I landed in New York hours early so I could meet the head football coach and some of his players before the team’s evening practice. Our brief interactions went well, but later, alone in my hotel room preparing for the next day’s workshop, I was overcome by anxiety, doubt, and insecurity. Unfortunately, such feelings were familiar companions, which I despised and tried to avoid at all costs.
I have tried for years to manage my angst, but my best efforts (deep breathing, visualization, practicing mindfulness, meditation, prayer, counseling, obsessive practice) have led to mixed results—sometimes I felt relief and other times I didn’t. Either way, I could not figure out why the mental strategies did or did not work.
Over and over again, I attributed my anxiousness to circumstance: In New York, I blamed it on my two-day workshop. Twenty years earlier, I had believed that my pregame nervousness came from playing a big game on television (A Tragic Misunderstanding). When I couldn’t sleep the night before important business meetings, I attributed my insomnia and racing mind to the people whom I was meeting the next day.
I WAS WRONG.
For decades, I looked in the wrong direction, a direction our culture often points us to.
Our culture fails to acknowledge the proper source of our feeling state. Every day I read articles with a variation of the following tag line:
“Do these five simple things and you will be happier.”
No. The five things do not cause happiness or clarity or peace of mind. Culture is pointing us (and tragically our children) in the wrong direction. All feelings (ranging from happiness, security, and contentment to doubt, insecurity, and anxiety) originate from within—from our moment-to-moment thinking. Our feeling state is not a result of behavior. There is not a link or transmitter connecting our environment to our mood or mind-set.
Thought comes first. Our thoughts create our feelings and our mind-set or mood. This is why we react to the same event with different emotions and feelings. If it worked the other way around, then we would have identical responses to the same situation. We create our experience from the inside-out, not the outside-in.
The more I share my past struggles, the more I realize their commonality. For years, I thought I was the only one who experienced these feelings and believed I was flawed and deficient. Perhaps this epidemic of misunderstanding is why most college programs and professional sports teams have a sports psychologist or mental performance coach on staff or nearby. Yet, the internal struggles of athletes seem to be increasing. The current outside-in model clearly isn’t working.
Anxious feelings before a big game, a winning putt, or an important presentation are normal. There is nothing wrong with you if a wayward thought enters your awareness. High performers understand that they can perform well in spite of wayward thoughts and insecure feelings. Whether they make a shot or miss it, whether they win or lose, they know they are okay.
While I still have moments of doubt, insecurity and angst, they are on longer my constant companions but rather temporary visitors.
May you look inward and understand that all of your feelings originate from your thinking, and as you do, internal space opens for your psychological immune system to self-correct back to clarity.