change. So, if somebody listening right now is going like, “Yeah, I had this really traumatic event when I was younger.” I would ask them, “Okay, cool. You think about the event. How is it that you know that it was traumatic? What is it that’s telling you it was traumatic?” Because if you were giggling while talking about it, you wouldn’t be thinking it’s traumatic. So, what is it, in your experience right now, that’s telling you it’s traumatic?
Bob Gardner: And they might point to, “I’m having a negative emotion when I think about it.” And I would say, “Cool, what does that negative emotion feel like? Where in your body is it?” And then they start to get more and more specific, like, “Oh, my throat tightens, or my forehead crinkles, or I feel this pressure in my head, or my breath catches and I can’t breathe, or I feel this pain or this bomb in my gut.” It’s all physical. In the end, the only way a person knows that they’re experiencing trauma is that they are aware of a bodily reaction to the thought, to the circumstance, or to what’s going on on the outside. That body reaction can be released, in this moment, right here, right now. And if you train yourself to release it consistently, it becomes a muscle memory, and then a habit. And then it’s gone. So, the first step in really understanding this notion of trauma is to bypass the pointing to an outward event. Those things did happen, we don’t take that away from you. But you can’t change that; I can’t change that; nobody can. Instead of trying to think about it in a way, go back to like, “The only thing that I’m experiencing when I’m experiencing trauma is this negative physiological state.” If I turn that around, while I’m thinking about the thing, then suddenly, my brain has new data that says, “Oh, I guess I can think about this and not feel bad. I think I’d rather do that.” And then, quickly, that instinct starts to take hold, and now a person is no longer traumatized by it; they don’t lose any of the wisdom they’ve gained, but they lose all of the baggage and the weight of it. So they can actually use that wisdom for their own benefit instead of coping with a negative physiological reaction.
Steve Shallenberger: Bob, have you found that this is actually a science? In other words, is there a science behind what you’re describing behind this trauma, the addiction, whatever the words are you label it with, and how it impacts people physically, emotionally, and mentally?
Bob Gardner: There is a lot of research on the way that your thoughts change your physiological response and your expectations. There’s an entire book, “The Expectation Effect,” where they’re describing how a person’s consideration, perspective, and expectations of a certain event, literally change their genetic expression and their physiological capacity to even digest food. For instance, there’s evidence that indicates that people who are aware of gluten intolerance are more likely to experience a negative reaction to gluten. That doesn’t mean it’s 100% expectation, but there is a massive body of literature indicating that the way that we thought about the way that we’ve perceived the world changes our physiology. There’s a lot of data and science around the body-and-mind connection, about the gut’s connection to the brain, and its production of all of these neurotransmitters. So, there’s a ton of science behind it. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of practical wheels-on-the-ground stuff that’s been done from what I’ve seen, I’m sure there are people trying things out in a way that’s pieced it all together so that your average person can go, “Oh, yeah, from home, I don’t need to have a bunch of fancy equipment. I don’t need to have a million-dollar insurance plan. I don’t need to get all the top-level bloodwork and all the other stuff. I can actually just change my breathing, change my tension, change my posture. I can do these simple different things. And suddenly, my life starts to improve.” That is not happening yet, but that’s my goal. We’ll get it done.
Steve Shallenberger: I love it! While we’re on this because I know that you thought about that, I love the title of your book; let’s hear the name of that title, again?
Bob Gardner: Built for Freedom.
Steve Shallenberger: “Built for Freedon.” So, what are some things that people could do to dissolve trauma, to create this transformational experience in their lives that you’re describing, and achieve lasting freedom?
Bob Gardner: So, the first thing you can do is start to be aware of what happens to your body when you’re experiencing those negative states. We don’t have to restrict to trauma; we can talk about depression, anxiety, or any of the other things that people are struggling with. How do you know you’re in depression? How do you know you’re in anxiety? Because once you know what’s going on, physically, you can change it. When you don’t know what’s going on, you’re relying on a pill, an expert, an authority, or someone outside of yourself to do the work. And sometimes, we need that extra help, but first, if you can see what’s really going on, it’s fairly simple. Imagine being in a basement; your kids have left Legos everywhere, and you’ve got to get to the bathroom. It’s rough when the lights are out. When the lights are out, you’re reaching for information, you’re reaching out with your feet, your toes, and sliding your feet along the ground. But if you flip the lights on, the path to the goal is clear. So what I want you to do is flip the lights on, on your experience: What is actually happening in my body? And then start to change it. And it doesn’t matter which way. I know there are a lot of people that say deep breaths are better and stuff. But to be honest, in the beginning, just change it anyway. So if you’re breathing really like [takes a short breath], just take over that and make it bigger, or make it smaller. It doesn’t really matter which way you go because now you’re in control of the thing. So you start to toggle your breathing, your tension, where you’re tense, your facial expressions. Some of these guys that have struggled with lust, and a lot of sexual urges and desires that I’ve worked with, I just be like, “Cool, I want you to get down on the ground, turn yourself upside down, and see how easy it is for you to keep lusting after that woman.” It’s hard. Your body is not used to doing that in a different position. So, it’s dumb, and some of these things are really ridiculous, but you can start to change it.
Bob Gardner: When you do that consistently, your brain gets information from the experience that says, “Hey, there’s another option.” And a person only ever feels stuck when the options they have, they don’t like any of them. You could have 400 options. If you don’t like any of them, you’ll feel stuck; you’ll feel overwhelmed; you’ll feel cornered; you’ll feel caged. But if you have one that you like, you won’t feel stuck at all. Even if you only have one option, if you like the option, you won’t feel stuck. So, we have to give your biology a different option that feels wonderful. What that does is release a lot of energy in the system because you’re no longer fighting yourself. That energy is needed to do the next step. It is metabolically very expensive for the body to think differently because you have to stop, you have to reassess, you have to gather more information, and then you have to synthesize data instead of just going, “No, I’ve seen that before; I know it’s a tree.” Go look again, what else is it? That takes a lot of energy and a lot of effort. So, the evidence and the research indicates that people who are depressed have a difficult time envisioning a happy future. It’s because the only data their brain has is data from their body, which feels miserable. But if all of a sudden the body feels great, they can start to use that energy to create a different type of imagined future. Now that you do that, now go back and challenge what it is that you’re seeing. And it’s very likely, as in 100% of the cases that I’ve worked with thousands of people, it is likely that what you thought you saw is not exactly what happened. And that difference — the gap between what you thought you saw and what you thought you experienced, and what actually happened in the three-dimensional world — that gap is where all of your opportunity is. Because once you realize, “Oh, the only thing that happened was this, and all the other stuff was just stuff that I thought and confused with what was outside.” Now you can let that go, and then you can move on.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, this is critical to get straight, Bob. And I was just thinking, there’s maybe two elements here that are really important, and I’d love to get your perspective on it. Some people are kind of stuck in these behaviors, regardless of why they’re stuck, but they’re stuck there. Maybe they kind of like it, they think, or maybe it gives them safety and security because change is scary. And that is: how does someone build a desire to want to change? In other words, to get out of these counterproductive behaviors, and get into something that gives them freedom, gives them greater happiness, and success in life? So, that’s the first question. Let’s start on that one. How does someone build that desire? If it’s not there, they’re just stuck. They say the same thing over and over.
Bob Gardner: I have a follow-up with that one. Because a person asking “How do I build a desire?” already has a desire. So, is this like a mom asking, “How do I get my son to want to change?” Or is this like a person that is like, “No, I have the desire, but I don’t actually do anything.” Which of those are we talking about?
Steve Shallenberger: I have a friend who’s been divorced a couple of times and is hesitant to really seriously move forward at this time because she’s kind of got her feet under her again, and she’s pretty happy. And yet, she loves the relationship. So, I see that, and you said a second set of words that’s really important, “imagining your future” — in other words, you’re replacing these past ideas with future ideas that can bring you greater happiness, freedom, and success. So, that’s kind of one example I was thinking, but they’re all over the place. You mentioned the one with being addicted to pornography; some people aren’t sure they want to leave that world. So, I appreciate the thought you had on desire. But I think they desire to. Those kinds of changes and imagining what your life can be.
Bob Gardner: Let’s take them each individually. Because if you’re trying to help somebody else with the desire, especially as a parent, or a friend, you see somebody’s in a place that is stuck, and you’re like, “Man, I could really help them.” The first and most difficult thing that, for me, personally, I have found that I have to confront is, it isn’t my job to desire for them; it is their job. And the more that I tried to desire, even for my own kids — I have six kids — the more that I tried to implant a desire for their goodness in them, the more they resist it and stay there. And in many ways, I have had to allow them to not desire change until they finally get fed up with what it is that they’re doing. And then, their desire to stay where it is gets fulfilled. And they finally got what they wanted, right here. And then they realize, “What I wanted maybe isn’t all that great.” But we too often try to protect people from what they want, because we say, “No, no, that’s not good. You need something better.” And their natural response is to be like, “Don’t tell me what to do. This is my life, I want to live it.” And in trying to protect them, we end up crippling them and they stay in these places a lot longer because everybody’s busy trying to get them out, and they’re busy fighting us instead of looking at their own life. So, it’s not an easy thing to do.
Bob Gardner: My second son went through a period where he was really struggling with suicidal thoughts. He felt like there was this war going on in his head. He was writing beautiful poetry expressing this. And I had been there, and I knew that if I stepped in and tried to fix him, it would only reinforce the notion inside of him that he was broken, as much as I loved him. So, I just commented on his poetry. I’m like, “Yeah, dude, you want to see one from when I was there? This line right here is beautiful, man. Holy cow, that feels really rough. I’d love to hear more about this.” And I just wanted to be with him in that place. My wife obviously had a more difficult time. Maybe she has more emotions than I do, I don’t know. But she had a more difficult time with it; to sit and watch her second son struggle with things that, in her mind, felt like, “I’m here for you, I have so much love, I care about you. I can help.” And yet, he wanted to do it on his own, and that is his right. We don’t get to live anybody else’s life any more than we want anyone else to live ours. And the willingness to let somebody confront their own stuff without leaving them, but willingness to let them make their choices; that’s a difficult thing to do. It may not be the answer in every case, but it’s a dicey one. When we’re talking about your own, so when I was really struggling with the pornography piece, I had so much desire to change, I simply didn’t know how. I tried over and over, I was desperate to leave this behind because I felt like it was some blight on me. I felt like it was evidence that I was defective, something like a factory defect that had just somehow made it to the planet. And it just hurts bad. And I prayed, and I read scriptures, and I went to my 12-step meetings, and I did my inventories, and I did everything that they were telling me, and I tried really hard and nothing was working.
Bob Gardner: Part of the problem was I was trying to do step 20 before doing step one. So often when we’re like, “Oh man, I have this big problem. I need to go confront it.” It was overwhelming for me. It was too much to handle. I gotta look at my past, I gotta look at my thoughts, I gotta look at my emotions. So, the first thing I had to learn to do was do step one. Ironically, the only step I can ever do is step one because once I’ve done step one, then I look at the situation, and then I do step one from there. It’s good to know step 20 so you can figure out what step one is. If step one feels too big, that’s probably not step one; it’s step two. So, I was in Arizona. I climbed up Camelback Mountain, which is in the middle of town, and I’d heard people talk about the White Mountains out to the east, and some of the other ones. And there was the first time I’d gotten up to the top and I looked down and I was like, “Oh, those are the White Mountains. Okay, I can see why people might want to go there.” They’re kind of misty off in the distance. And I thought, “If I had to go there right now from the top of Camelback over there, I’d have to walk through the air.” And that’s how I felt like I was trying to accomplish getting over an addiction, getting over the depression. It was like, “I have to somehow make it to the endpoint.” So, I lowered my gaze to the base of the White Mountains, and I was like, “Okay, that feels a little closer, that feels a little more doable. But I still don’t know how long it’s going to take. Am I going to run into a coyote or a rattlesnake along the way? How much water am I going to need?” Questions. So, I was like, there wasn’t any motivation in me to do it. I lowered my gaze to the edge of town, and I was like, “Okay, that’ll probably take a few hours to get there.” Then to the base of the mountain, “All right, we’re talking about a 45-minute walk.” Then the next peak down, “Okay.” And as I lowered my gaze toward what would be the first step, I felt my own motivation and capacity to do it rise until I looked down, and I saw a boulder right next to my feet. I didn’t even think about it, I just took a step. When you’re clear on step one, you will take the step. But too many of us are confusing step two, three, and four with step one. And we wonder why we can’t make the leap. By definition, step two is always out of reach.
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I’ll tell you, this has been fun, Bob. I cannot believe we’re at the end of our interview already. This has gone bang, just like that! So fast. So, before we end, let’s give some hope to our listeners. What are some final tips that you might share with them that are hopeful? And I’m excited to read your book, I might add. I can’t wait.
Bob Gardner: The tips that I would give you is, one, consider the possibility that there’s never been anything wrong with you. No matter what your struggle is, you weren’t born with it. Unless we’re talking about a physical deformity or some sort of genetic thing or something like that. But most of what you’re dealing with, you weren’t born with it; you learned it, which means it’s a habit you learned. And if you can learn to be miserable on autopilot, you can learn to be happy on autopilot. It’s just a question of training. Which dojo are you going to go to? The place where you manufacture misery or the dojo of delight? So, it’s just training. What entertains you, trains you. So, the question is, go entertain yourself with something that lights you up, that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world, because that helps in training your system, like “We need to do this more often.’ Number two, start with breathing. Everything is related to your breath in some way, shape, or form. So, no matter where you’re at, just change your breathing. And if you’re struggling with anxiety, do a couple of big, forceful breaths, and then hold on empty. If you’re struggling with depression, do a couple of them and hold on full. One brings up on the energy; the other one kind of brings the energy down. Simple things like that. Walk and breathe and count the number of steps as you’re breathing — two steps to breathe in, two steps to breathe out. All of these simple things, you can do that between your office and your car, between your car and the grocery store, on your way to the bathroom you can do that. These are simple things that don’t take extra time and can change your mental state, even just a notch. And that much is enough evidence to start.
Steve Shallenberger: So, how can people find out about what you’re doing, Bob?
Bob Gardner: You go to thefreedomspecialist.com. There, you can find access to a PDF version of the book for like five bucks with a little adventurer’s guide. If you want to get the hardback on Amazon, you can get it and just email us your receipt, and we’ll send you the guidebook along with it for free. No big deal there. Also, the podcast episodes are linked there; you can find access to our online programs, our retreats, and everything that I’ve built so that from wherever you’re at, there is no place too deep to come back from. There’s a way to start. So, whatever the struggle is, whether it’s you or someone you love, or anything, there’s a lot of resources there on thefreedomspecialist.com.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, terrific. Well, Bob, it’s been a delight to have you with us today. We wish you all the best in the work that you’re doing.
Bob Gardner: Thank you so much. You guys also, you likewise.
Steve Shallenberger: Thank you. And to all of our listeners, wherever you may be, we’re so grateful that you join us today. Hope you’ve got some ideas — I’m sure you have — of ways that you can move forward in terms of greater happiness, of thinking about your imagined future. I mean, so many good thoughts on this today. So, we wish you all the best as well. May this be a great day for you. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best, signing off.
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