How Former NFL Cornerback Mike Haynes of Hologenix Optimizes His Mind & Body For Peak Performance

An Interview With Edward Sylvan


Take care of your physical and mental health at all times so that when you need to perform, your body and mind are already consistently trained to do it, and you rely on that training.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind and Body for Peak Performance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Haynes.

Mike Haynes is a former NFL cornerback, Hall of Famer, Super Bowl champion and NFL 100 All-Time Team inductee. Mike is also a board member at Hologenix and a brand ambassador for CELLIANT®, its flagship product and infrared fabric that helps individuals optimize their performance.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Texas but grew up in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. I was fortunate because Silver Lake was a very diverse area, and I learned a lot from the exposure to all those different cultures at a young age.

When it came to playing sports during my youth, my stepfather helped me learn the fundamentals. He was an avid sports fan, and we used to meet other families to play sports at Griffith Park. When attending John Marshall High School, I became interested in football and track and field. In the 10th grade, I was introduced to playing tackle football, and by the time I was a senior, I had become an all-league athlete in football and track.

Our football team had two coaches, one for each side of the ball. Our head coach wasn’t interested in playing to win, so if a player started on offense, he couldn’t start on defense and vice versa. He felt strongly that every boy should be allowed to play. You wouldn’t think that a coach with that attitude could produce any professional football players, but he did. My brother and I both played in college and went on to play in the NFL. Athletically speaking, my varsity high school experience didn’t provide wins or exposure that could lead us to receive scholarship offers. The Optimist Bowl was a city all-star game that I was selected to play in; there, I was noticed, and it launched my football career. In that game, in which we played in the LA Memorial Coliseum, our team was the underdog. I was playing defensive back, which I had very little exposure to before.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there were a lot of college scouts there to watch a receiver from Manual Arts High School, which was across the street from the coliseum. Watching him meant that they had to watch me, too, since I was covering him the whole game. I played pretty well, and we were ahead, but they had the ball and drove down the field. They attempted to throw a pass to my man when they got near the goal line, and I intercepted it in the end zone. That was my first interception ever, and I didn’t know what to do with it — fortunately, one of my teammates could tell that I didn’t know what to do, and he yelled out to me to take a knee. I did, and we got the touchback, and that clinched our win. After that game, I was heavily recruited; I chose to go to Arizona State University, where the receiver I was covering was also going to attend.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

I’d have to say it’s all of my college teammates and coaches (and my head coach Frank Kush), but to single one out, I’d have to give a lot of credit to Al Luginbill, my defensive coach at Arizona State my freshman year. During that time at Arizona State, freshmen did not get to play. We would go to practice, but there’d be no playing time. Back then, I still wanted to play wide receiver, but I excelled at defensive back at practice, and I enjoyed the challenge of shutting down the wide receivers. At the end of the year, they called up six freshmen to play the last few games on the varsity, and I was one of them.

For reasons I didn’t know at the time, coach Luginbill went against the rule of freshmen not playing and players who he thought should play — freshman or not. I wanted to help the team, so I was happy to play free safety (still in the defensive backfield, but a position I hadn’t played before). The free safety was an injured senior, which allowed me to get more playing time. I got to start in the last three games of the season and the Fiesta Bowl, making honorable mention for the all-league team. That was an incredible experience that proved I was a starting college defensive back. Even though I still wanted to play wide receiver, I knew what I could do as a defensive player thanks to Coach Luginbill.

The next year, I came back to Arizona State to be a wide receiver, but they asked me to play defensive back because they didn’t have depth at that position. I wasn’t happy about it, but I played and was all league that year. Then, in my third year, they finally let me play wide receiver, but they had recruited a true №1 wide receiver named John Jefferson. He went on to be a first-round pick for the San Diego Chargers, and he could play. I went to one workout with him, and when he caught the ball, it didn’t make a sound hitting his hands — that’s how smooth he was. He was a special player. After that workout, I knew he was the starting wide receiver, and I went back to be a cornerback because I had a starting position there, and I ended up staying at the corner. Covering him and a few other talented receivers every practice helped my career development. It’s a bit wild how I ended up playing corner — kind of against my will at every point — but I guess it turned out pretty well in the end.

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?

My mom is the one who encouraged me and was always so positive. She helped me get through any and every tough time. I was really unhappy my second year at Arizona State because I felt I was being forced to play on the defense. But she kept telling me to keep my head up and encouraged me to study and hang in there, and that everything would work out. As usual, she was right.

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

When I came out of college, I was drafted to the New England Patriots. At that time, no one in the history of the Patriots had returned a punt for a touchdown. I felt that was one stat that was not going to stand because I was a pretty good punt returner in college. Then, I got a punt against the Cleveland Browns and was taking it back for a touchdown when I spiked it before I reached the end zone. It was a baseball stadium and a football stadium, so I saw the dirt and thought I was in the end zone, but I wasn’t. It was even more embarrassing because my dad was at the game, and that week it was shown on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson for misplays in the NFL. The whole country saw that play and knew me because of that. My teammates even started calling me “Spike.” Now, I will say that year that I did end up returning two punts for touchdowns, so I did change that history. The lesson was always to be yourself; when I spiked it, I was kind of hot-dogging a little bit, and that was out of character for me. It was a good reminder to stay true to yourself and act like you’ve been there before.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

The best advice I can give is to set big goals. If you set high goals for yourself, that will help motivate you to achieve them. It’ll make you aware of things you need to do to reach those lofty heights. If you’re an elite player, you have to want to be the best to ever play at your position. When you have those high goals, you’ll have to dive deeply into football and approach it as if it’s something you’re going to be doing for a long time. The high goal will also help drive your decision-making so that you’re always moving toward that goal, and it will help you never to be satisfied. That means you will always be pushing to improve and focused on learning as much as you can.

In the end, even if you never actually reach your goal — if you never become the best player ever to play the position — you’ll have pushed yourself to be the best you could be and learned so much about yourself that it’ll help you in all areas of life.

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

I’m now very focused on health and wellness. I’m a cancer survivor, which opened my eyes to the importance of health and wellness in my life and others’ lives. It also occurred to me that I never had a high goal for my life expectancy. I never really thought about living a long, healthy life before, as I was just living. With that goal top of mind, I’m now curious about health and wellness and active about what I can do to live a long life. For example, I’m on the board of directors at Hologenix, the inventors of CELLIANT. CELLIANT is a performance textile that converts body heat into infrared energy, which has a host of wellness benefits. It’s a great example because it’s an opportunity and product that I’m proud to be involved with but would probably have never have known about if it wasn’t for my curiosity surrounding health. It’s exciting to be in the health and wellness space and be involved in helping others become healthier and live longer happier lives.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high-stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers three or four strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high-pressure, high-stress situations?

First, I start with the end in mind. This idea goes right back to goal-setting and beginning with the best outcome you can imagine. That way, you’ll always be working toward making that goal a reality.

The second is to take care of your physical and mental health at all times so that when you need to perform, your body and mind are already consistently trained to do it, and you rely on that training.

Third, I would say to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The fourth is to love thy neighbor as thyself. Because when you truly practice those two things, you’ll find that your mind is more forgiving, both toward others and toward yourself. You become gentler in your mindset and negative feelings. Emotions such as anger or panic are less likely to intrude, no matter your situation.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I do, but it’s not something I do every day. From being in sports my whole life, I’ve learned how to use breathing to create energy and calmness; it’s a big part of the running techniques in track. I also learned about breathing techniques when I took up yoga after my football career.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus and clear away distractions?

For me, this comes back to the mindset of beginning with the end in mind. I’ll use visualization techniques to play the game or meeting — or whatever it is — to see the outcomes I want and to go over all the possibilities that might happen or that I know have happened before. That way, when you’re actually in the event, you feel prepared. There’s less that can throw you off, and you can be more focused on what’s going on in the moment.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

When I was young, I thought you were born with your physical talent or ability (like speed, for example), and that was it for your physical performance — you either had it or didn’t. Then, I saw in college that even Olympic track guys lifted weights, and it shocked me. That showed me that talent isn’t physical; it’s about committing to doing the things you need to do. You have to be willing to work hard to achieve these goals for your body. I really took the commitment that I saw in those other guys to heart and started lifting weights with our strength coach in college, and then built it up over time and just stuck with it for years. I learned that with training, you could improve a lot and even make yourself into a world-class athlete. To this day, I lift weights at least four days a week and then do other forms of exercise, such as hiking and playing sports with my kids.

The other thing I do now (and it goes back to my relatively newfound interest in health and wellness) is looking for every opportunity to learn about different things that can help me and my body be healthier and stronger. Nutrition is key. And another aspect for me is infrared energy. I wear CELLIANT-infused clothes when I work out because they help me warm up faster, and I have more energy for the workout as a result.

These ideas are excellent. But for most of us, in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become “second nature.” Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

I don’t think any professional athlete could say habits haven’t played a big part in their success. When I was in college, I didn’t have a choice. If I wanted to play, I had to follow the schedule and do the routines of lifting weights, practicing film study, and all of that. And I wanted to play. So there’s the key in my mind — I had a goal that I wanted to achieve. That was also true when I played professionally. It all comes back to my goals and what I was willing to do to achieve them. If you’re a professional athlete and have bad habits or don’t work hard, you aren’t going to maximize your potential — you aren’t going to reach the high goals you set for yourself. Habits and success go hand-in-hand.

Shortly after I retired from playing football, I went to work in the NFL office. I had to commute to my job, and there wasn’t enough time to work out and exercise. I lost my good habits for a short time because I no longer had a goal that made it necessary to take care of my body as I had before. But then I found my new life goal, including knowing that I wanted to be a good example for my kids, so that helped me refocus and get back into those good habits I’d had before and commit to working out and being in the best shape I could be.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Again, it starts with setting goals and beginning with the end in mind. If I want to be the best cornerback to ever play in the NFL, I will have to commit to creating and following good habits to achieve that. Now, to find great habits and avoid developing bad habits, it comes down to talking and listening to the right people. No one does anything alone in the case of sports. A great coach makes all the difference in fostering the proper habits and techniques needed to become the best you can be.

As a high-performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of “flow.” Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of flow more often in our lives?

Many things in life aren’t fully in our control — even our bodies and moods. When you smile, your body releases a flood of dopamine and molecules that help alleviate stress. You can change your mental state with something as simple as breathing. When you’re in that feeling of flow, as you call it, I think you’re feeling something like that, some mental result of your action that isn’t completely in your control.

I think you can prepare yourself to be in that state more often with visualization. In this way, you can see challenges and opportunities and be better prepared for them. Then, you are more likely to have success when the moment comes, and you’ll experience that feeling of flow in more of your important moments, whether those are moments in sports or your life.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

When I played in the NFL, meditation and visualization were a daily practice both morning and evening. For me, meditation was a form of visualization where I was seeing the practice or game to come or going over everything that happened that day in practice. This method was how I could see every possibility for what was to come. If I found situations that I was unsure about, I would ask the coaches for advice and clarity. When it’s all clear in your mind and you see each situation and the success you will have, you know you’re prepared. That doesn’t mean seeing yourself scoring every play or doing impossible things. Instead, it means seeing the best possible reality and being completely prepared to play at the highest level. I still use visualization techniques to this day. If there’s something important coming up, I see it play out in my mind, get focused on all the possibilities, and ensure I know exactly what I want to achieve.

Many of us are limited by our self-talk or by negative mind chatter such as regrets and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

If you can get back to your “why,” you can change your thoughts. If you can refocus on your goals and why you’re doing what you’re doing, then you can begin to move positively back toward that goal. If you’re suffering a persistent or serious issue, I think it’s best to talk to someone and get some help. No one does anything alone, and having great people to talk to and listen to can be the best thing for our mental well-being.

OK, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to treat every person I meet with kindness and compassion, and I treat them how I’d like to be treated. It’s not really about being successful or not, but rather about living the right way and with the right attitude toward yourself and others.

Can you share your favorite “life lesson quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My favorite quote is this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you live by that, you’ll be mindful of how you’re treating others, and it will help you have a positive and forgiving outlook on others and yourself.

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 U.S. 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 :-)

There isn’t any one person. I don’t want to meet a person just because of who they are in terms of worldly success — I want to meet a person because of who they really are. I’m happy and feel fortunate to meet anyone who is a good person and treats others with respect.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!



Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.