When it feels like the whole world has written you off, do you give in or keep going?
Today’s guest, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Geno Smith, kept going. After spending 10 seasons in the NFL—enduring frustrating injuries, several trades, and the threat of becoming a “lifetime backup quarterback” —Geno stepped in as starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks last season. Despite the media deeming this as a “rebuilding year” for the Seahawks, Geno put forth a stellar performance that surprised many. He logged his first winning record, a playoff berth, led the league in completion percentage, and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the very first time.
This impressive career resurgence earned Geno 2022’s Comeback Player of the Year (which probably should have been renamed Comeback Player of the Decade). I know Geno from my 9 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, and let me tell you… he is special.
Geno’s career journey is marked by the kind of patience and resilience we can all marvel at, but it’s his mindset — the one that helped him navigate moments where many counted him out — that is truly remarkable. Geno recognized that his “tough times” could be seen as someone else’s “dream come true.” This humility coupled with confidence and a steadfast desire to keep learning through his challenges are what make Geno’s success story one that we can all learn from.
It’s an honor to know Geno, and he brought it for this conversation. We cover so many powerful topics — from imagery and self-talk to leadership, competitive mindset, the path of self discovery to self-belief, and so much more. If you want to hear someone who is fluent in the language of mastery, this episode is for you.
“No matter what I’ve accomplished in my life, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and I still have to go after this thing in a manner as if I’ve never done anything. It is truly about the self-talk and the self-walk.”
In This Episode:
In the time we spent together, you were on the sideline and unfortunately, so was I. I just remember really just wanting to be engaged in the game. I would go through the process of calling the play in the huddle… That was a way to steal a rep, to get a mental rep. Although I wasn’t able to be out there physically, I was still able to get a mental rep. Then you changed things for me. I remember you told me, you were like, “You see it. You’re thinking it, but can you feel it? Do you feel yourself making the throw? Do you feel yourself in the game, in the action?” That’s when it really hit home and I was like, “Okay. Well, yeah, I need to feel that. I need to feel what that’s like and think about what it would be like to actually make those throws or to make that read and in real time.” I think that just became my overall process… In order for me to get better, I was going to have to find another way outside of being on the field, and so that was a way for me to do it.
Building a habit of mental imagery
It was a step-by-step process where at the beginning it seemed a little dumb. It’s like, “Why am I doing this? Is this working? Am I really in the moment?” But it becomes a thing. If you’re disciplined enough to continue to do it over time where you’ll start to feel where it happens and you’re like, “Okay, I can feel myself in the game. I can see myself doing this,” you’ll gain confidence. You’ll gain confidence in yourself and truly believe that once this opportunity comes, I’ve practiced this kick or swing or throw a million times already. I’ve seen myself do it a million times in my mind. I’ve felt myself doing it. I felt the energy or whatever it takes to get to that point, and so now it just becomes a trained habit. So it really comes down to habits, and like anything, you get better with time.
Process over result
Obviously there’ll be setbacks, there’ll be obstacles that’ll be in your way. There’ll be things out of your control that will make you doubt yourself and say, “Well, is this for me? Is this my moment?” But it truly comes down to believing in who you are, knowing who you are. I know I’m a great quarterback. I’ve done this over and over and over, and although I’ve been on the sideline for the past four years, five years, it’s still inside of me. Those traits that I have, the hard work that I possess, the work ethic that I possess, and all those things that would help someone be great are still inside of me. So I had to bring those things back to the surface. I had to trust in my work ethic and truly outwork people. That gives you confidence, knowing that you’re prepared, that gives you the most confidence, knowing that I know no matter what happens, I’m prepared for this good or bad, no matter the result, ’cause we’re always thinking about the process over the result.
Self-talk and self-trust
In the world of today where there’s social media and there’s all these outside things, outside noise that we like to say, block out the noise where there’s a ton of noise. How do you listen to your own voice when there’s so many other voices trying to drown that out? Whether that’s good or bad, whether that’s good or bad, you know what you need to be successful. You already know what you need to do, the steps you need to take to get to that point…So you really got to trust in your own intuition, that gut feeling, really trusting in your gut. Knowing that, that’s your compass. That’s our guiding light in this life. Your gut is your compass and trusting in yourself and believing in yourself above all else, that’s really what it is.
Walking the talk
I’m a big person on habits. How many good habits do I have versus how many bad habits do I have? I think if you got a bunch of bad habits, typically you’re going to be in a bad spot. It’s just what it is. But if you practice a bunch of good habits, then good things will happen. If you think positive, everyone’s like, “Well, think positive.” Well, that’s easier said than done, to think positive. I think it’s a daily walk. I think you have to truly tell yourself that no matter what happens, man, one thing I did was all the negatives, I embraced them. I say, “You know what? These obstacles, they’re like weight on a weight bar. If I continue to lift, I’ll get stronger and stronger until this weight is a feather and it’s not as heavy as it used to be.” The more that you continue to go through things and go through obstacles, the stronger you become, the more prepared you are for the next obstacle because there’s going to be a next one.
I’m not a finished product, always having that mindset. It comes down to being humble, being humble, knowing that there’s a lot of work to be done. No matter what I’ve accomplished in my life, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and I still got to go after this thing in a manner as if I’ve never done anything. It is truly about the self-talk and the self-walk. Obviously you go to the practice field, you want to be great on the practice field. You want to play great on Sundays, well, you better study right. You better eat right. You better sleep right. It takes all those things. It’s not just one thing that makes someone great, I think it’s a collection of everything. And it starts with the person’s mentality.
How I developed the toughness to suck it up was to become a better teammate, less of me more about others. So I stopped thinking about myself and what I could do and, “Ah, man, I could help the team this way and on the field.” Well, I can still help the team just from a different vantage point. So that’s where you see I was just engaged with the guys on the sideline. I almost took the approach of, “Man, I’m a coach now. I’m one of the coaches on game day. If there’s someone who needs something, whether it’s water, you need a towel, you need some information about the defense, Russell, what defense do they call on third down? Emotionally like, how’s Russ feeling? How’s Phillip feeling? Do I need to pick them up? Do I need to tell them something to encourage them?” So I just became less about me, and I made it more about others, and it made me even more humble. I thought I was humble at first, now I truly am void of ego. I could care less about a lot of things that I once cared about. So it took a transformation, but it was hard to do that.
When you think about leadership, like you said, it’s not just a position or a title, it’s who you are, it’s what you do. Leadership, to me, starts with integrity. It starts with yourself, the type of character you have when no one’s watching. What do you do when no one’s watching? Do you change when people are watching or when no one’s watching? For me, I keep things the same no matter what. I’ll be walking down the street, if I see trash on the ground, I’ll pick it up. If I’m in the locker room and there’s something out of place, I’ll put it back in place. It has nothing to do with who’s watching or anything, it’s just the way that I am. I want to be neat and nice, and I want things to be done a certain way, and so I want to do everything that way. There’s no on and off switch with leadership. You can’t be that way. You either are or you aren’t.
Perfection is impossible. No one’s perfect. Every single person that’s walked this earth has made a mistake and will continue to make mistakes. But like I said, it starts with the standard. If you hold yourself to a high standard, a standard of perfection, usually you’ll fall somewhere around that. If you continue to push that envelope on a daily basis, the sky truly is the limit. You have no ceiling, you can continue to get better. Even at 32 years old, even at 33 years old, I’m still getting better. Every year, I’ve gotten better at football because I’ve taken that approach and I’ve had that mentality and that mindset. Until now, obviously I’m receiving accolades and things like that, but I’m already way better than I was last season. It’s because of the mindset and the approach that I took into the off season with my training, with my diet, with my sleep and everything else in between. It just becomes another learned habit. You just fall into this thing of where it’s every day, I’m just continuing to push myself and figure out how great I can be on that day, and then I move on.
“The whole world wrote me off, but I ain’t write back though.”
Getting to say that after a game that you played well in, well, it started with everything I had done up to that point. That’s what gave me the confidence in that moment to say what I said, because I knew what I was going to do throughout the course of the season because I knew the consistent work that I was going to put in every single day to make sure that I was in the right mindset, physically I was in the right state. Then confidence wise, I knew that I had done everything that I could do to be prepared for this week. I don’t think anyone else has worked as hard as I’ve worked this week. In fact, I know no one else did. So that’s why I need to go out here and ball out and play great, because I put the work in. I know I’m ready, and this is just another way for me to capture a moment. This is just another moment for me in the step-to-step process that I take.
Getting the starting job in Seattle
It’s funny ’cause I’m literally sitting on the couch. I was around a couple of my boys and I had my son. We were just playing around, watching TV. Coach Carroll texted me about 9:00. Like you said, it was like, “We’re going to need you big time.” In that moment, I already knew what that meant. It was a little cryptic, but he had never text me in that manner. It’s like, “Well, why would he send me this now at this time?” But to be honest, it’s everything that I was looking for. I had actually maybe a few days before posted, I was in the weight room and I posted something on my Instagram. It was like, “Man, I’m going to take somebody’s job. I don’t know whose job’s getting took, but I’m going to take someone’s job.” That’s truly how I felt about myself at the time. I just knew I was ready. I truly knew I was ready to lead. I was ready to play. Physically, I’d been preparing and mentally I’ve been preparing. So when Coach sent me that text and ultimately gave me the opportunity and the competition, in my mind, the competition was already over.
Locking arms with your team
To see our team come together, I think that was a moment for us where we really banded together as a team and really started to see what we could become, started to see if we play for one another, if we believe in one another, who cares about what the media says? Who cares about what they think about us starting the back-up quarterback or having a rookie left tackle, rookie right tackle, rookie running back, rookie corner backs? We got the oldest coach in the league, all the reasons why we shouldn’t have been good. We embraced that and we turned it upside down, but we weren’t finished. We wanted to get into the playoffs and obviously have ourselves a shot at the Super Bowl, and we fell short of that. But I just think that down that stretch, we became the team that will be going into the future because we had to band together. There was something to play for.
Geno’s ideal mindset
My ideal mindset for practice and game day is perfection when it comes to execution; perfection in my footwork, perfection in my delivery, my reads, perfection in my body language, the way that I enter into the stadium, the way that I enter into the huddle when I wake up that morning, what I eat for breakfast, I take that on a day-to-day basis, to be honest with you. I truly challenge myself. Was the day better than yesterday? Was this game better than the last game? I could have had a perfect game, 23 of 24, and threw a bunch of touchdowns, and I’m saying, “Well, that’s one incompletion, so I need to get that completion for the next one,” and so always challenging and pushing myself. I think a true competitor is never satisfied no matter what he does, because to me it’s about the next mountain you climb. You get to the top of the mountain, and you don’t get to stay there. You got to come down, then you got to go climb another one if you want to get that feeling again. So for me, it’s like continuing to find new mountains to climb.