It was January 4th, and I was the starting point guard in one of the biggest games in the history of my college. Tiny Lafayette College in Easton, PA, was hosting Notre Dame and its legendary coach Digger Phelps.
Just days before tipoff, the Lafayette coaches pulled me aside and told me two things: 1) I was guarding All-American guard David Rivers, who ended his career as one of the best guards in Notre Dame history, and 2) to be prepared for Notre Dame’s full-court trapping pressure. I knew if I failed to limit Rivers’s scoring and handle Notre Dame’s press, we would be humiliated and embarrassed in front of thousands of fans. The assignment was overwhelming.
On the night of the game, I exited our locker room with the team, heading for the bright lights of the court, the television cameras, and the overflowing crowd. But I never made it down the steps. Silently, I left the team and ran to the bathroom, where, with both hands, I grabbed the edges of the closest toilet seat and violently dry-heaved. I didn’t puke because there was no food in my stomach since I hadn’t been
able to eat my pregame meal four hours earlier due nerves. I was making so much noise in the bathroom that our assistant coach peeked his head in the bathroom and asked if I was okay. I replied, yes, I’m coming. I really thought: “Are you freakin’ kidding me? It is thirty minutes before the biggest game in the history of our college and I have my head in the toilet. Do I look okay?”
Unfortunately, for most of the next two years, such trips to the bathroom were my pregame ritual.
I believed a lie.
I attributed my feelings of anxiety and insecurity to my circumstances—to my opponents, the size of the gym, the fans, the television cameras—and it was a disaster. Externally, my life appeared great, but internally I was miserable. I had no peace of mind or contentment and rarely smiled.
I sought relief from my perpetual anxiety and insecurity through striving to work harder and achieve more. I thought I would feel better if:
- I led the league in scoring.
- We won our conference championship and made the NCAA tournament.
- I was named first team all-conference.
- I saw my name in the headlines of the paper.
- I scored more than 1,000 points in my career.
- I dated a cute girl.
- I landed a good job.
- I made lots of money.
- I got married.
- I had children.
It didn’t work.
I often felt temporary relief immediately following an achievement, only to find the same insecure feelings come back again and again. My mental torment persisted. I ended up believing I was flawed because of my insecurity and anxiety, especially since I looked around and did not see anyone else struggling like I struggled (I know now how wrong I was; everyone struggles).
I wish I knew then what I know now.
Our feelings come from our moment-to-moment thinking and the perceptions our thought creates, not from our circumstances. Always and every day.
Life works only one way—from the inside-out.
Every feeling I have ever had (and will have) was and is related to my thinking, and not to the fact that I was guarding an All-American, playing on national television, or performing in front of 29,000 fans.
I suffered, living in mental torment for decades, because of this tragic misunderstanding.
I now point others to the truth of the thought-feeling connection and away from the common illusion of the circumstance-feeling connection.
Try looking in this direction, and see what transpires.
Thanks for reading.