Total Health: Kirk Nugent On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing

Being mentally well means that your mind is in order and functioning in your best interest. You can think, feel and act in ways that create a positive impact on your physical and social wellbeing. Richard Carlson wrote a book entitled, “Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.” I believe that is sage advice. Stress is one of the great detractors of good mental health, and as a species, we spend a lot of time going from one perceived crisis to the next, which studies have shown will rapidly deteriorate not only our physical health but our mental health as well.

Kirk Nugent

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing? 

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kirk Nugent.

Kirk Nugent is an inspirational speaker, author and poet who coaches people positively through every aspect of life — health, finances, relationships, mindsets and spirituality. Through the use of spoken word poetry, personal stories, quotes, and humor, Kirk shares simple yet practical strategies on how to overcome childhood trauma, navigate toxic relationships, be true to oneself, persist in a healthy manner, and how to claim the desires of one’s heart.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Iwas born in Kingston, Jamaica, and my family migrated to the United States when I was fifteen. They were in search of the elusive ‘American Dream.’ They brought that immigrant work ethic with them and immediately joined the workforce. They bought wholeheartedly into the idea that one should go to school and get a good education to get a good job. I’ve always maintained that one should be careful when blindly following the masses. Sometimes the M is silent. I believed that the American Dream could only be captured by pursuing one’s passion. The people I studied who appeared to be happy and financially successful were not employees but rather artists and business owners. They were not building someone else’s dream; they were pursuing their passions. They owned their own time and had freedom. I was confident that I was not created solely to be an employee, so I followed the path of my heart, which to a certain degree made me an outcast in my own family, the Black Sheep, if you will.

The other thing that profoundly affected my development was that I was not aware that I was black in Jamaica even though I was fifteen years old. I never gave the idea of race any thought before in my life. The kid that sat next to me in school had blonde hair and green eyes; I had no idea he was white; he was simply my friend, Mark. However, upon entering the United States, I immediately became aware that folks were treated differently based on their color. The all-black high school looked like and was ran like a prison. We required written permission to be in the halls, use the restrooms, and uniformed security guards patrolled the hallways. While the all-white school (six miles north of the black school) looked like a college campus, and there was freedom to roam around. No hall pass required, no security guards allowed. So, I quickly realized that I am navigating a world where I did not fit in, an outcast in my own family and an outcast in the global family.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

At seventeen years old, I stumbled upon a cassette recording of Les Brown giving a speech entitled, “You’ve got to be hungry.” In the speech, he argued that there was greatness in me, and I dared to believe him. Even though I had no evidence of this so-called greatness that was supposedly within me, I hoped with my entire being that he was right. I wanted to do or be something that would make my parents proud of me. I wanted to show them that they could make a difference by being true to themselves. Like Les, I wanted to inspire the world to live up to the greatness that is within them.

Les encouraged me to embrace my unique perspective; he said, “Kirk, if you desire to make a difference in the world, you must be different from the world.” From that moment on, I embraced his philosophy that someone else’s opinion of me was none of my business, and Morticia Adams was right there to remind me that normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Almost a decade after hearing Les’ life-affirming speech, I heard that we would be appearing at a book signing in Miami (this was before the days of the internet where you could Google someone’s schedule.) I was doing a speech at Purdue University in Indiana entitled Pursue Your Passion, when I got the news regarding Les’ location. My talk ended at 10 pm. I then got in my SUV and drove seventeen hours straight to meet Les. When I walked up to him, he extended his hand for a handshake, and I said, “Mr. Brown, I drove seventeen hours non-stop to meet you; I did not come here for a handshake. I am here to claim my destiny. Do you have a minute so that we can talk? He looked at me with great curiosity and said, “Young man, what is your name?” A month later, I moved to Orlando, Florida, where he was living, and we began working together and sharing the stage.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

One of the few jobs that I’ve ever held was as a salesperson for an electronic retail chain. I was only twenty years old, but I was very dedicated and diligent. At night I read every book by Zig Ziglar and Tom Hopkins to be more efficient at my craft. Within six months, I was the best salesperson in my store and was scheduled to be promoted into the management training program. To my dismay, I was passed over for the promotion; the position was given to the owner of the store’s son, who I thought was undeserving and a slacker. I felt cheated, I was livid, and so I quit the job. Within a year of being promoted into management, that young man took his life because he could not live up to his father’s expectations. The incident taught me empathy. I was negatively judging this young man, believing that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth while ignorant of the demons that he faced daily. I learned empathy and compassion, and I vowed never to judge another human being because I am unaware of their inner struggles.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav gave me a clear understanding that we are not our bodies, and our soul is far wiser than we are choosing to remember. The idea that my soul is eternal resonates with me because I was born with particular abilities that were not developed or cultivated in this lifetime, but lo and behold, there they were. The book allowed me to be more gentle with myself and with humanity. It reinforced the idea of leading with love and compassion.

The book also helped me to navigate the idea of race in America with more understanding. I finally understood that our race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identity markers are just a costume the soul inhabits on this earthly plane so that it can have a particular experience. However, those identity markers are not who we are; they are more of an avatar body, a borrowed identity for a temporary costume party. The great majority of the folks attending this costume party have forgotten that, so I am grateful to remember.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.” Marcus Aurelius. This quote resonates because I’ve watched the great majority of the world lose their peace over things that will not matter a day or two from now. We get so emotionally charged over every perceived slight and hurt. For example, someone cuts us off or is being inconsiderate in traffic, and we immediately surrender our peace. I would encourage my audience to go into their imagination and fast forward to the day of their death. They are on their dying bed, taking their final breath; would this incident that is taking up so much emotional real estate have any value then? If the answer is no, then it has no value in the present moment. Secure your inner peace and be indifferent to the things that make no difference. Your life becomes a masterpiece when you learn to master peace.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I have a five-part video series on YouTube entitled “I Need You to Remember.” The series was well received and did a lot to explain the higher purpose of us (humans) being here on Earth. I am now expanding that series and going into more details, hoping to raise the planet’s consciousness. The Sound of Melanin (TSOM) is another one of my projects designed to address the needs of the black diaspora specifically. Through the TSOM website, I highlight and examine various social, political, spiritual, and relationship challenges faced by the African American community and people of color worldwide. The content is generally addressed from a humorous angle; however, it is designed to foster critical thinking and help members of the black community challenge preconceived notions of how things are and ought to be.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Being mentally well means that your mind is in order and functioning in your best interest. You can think, feel and act in ways that create a positive impact on your physical and social wellbeing. Richard Carlson wrote a book entitled, “Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.” I believe that is sage advice. Stress is one of the great detractors of good mental health, and as a species, we spend a lot of time going from one perceived crisis to the next, which studies have shown will rapidly deteriorate not only our physical health but our mental health as well.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

Yes, I call it ‘Mindfulness,’ which is being aware of your thoughts at all times, not just for ten or fifteen minutes per day. Mindfulness allows us to respond to the world rather than being emotionally reactive. Being mindful reminds me to treat people with the patience, love, and compassion that I would want. It reminds me that the people who need love the most tend to ask for it in a most unloving manner, so lead with love whenever I can. That’s not always the ego’s agenda but being mindful reminds me to at least be aware of the other person’s perspective.

Secondly, it allows me to focus on what I want, knowing that energy flows where attention goes.

According to Emily Maroutain, “Energy is the currency of the universe. When you ‘pay’ attention to something, you buy that experience. So, when you allow your consciousness to focus on someone or something that annoys you, you feed it your energy, and it reciprocates with the energy of being annoyed.” Unfortunately, most folks are focused on what’s not working in their lives instead of being grateful for what is.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

When I was born, I was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia. The doctors told my parents that at best, I would live to maybe age thirteen but certainly not much longer than that. I am happy to report that I am four times that age, plus tax, and as gorgeous as I chose to be. I am not on any pharmaceutical drugs, and doctors tend to marvel at the excellent state of my health. My daily practices are as follows:

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

Good health is usually like money; we think about it only to the degree that we don’t have it. As a result, most folks take their good health for granted. If we become mindful of the fact that our quality of life will always be in proportion to the quality of our health, we would become more disciplined in our diets. Instead, the western world in general, and Americans in particular, are digging their graves with their teeth. Taking better care of our health boils down to finances, desire, and discipline. Some lack the financial means to eat higher-quality foods, and I would like to acknowledge that in this article. However, more often than not, the culprit is a lack of desire and discipline.

Jim Rohn once said that in life, we will suffer from one of two pains. We will either suffer from the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The pain of discipline weighs an ounce; the pain of regret weighs a ton. Unfortunately, it is only after we have lost our health that we wished we had been more disciplined. Nothing tastes as good as good health feels.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

In my book, From Depression to Destiny, I speak about the healing power of forgiveness. Forgiveness allows us to let go of the past and begin thriving in the present. I am more philosophically promiscuous than I am religious, but I believe Jesus was sharing divine wisdom when he said, ‘Father, forgive them because they know not what they do.’ Most humans are walking around unconscious and unhealed, and they are unaware of how unhealed traumas subconsciously run their lives. Knowing that fact, it’s best not to allow their baggage to interfere with your bliss.

Carl Jung declared, ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life, and you will call it fate.’ The second habit of emotional wellness would be to know thyself, be curious about your ideas and actions. Ask yourself, “Why did that make me mad?” An even better question would be, “Why did I choose to be offended?” Knowing that your emotional reactions are always a choice is a very empowering thought. When I was in High School, if someone said the ‘wrong’ thing to me, chances are, it would lead to a fight. I had no emotional awareness and was very often ‘triggered.’ As I grew older and wiser, I realized that the person or thing that triggered me was only reflecting to me the areas and places where I needed to heal. Once I reframed the idea of being triggered and seeing it as an opportunity to heal, my life changed. Eventually, I came to a point where I stop sweating the small stuff because I realized that it was all small stuff.

Allow people to be who they are. A lot of stress comes from having expectations of others that they never gave us. We expect others to think, act and behave as we do, which is seldom the case, and we are often disappointed when we come to that realization. Every failed relationship can be traced back to unmet expectations in one form or another. I believe Maya Angelo said it best, ‘Whenever someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Allowing someone to be who they are choosing to be is the most loving thing you can do for that person. Also, very often, when people are venting, they are not looking for advice, just an empathetic ear, be slow to offer unsolicited advice. Unsolicited advice can cause resentment on the part of the person receiving the advice because they weren’t requesting guidance or counsel.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Tom Wilson said, ‘A smile is happiness you’ll find right under your nose. A smile is usually indicative of a cheerful state of being and a pleasing personality, which are always welcomed. You glow differently when you’re actually happy.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

The physical, emotional, and spiritual are all connected, so the practices are intertwined. For example, forgiveness not only contributes to emotional wellness but enhances the spirit as well. As we develop our emotional IQ, our spiritual IQ grows in proportion. Therefore, being willing to forgive the past was the cornerstone of my spiritual growth.

Honesty is a quality that is indicative of spiritual maturity, and as we grow wiser, we become aware that it is impossible to cheat the Universe. Sooner or later, all accounts must be paid and balanced. Honesty is showing up naked and unashamed. According to John Lennon, ‘Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it will get you the right ones. In other words, your vibe attracts your tribe, so when you are honest and show up authentically, you attract the right people who will help to further your cause.

There was a time when I was afraid to be honest about who I was. I agreed to go to parties that didn’t resonate, decided to do things that I didn’t want to do in the hopes that I wouldn’t ruffle any feathers; my life was miserable because it was an inauthentic life. But, once I decide to be fully ‘me,’ the people who didn’t belong faded from my life and made room for folks who resonated with my being and I with theirs.

Integrity is another staple of spiritual wisdom and a natural extension of honesty. For example, in his best-selling book, ‘The Four Agreements.’ Don Miguel Ruiz listed being impeccable with your word as the first agreement; in other words being in integrity is profoundly essential to leading a fulfilling life. Being in integrity allows us to show up fully and stop playing small. When we are in integrity, our character preaches a beautiful sermon more loudly than our words.

Gratitude. All the great spiritual teachers spoke about how being grateful for what we have in the present is the key to having more in the future. When I was going through one of the darkest times in my life, I used gratitude to turn things around. I started giving thanks for the fact that I was still alive, in good health, and still had a roof over my head. Somehow, I understood that when you take things for granted, the things you are granted will be taken, so I decided to love what I had before life taught me to love what I had lost.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

All the ancient tribes revered nature for her healing abilities. They believed that walking barefoot in the soil energized and revitalized their bodies. We now have scientific studies confirming the healing aspects of ‘grounding.’ According to Dr. Mercola (author of The Truth About COVID-19) “When you walk barefoot on the Earth, free electrons are transferred from the Earth into your body, and the grounding effect is one of the most potent antioxidants that we know of.” Many folks across the globe suffer from seasonal depression in the winter months when sunlight is scarce. I believe that the more connected we are to nature, the more we realize that we are all connected and the more reverence we have for the Earth and all of her inhabitants. Being still in nature and observing how abundant nature is, naturally raises our consciousness.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

It’s a simple yet powerful philosophy: Know thyself and to thine own self be true. Once we know who we are, much of the unconscious projections that Carl Jung spoke about go away. Once we are true to ourselves, we lose the need to fit in and be artificial. We also allow others to be true to themselves, and then the world as a collective can finally get about the business of healing.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I am working on a mini-movie depicting how marijuana became illegal in the United States. It is a fascinating story that most Americans are unaware of. I would love to bring this story to life using the art of spoken word to tell the story. Collaborating with Snoop Dogg and Bill Maher, who are both advocates for the legalization of marijuana and have unique ways of presenting ideas, would be amazing.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

My pleasure.