“No matter how often you are defeated, you are born to victory.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Gabby Reece is a volleyball legend, an entrepreneur, a keynote speaker, a mum, a wife, fitness coach, host of The Gabby Reece Show, and a New York Times bestselling author. She’s been featured on Dr Oz, The Today Show, and the Joe Rogan podcast, and was the first female spokeswoman for Nike.
In September 2020, Gabby and her husband — big wave surfer Laird Hamilton — listed their plant-based food company Laird Superfood on the New York Stock Exchange, just five years after they launched it.
Gabby and Laird are also the founders of Extreme Performance Training (known as XPT), designed to stimulate growth in all aspects of human performance through exposure to a variety of natural elements and environments. Essentially, they kick your ass through breath optimization, functional movement, and recovery techniques like ice baths and hot saunas.
Like all of us, Gabby’s journey has had its ups and downs, which we’ll get into — but what I love most about her is her hunger to gain new perspectives, while keeping it real at the same time.
In this interview with Gabby, we’re going to talk about:
- Tips to help you win today — and beyond;
- Gabby’s advice for healthy relationships with your children and your spouse;
- How to unlock your motivation each day; and
- How you can find peace in an increasingly crazy world.
Let’s Win the Day with Gabby Reece!
Gabby, great to see you. Thanks for coming on the show.
Thank you for coming to my house and hanging out with me!
You had situations when you were young that forced you to grow up very fast. When did you feel like you developed a growth mindset for the first time?
I don't know if that's ever a conscious thing. I'm always nervous when people make the conscious effort like, "I'm going to have a growth mindset." I think it's something that some people are born with, and then I think some people realize, "Hey, I'm going along, and this doesn't seem to be working. Maybe I could do that differently. That seems like a good reason."
For me, it was a survival reaction. It was scanning ahead to try to anticipate so that I could not only land someplace that I wanted to but that was going to be essential to my survival too. When you do that long enough, and then combine it with athletics – because the thing about athletics, your goal is to always improve. So why not take that focus of continuous improvement off the court and do that as a human being? Because we spend a lot more time away from athletics living as people.
We always say there's a difference between ‘winners’ and ‘champions’. I was always more interested in trying to continue to develop as a human being. Also, when you have the opportunity to express yourself – or have your life reflect you – you start to recognize, hopefully, that it's a gift. Then you want to participate in not only maintaining it, but then seeing if you can continue to expand that.
What helped you learn effectively when you were young? Was it the athletic pursuits that gave you that structure and a finish line to set your sights on? Or were there any books that helped in your journey, too?
A friend gave me Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged when I was 15, and I was around adults who were not modeling certain things. I was looking for that structure, so I self-inflicted it. By nature, I have a little bit of a rigidity that I was born with. Then it got, I think, accentuated by my environment. Once I became involved in sports, I realized that progress is about systematizing certain things and having a practice. Everything is about practice. If you ask me now at this time of my life, I would say to people, "We have all the information. We just have to practice."
Everything is about practice.
All of those elements really helped me continue to do that, so you're also quick to understand, "What can I participate in, and what am I in control of?” and “I can't control that” or “I have to get up.” It's helped me pull the cord when I needed to and just move on. I think that you learn to do that quickly, too.
As you said, people usually know what they need to do. But it's that discipline, every single day, to just get it done.
Yes, but personal accountability and truthfulness are so important. One thing I did love about sports is I always felt really honest, and you couldn't hide. Let's say, for example, I was having a bad game, but my teammates are playing well. You would learn how to tuck in behind that. You could still come away winning even if you didn't perform well. But within that, you’re being honest with yourself and saying, "Hey, I didn't play my best” or “I didn't participate as much” or what have you.
It’s about always having that honest check in, "Maybe I don't feel like it” or “I want to be angry” or “I want to exercise my ego and let that person know I want to exert force.” It's just being that honest all the time in all the scenarios as much as you can.
That athletic background seems to be such a great foundation for people who are able to use those principles later in life. Obviously, you're still very actively involved in fitness and holistic health. Today, when you’re not training for a gold medal or a finish line, where does that motivation to get up and give it your best every single day come from?
My middle daughter who's 17, we talk about this a lot. In the last few years, I’ve really identified that there's a part of me who’s a very blue-collar person in certain ways. Also, I don't need to lose my health. I've had enough athletic surgeries and things like that. I don't need to lose my health to covet it and to understand – besides my family and my friends – that it is truly the greatest asset that I have. Houses and cars, I don't get distracted in that.
I don't need to lose my health to covet it.
The other thing I'm doing is I'm practicing. When people talk about gratitude, the best way I can show that, "Hey, I'm really grateful for my health," is to take care of it. That's ultimately what I'm doing.
The other side of that is it's a level of sanity. I mean, I am a better functioning organism if I can also take care of the physical avatar to the best of my ability. It's a law of the universe. It's the truth, and so I don't need to keep relearning that lesson. I know what the lesson is, and I'm just ahead with it.
How often do you define and redefine what success is to you personally? Are you always acutely aware of having a definition of what is important to you or what success looks like to you?
Absolutely. Well, there's parts where I'm already clear about what success is, like keeping my family in as much of a loving environment as possible. That's not always... I don't always do that myself. It's just not always practical. And being in a relationship where I'm here to serve the relationship, and hopefully, my husband's on the same page, because I can't make him do anything.
Then there’s my physical health, as well as continuous environments to continue to learn and improve, be it in really small ways. I know at my core if it feels successful to me. Then I enjoy setting new external goals, such as in business. In 2020, for example, like you stated earlier, “We're going to run this over the goal line and take this company public” which, to be clear, was after having many failures. So, I think you've got your foundation that you're always going to stick to, and then you're expanding in your external goals of what success is.
Actually, the big thing for me is figuring out how I can strip everything down and keep simplifying as I get older. Let's say our businesses are growing and expanding, but even within that, how do I simplify and keep simplifying, because the thing I'm really drawn to is that essentialism. It’s not about parties and boats and stuff. Drilling down to simplify, that’s always part of it.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Gabby Reece does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, the one thing on her bucket list, and a whole lot more ?
You’re at a time of your life now where you’ve got many options and different things to do. It sounds like that focus and simplicity can help you move forward effectively, rather than get distracted and ultimately be ineffective in a whole bunch of different areas.
I’m really happy you brought up the failures you’ve had too, because people from the outside looking in might think, “Gabby Reece has this perfect life,” but of course, we all have these struggles behind the scenes. Your entire life has been about peak performance, physical fitness, and mental health. What have you incorporated into your daily routine today as a result of a lifetime of that pursuit?
First, it's the easy practice of going to bed early. Listen, let's be really clear about something. I have a built-in person in my home who also makes this a lot easier, because he's even more disciplined than I am. It's obnoxious, but he is in a pursuit.
Of course, we all know it, but food is the thing. It's the medicine that can put you in an energetic mood or it can put you in a funk. With exercise, it's about consistency, so I'll do pool training or land training, but there's plenty of days I don't actually have time to train. I just try to support my wellbeing through these other practices – good sleep, good relationships, and clear communication.
A big thing is, I avoid drama. I don't move towards things that I know piss me off. If I see a scenario personally or with friends, and it's not for me to work out, I just stay away. I think it's all of these things. Having a practice also goes back to keeping it simple, where I'm trying to not onload extra crap. I'm trying to figure out how to offload, rather than, "Can you believe they said that?" It's like, "They said it. I didn't like it. Why would I continue to repeat that and keep that story going, versus finding the place within me to work it out?"
I don't move towards things that I know piss me off.
That’s the other great thing. I can say, "Hey, I want to talk about something that really pissed me off and got me going today," even in that bratty way, where I responded with my ego and just totally identify it and then let it go. It’s about having these practices where you know yourself and you can move towards the place that you say you want to be. That all comes from practice.
There’s so much to unpack in all that. I love that it's more a pursuit of simplicity and the lifestyle that you want to live – a lifestyle that gives you energy – rather than it being the summit of some type of mountain or an achievement over the horizon.
Given how focused you are on the health / fitness side, what's an average menu look like in the Gabby Reece household!?
It's just anything with real food. You just heard my daughter complain, "There's no snacks!" Of course, there's weird funky food, because I don't want to make this an issue for my kids. This is our lifestyle. They will make their choices.
However, when we make dinner, it's high-quality animal protein, just a little bit, which usually means humanely killed, and vegetables. It's just real food; it's really not complicated. I try to be careful about what oils we eat, so I stay towards coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil, and also try to find the good stuff, because even a lot of olive oils have sunflower and safflower oil to make it more affordable. Our health is important to us so we aim for high quality ingredients.
People have to realize a lot of the reason, other than emotional reasons, that we overeat is because we're not getting the nutrients that we need – the macronutrients, the micronutrients, the good fats – so we overeat. If we’re eating food that doesn't have nutritional stuff in it, our body will be like, "Well, I'm not full, so I need to keep eating." What people have to realize too is that if you eat a lot of the good stuff, because it is more costly, and I'm sensitive to that, is you do need less of it.
If you're eating for other reasons besides being hungry, it's also taking a look at why that is. When I have stress in my life, believe me – we were talking earlier about your chocolate that you love [here it is if you’re interested; be warned ... it's addictive!] – I'm looking for it. I'm looking to medicate, right? I think it's always about being aware of those relationships, and then be like, "You know what, I am eating this chip because I hate everyone in my house right now!” But at least I know why I'm eating. I'm not doing it mindlessly, and it’s not all the time.
For me, I usually skip breakfast. I have a very big coffee, with tons of fat. I train. I might eat my biggest meal at lunch, depending on how I'm feeling. If I'm very active, I will eat two decent-sized meals at lunch and dinner. If I'm medium active, lunch usually gets to be the big one, maybe not dinner at all, or maybe something light, and that's it. Again, it's not really complicated, very simple things, very few ingredients.
Have you got the kids to work in the kitchen yet!?
Yes, my older two daughters are great cooks! Laird has other things that are his strong suit, so this one is more in my lane. It's the common joke of, "What's for dinner?" But that's the thing you realize, too, is that you have to model to your kids what they should be eating to be healthy. It's food and fun, and they always come back to it.
As teenagers, they want to eat weird non-food, and you just have to let them. Let them. You don't have to stock it in the house, but if they go and eat whatever, let them, and then they're always going to come back to the real food because also they feel better, and they know it. The funny thing is we don't have a microwave oven in our home, so you have to make the effort.
Yeah, so you probably enjoy it more too.
Yeah, and I think getting away from that convenience. I think we need to cherish ourselves enough, even if it takes a few minutes to notice what we're eating and how to prepare it. I just think that that's an important thing.
You've done so much in your life and are still doing so much. How do you balance that hunger for future achievements with happiness and peace in the present?
One great thing about accomplishment is that you realize it isn’t the answer. Accomplishment is just a marker that you had an instinct about something, or a passion for something, and the accomplishment is a validation. I even look at money that way. It's just an indication like, "Oh, that worked out, right?" You realize that it's unsustainable, so if you don't have a relationship with having a sense of fulfillment and connection with the people in your life, and a real life, you're going to be looking and chasing those external accomplishments forever.
You can be a champion one day, but the next day there’s someone else. For me, it's saying, "Hey, I'm going to pursue things that I believe in; that I'm willing to wake up for when it sucks, and that I feel proud to be connected with, whether it’s a message or a product.” It’s about doing it for real reasons, and, yes, being strategic about it – sometimes to a point that you can’t even see.
It seems disingenuous, but I've gotten good enough at certain things that it's blurred. It's all very genuine and authentic. But believe me, it's very strategic. It doesn't mean I'm lying. It just means I've learned how to put it all together. It's that pursuit for that challenge, because I need to keep myself busy and occupied, but that it's always having a level of feeling about myself, and my value has to be based on me. It can’t be based on this week’s success and opportunity, because next week might suck and there might be no opportunity, and you'll die with that attitude.
What in life gives you the most peace? And what advice do you have for others who feel that life is a bit too hectic?
That's the thing. It's on us, and it's nothing from the external. Anytime I take myself really seriously, I quickly realize I'm a grain of sand. I think when you can always have this perspective, you get a more realistic look at things and your responses to things.
Laird says it all the time that you can't put your happiness in other people's hands. That's why I train. That's why I try to go to bed early, so I feel good. That's why I'm trying to be as kind and loving in my relationships as I can be, because that's all I'm in charge of.
I'm going to pursue things that I believe in; that I'm willing to wake up for when it sucks, and that I feel proud to be connected with.
If there's something that I need to do, or I need an external validation, then I need to take a look at that, because that's my ego. Listen, ego is important. You need it to go, but you can’t let it drive the vehicle. I think if people are feeling restless, you need to survey all the corners of your life, starting with your relationship with yourself and your health, then go from there to those most intimate relationships.
Then, look at your work. If you fricking hate your job, what is the strategy to find the next thing? Don't be an idiot. Don't just be like, "I'm out of here." It's like, "Okay, wait a second. What’s the plan I can create to get me where I want to be?” I have a friend, Neil Strauss, who said it’s like being on parallel trains. It's never going to be easy to make change, but if you're really doing something that you absolutely can't stand, figure it out.
Yeah, and get on the front foot. Any plan is better than a prayer, rather than thinking that a lightning bolt is going to hit you and all of a sudden you’re going to be happy in a role you’ve hated for 40 years.
I am of the belief of always focusing, and I don't always do it. I'm just of the belief, but it's part of my practice. It's not about what I don't want. It's about continuing to focus and look at, "What do I want? What am I interested and working really hard at?" Just the pursuit would be a success, right, because we cannot control outcome. I think that's a really important thing if the energy is about, "Where am I going? What do I want? Who do I want to be with? Who do I want to be?" Rather than, "Well, I don't want to do that. I don't want to fail. I can't stand my..."
Be clear on what you want and put your energy into that. It means also that you have to be a grown up, and everything you do, everything you say, everything you eat, everything that you read, unless it's guilty pleasures, needs to support that thing that you say you want. If they're in conflict, it's never going to happen.
You mentioned people feeling restless. We know that 2020 has been a year of massive transition for the entire world. How did your life change in 2020?
Obviously with the kids being around, and we haven't traveled that much, I'm going to say that we're really on the good end of this as far as we live in a place with space, because we're entrepreneurs. We've always worked from home. Now, we don't fly to meetings; we're on Zoom like everyone else.
I stopped watching the news many, many months ago. Energetically, I feel that there's a weird divisiveness going on. It's stating the obvious, but what I really want to do is keep focusing on participating in the energy of being calm and loving, because I think that there are forces right now that are trying to make us all feel like we don't trust each other and that we don't love each other. We can't come to some mutual agreement, even when we don't agree. See, that's the thing. We're in a democracy, so we have to figure out how to work it out.
Yes, there are certainly a lot of companies and individuals who benefit from division.
I don't want to participate in that game. I recognize that I can't get to the bottom of a lot of things. I won't know what the truth is, and so rather than being all perplexed or stressed out about it, I am going to be like, "Well, what do I want to be?" I just practice that and fortify myself.
Be clear on what you want and put your energy into that.
Going back to COVID, we've been really fortunate. It has made me look at how the world shifted quickly in business and in technology, so that was an interesting thing. You're always adapting and adjusting. Because I am older, these certain things are not intuitive, so if you're talking about business, it's really paying attention to where's the soul heading, and finding the right people to get informed by or who to work with, because you can't possibly adjust as quickly as it's adjusted.
Another thing, if I talk about my business, there are opportunities to think, "Oh, I'm going to evaluate this because there’s an area where I probably need to brush up on and get re-educated."
This year, 2021, continues to be really interesting for the world. There are a lot of people who are having a pity party and feeling sorry for themselves, but if there's one thing I do know about success, it's that how you respond to adversity when it inevitably strikes is what separates ordinary people from extraordinary achievers. What's the biggest adversity that you have faced that you have been able to identify an equivalent benefit from?
Like I said, I've had failed businesses, but nothing really is that apparent. You think, "Oh, I'm going to show up the best way that I can, and I'm going to do the very best I can, and really be alert and try to do all these things." But what happens is inevitably, your children or child – and every kid’s different – will say to you, "Oh, by the way, that thing you were doing for five years, I hated that, and that was the worst for me. I was actually quietly suffering over here, and you didn't even notice."
Business failure, it's only going to come in so deep on me. But my family and especially parenting, what you learn is you can crawl up in a ball. You can say, "Well, this is how I do it, so when you get out in your life, you'll do it your way." There are certain things that are true to that, like how clean you keep your house.
But when you're talking about the emotional stuff, what you actually have to do as a parent is so fricking uncomfortable, because you have to say, "Alright, I'm going to take a look at that, and maybe I need to make a change." That's a change when you're 100% well intended, and it’s really important for people to know that you can be in a relationship, or you can be a parent, and you have the best intentions in the world, and still be wrong. Even within that, you have to take a look at it, because usually, we say, "I'm well intended. I'm here, and that should be enough." But that's sometimes not the case. Those have been the most difficult changes for me, especially when a lot of that stuff worked in my life.
I wanted to bring up parenting with you because one of the things I love about you is that you never romanticize parenting, relationships, or anything like that. You always keep it very real. What is the biggest fear you have for your children as they grow up?
For example, having a 20-month-old daughter, my biggest fear for her is that one day she's going to wake up and realize that the world is a very big, dark, scary place. How I gently usher her in to be resilient enough to handle that is something I think about every day, and will constantly be on my mind as she gets older. What's the biggest fear you have for your children?
My kids are a little more formed because they’re aged 12, 17 and 25, so you get a sense of them. It's hard when they're 20 months old. I have a lot of confidence in who they will be and who they are as people, even though it can be a bumpy ride. It's like having a vehicle where you're on a really radical road, but you're like, "No, the tires are going to stay on. We'll make it."
Technology is really interesting. Before, I'd be like, "Oh, I hope they have a job, and they find someone they love and who loves them back." Now, I just hope that they survive technology. That they have the ability to connect, to focus, to not compare, and also their relationship to the environment.
Worrying about it probably doesn't do any good, so I just continue to have those conversations with them. I apologize when I blow it. If I don't understand, I tell them, "I don't really understand." That's another thing. When I said to my parents, "You don't understand," my parents better understood what I was going through than what I understand about what my kids are going through, because they're growing up with devices. I don't understand, and so I've really said, "Okay, I'm going to look at it." I don't use the metrics of how I grew up in the '80s to what they're going through today.
By the way, yeah, we work hard at it. The Gordon Gekko type style, that attitude doesn't work. It's also having some malleability. In certain ways, I feel like, "Oh, they're all soft and a bunch of complainers," but the way we did it didn't work, so let's see what happens.
Sure. This generation cops a bad rap for not being as tough as the previous generations. In many ways, I feel like it would be extremely tough to grow up today, where every single thing that you write or every picture that you send is out there in the public domain, and you never know when something like that is going to come back to haunt you.
Think about their ability, their emotional awareness. Sometimes for me, it goes too far. For example, when people say, "Oh, the way you're talking offends me." It's like, "Stop it. Figure out how to protect yourself." However, within that middle, somewhere in there, there's an opportunity to really have better conversations, so I think we can learn from them, of course.
I worry about technology. I worry that our humanity and technology and biology is not how we can find that harmony, because technology also is such a valuable industry, and what they monetize on is often not what supports humanity and our biology. How then do we figure that out?
Where do you interject between that freedom of letting your children experience life – which is, probably, the best teacher, if they can go through these experiences themselves – versus having that feeling deep down that they are going down a wrong route, whether it's spending too much money that they don't have on a credit card, or hanging around people who might not have their best interests at heart?
Well, the people thing is, it's their journey. I mean, obviously, if it's really radical, you'd step in. I would send Laird, quite frankly. My kids are pretty tough, so it's more about trying to get them to self-regulate. Somebody corrected me once. I said it’s about getting them to self-control themselves, and I had a woman named Dr. Sarah Sarkis go, "A better expression is self-regulate, because control has a whole other set of things, right?"
For me, it's just about, "Here's the world, and these are some things you have to look out for. And trust your instincts. Don't lose those."
Get your kids to do all the weird stuff when they're living at home.
One of my daughters was really interested in being with a bunch of popular girls. Well, let me tell you, when she made a mistake, they were gone. That's an uncomfortable lesson, but it was also like, "That's a reflection of who you were being."
And without using, "I told you so," because you can't do that. I don't think you can protect them too much; I don't think that's a good idea. Also, I would say to people, get your kids to do all the weird stuff when they're living at home. Hopefully, don't send them into the world unprepared and then you're not really there to help them out. At least if they fall in their face, which we all do, you can be around.
You and Laird do such a great job of being supportive of each other's individual dreams. How do you retain that shared bond as a couple, while giving yourself the freedom to be yourself and do what you got to do in the world?
Well, Laird certainly more than I am, but Laird is really not to be contained as a person. Laird's here because he chooses to be here. When I met Laird, he was obviously surfing. That is a part of who Laird is, so if you want to be with Laird, it be a good idea to support that.
Also, I benefit so greatly from who Laird is because of that pursuit – his rawness, his presence, his capacity, all the things that he's quite talented at – I reap the benefits of that pursuit. And it's a pursuit I admire, "Oh, you want to go into nature and challenge yourself? I can support that." It's not like, "Hey, I want to smash this company and take this one over." It's pretty pure. Both of us came into it as individual people, so what we've decided is that there's parts in here that we would like to be together.
Couples make a huge mistake where all of a sudden they start trying to change the other person. I think it's more natural for women to do this, because we're mothers, so we mother everybody. It's really important, I believe, for us to all adapt and change. Let's say I'm in a conversation with Laird, and I make a reasonable point about wanting maybe something, and it seems reasonable to him, then make the change. But I'm not there to be Laird’s mom. I'm Laird's partner. When I understood that really clearly, that was made very clear by Laird, it liberated me from having that approach.
Also, if I don't defend my real estate as a wife and a mother, I'm going to be really pissed when this is all over, and they don't talk to you about that, but I knew that going in. I would always encourage, especially women who are pursuing business, you have to find a way to defend your real estate because your kids aren't going to say, "Mom, I'm going to take less of your time. Mom, you know what, you look tired. I'll tell you what, I'll unload the dishwasher." They're just not going to do that. That's not their job, and your partner isn't typically going to make it really clear, right?
Couples make a huge mistake where all of a sudden they start trying to change the other person.
Women have a tendency, not all, there's always exceptions, to anticipate everybody. Like, "Oh, he needs to go on a little adventure. Look at him. He's so domesticated and restless. Oh, the kids look like they haven't gone outside enough," but really, as a female, I think that's important to defend that for yourself. That sounds selfish and harsh, but I think it's realistic. I've been doing this for 25 years, and it seems to be what I see over and over.
The idea would be join the relationship to enhance. Come with the objective to enhance the situation and enhance your partner's life. Hopefully, your partner is on the same page. If after a while, they're not, that's on them, and that's on you to decide what you want to do. Then it is your responsibility to care for your own personal voice.
It changes when you have a little baby. I used to say you blow on the fire. Just try to keep the fire alive a little. As they get older and they're more independent, you can let the flame blaze up again. Again, it's assessing, checking in, noticing, and seeing when things start getting out of whack.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Gabby Reece does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, the one thing on her bucket list, and a whole lot more ?
Yeah, and staying true to yourself. If your partner is about to have some freedom individually but you're pissed off at each other, they can’t enjoy their time away, and when they come back you still hate each other. Therefore, the time away never accomplished what it needed to.
Laird jokes that we’re in the Cold War, him and I, because we have a very peaceful relationship. There’s a lot we don’t do. We don't do fighting or bickering or whatever. Really, it's probably because we're both too mean, so we don't even know.
Also, let's say he's in a bad mood, I am way more effective. I don't go, "Why are you in a bad mood?" I elevate my behavior, and sure enough, it pulls him up. Same with me. If I'm down and out and funky, and I watch Laird, and he's staying in his best self, I'm reminded like, "Oh, that's the standard. That's what we're doing.” We're not going to make anybody do anything. The idea of being in relationship where you don't want to try to make it better for your partner, at some point, it's like, "Why bother?"
Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?
I show up every day to do my best and create value. If it requires 20, I'll always do 22.
And I try really hard to not allow my ego to be in charge. I save myself a lot of hassle when I can just look at things reasonably, process them, and make decisions from that attitude — be it in business or personal. It seems to be more effective in the long run.
Resources / Links Mentioned:
📝 Gabrielle Reece on Facebook.
📷 Gabby Reece on Instagram.
⚡ Gabrielle Reece website.
📙 Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.