Motivation on Call

Sundays are not usually busy on Montclair Sports Psychology Professor Robert “Rob” Gilbert’s “Success Hotline.” But one Sunday in August, hundreds of calls started pouring in, thanks to a social media shoutout by U.S. Senator Cory Booker.

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 around the globe. On this particular August day, he recorded message number 11,500.

screenshot of Cory Booker's tiktok post
A screen shot from U.S. Senator Cory Booker's TikTok video about the motivational hotline.

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. Booker, then a 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 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.

Gilbert’s success has all been word of mouth – and now via social media.

After 30 years of daily messages, Gilbert, who has taught at Montclair for 43 years, knows when someone has shared the number, as he sees spikes in call volume.

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. So, 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 his students.

He intended to do it only for the semester, which would have been roughly 100 messages “just as an experiment.”

Today, the Success Hotline has 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. Olympic champions call me. 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.”

Like his fans, Gilbert is relentless in his dedication. He has recorded the messages from hospitals before and after medical procedures and 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. 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.”