Sundays are not usually busy on Montclair Sports Psychology Professor Robert “Rob” Gilbert’s “Success Hotline.” But this Sunday, hundreds of calls started pouring in thanks to a social media shoutout by U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
Booker shared not only how Gilbert’s hotline motivated him when he was applying for a Rhodes Scholarship in 1992 but also the hotline number, 973-743-4690. The then-Stanford student did indeed become a Rhodes Scholar. Fast forward 30 years and Booker, who took a lesson from Gilbert, also started sharing motivational messages to his mentees, family and followers via social media. On Sunday, August 14, Booker called the Success Hotline and “lo and behold, I hear the message,” he shared with his almost 1.3 million combined TikTok and Instagram followers.
Every day for 30 years, Gilbert, a public speaker, author and motivational and sports coach, has recorded a three-minute motivational message for his legions of callers from across the globe. On this particular August day, he recorded message number 11,500.
Many commenters on Booker’s TikTok post mentioned calling the hotline and being grateful for now having Booker and Gilbert to motivate them.
“I’m an adjunct and now inspired! He is still there. I love that you are too,” wrote commenter and Montclair Social Work and Child Advocacy Adjunct Professor Sara E. Every on TikTok.
Janice, another of Booker’s TikTok followers wrote: “This is a wonderful story and it’s amazing that the hot line is still there. I’m grateful to him for inspiring you to pay it forward & to inspire us!”
Even Booker’s friend and ex-girlfriend actress Rosario Dawson chimed in on Instagram: “How wonderful! Loving the podcast!” (Yes, there’s also a podcast of all of his recordings, courtesy of Ironclad.)
“You just blew up his line!! 😂😂 I’m calling too!!” Angie Murcia Stephen wrote on TikTok.
Gilbert could attest to that. “Sunday, I had hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of people calling, all from Cory Booker,” Gilbert says, adding that they left messages. “They are the sweetest, kindest people.”
After 30 years, Gilbert, who has taught at Montclair for 43 years, knows when someone has shared the number, as he sees spikes in call volume. One Texas athletic director who is a motivational speaker always boosts the number of calls after a speaking engagement. Gilbert’s success has all been word of mouth – and now via social media.
What prompted this extreme exercise in consistency? Before he started teaching sports psychology at Montclair, Gilbert was a high school wrestling coach and would see his students five to seven days a week.
“I’m teaching graduate students, many of them coaches, and I only see them once a week. It really doesn’t make sense because graduate school is much more important than high school wrestling,” Gilbert recalls thinking to himself. As a way to “be” with his grad students seven days a week, he purchased a phone system that allowed him to leave a three-minute recording and also collect messages from the students.
He intended to do it only for the spring semester, which would have been roughly 100 messages “just as an experiment.”
Today, the Success Hotline has built a loyal following, including some celebrities who have sworn him to secrecy. “I never know who’s going to call. Yesterday, Cory Booker called me. I have Olympic champions calling me. I have pro athletes call me. I have all these people that I would never know if I didn’t have my hotline,” Gilbert says. “I’ve been getting thousands of calls, and I have eight lines.”
Many listeners have been calling the hotline daily for decades. Among his loyalists is Richard Kennedy ’89, a former student who now works for a law firm. Kennedy, who earned his degree in political science, took two of Gilbert’s classes as electives but says that he would have taken them even if he didn’t get credit.
“I listen to it every day. It’s three minutes,” Kennedy says. “The best part is it’s free. He puts a message out just to try to make your day every day religiously.
“He teaches you how you should study, how you can memorize, how to motivate yourself,” Kennedy says. “He teaches you how to succeed.”
Bonnie Gechtberg, another longtime follower, has called every day since her son Mark came home from Gilbert’s class and told her about the new hotline. The 87-year-old says she told her son she didn’t have time for that but he insisted. “I listened to the first message, and I was hooked. I became addicted,” says Gechtberg, who lives in Cranford, New Jersey, but has called from other states, as well as Mexico and Canada to get her fix.
Like Booker, who ended his message with: “I just want to say, Dr. Rob Gilbert, thank you for making a difference in my life,” Gechtberg says he’s changed her life. “His messages are so inspirational and there’s nothing else like Dr. Gilbert’s messages. His messages make my life better and make me a better person.”
The state that boasts the highest number of devotees is Texas, Gilbert says, adding that he counts many Texas football coaches among his callers.
Michael Baldwin, a senior account executive with commodities firm U.S. Gold Bureau in Austin, has been calling every day for years and is impressed by Gilbert’s “impressive track record.”
A former employee of U.S. Gold, Callon Ihde, introduced colleagues to the hotline. Today, 50-60 people begin their day with Gilbert’s words, Baldwin says. “The positive affirmational talks that he offers are a great way to start our day off. It gets your mind working in the right direction.”
Like his fans, Gilbert is relentless in his dedication. He has recorded the messages from hospitals before and after medical procedures. He’s recorded it while outdoors in freezing temperatures in Vermont. “I’ve never ever missed a day,” he says. “I had thousands of people calling from all over the world. I wasn’t expecting that! It’s been a whole lot of fun, so I’ve never stopped since January 22, 1992.
In three decades, there’s been only one glitch: Side effects from a shingles vaccine delayed his daily recording until 5 p.m.; he usually records it at 7:30 a.m. While Gilbert says he’s not a perfectionist, he does admit doing several takes. Sometimes, magic happens and he records his message in one take. Gilbert makes no money off of the hotline or podcast.
“I mean, I’m a teacher,” he says. “And what I want to do is to spread good information.”