On my way home from presenting lectures about positive self-talk and empowerment, I had to suck it up and start practicing what I preach. And again I was taught a lesson that it isn’t easy to think positive.
Sunday morning I had a ridiculously early 6am flight from Bloomington, Illinois, to Atlanta, and then onto Orlando. I do not like waking up early and we all know that to catch a 6am flight, one must wake up at 4am. But I woke up bright and early and ready to get home to my family.
I arrived at the airport in great time and I was sitting at my gate by 5:00. With nothing to do, I spent my time playing Candy Crush. It was way to early to eat and there wan’t enough time to take a nap. So I patiently waited. 5:45 soon came and we weren’t called to board the plane. 6:00 came and went, and still we all sat at the gate and wondered what was going on.
Around 6:05 the agents came over the loudspeaker and told us that there were mechanical issues and they were waiting for the mechanics to come. Right after the announcement the agents wheeled out carts of free drinks and snacks. At that moment I knew that we weren’t going anywhere for awhile.
After waiting for two hours the agents finally said that we were ready to board our plane. We all enthusiastically got into line and were eager to get on the plane. I noticed that there were only about thirty people in line, but I assumed it was because it was a ridiculously early flight from Bloomington.
So when I walked up to the plane and noticed it was tiny and I mean tiny, my heart dropped, my stomach sank, and I stopped dead in my tracks.
My initial thought was “I am NOT getting on that plane.” The flight attendant looked at me and smiled.
“Welcome aboard.” she said.
“This plane is small.” I whispered back.
She giggled. I did not.
I was in row 15, there were only 20 rows. Each step I took to my seat was one step closer to complete panic.
My seat was the window seat, which usually is my favorite seat, but this one felt like I was being squeezed into tin box of death. I could feel the air was becoming harder to breathe and I was sure that there was a limited amount on the plane. I smiled at the man who was sitting next to me as I thought to myself, we are going to die.
I knew it, a small plane, mechanical issues, no oxygen…yep I was dead. I could feel my mind race, my heart pump, my hands tingle. I was on my way to full panic attack. And then it hit me. I had just given four hours of lectures on positive self-talk and training coaches how to empower athletes into fierce warriors, and here I was positive that I was going to die.
I tried to think about NOT thinking about dying. That didn’t work because all I could think about was crashing. I tried NOT to think about how little the plane was and how everyone else was breathing too much of my oxygen. I tried to NOT think about ripping off my seat belt and running up and down the aisle screaming “Get me off this tiny little plane of death”. But it was consuming me. I was panicking, I was going over the edge, I was about to stand up and tell the flight attendant that I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t take the flight, I needed to get off, but then I stopped.
This is what I do. I coach athletes on how to remain calm and focused. I train them on how to focus on the positive. I preach to them how to recognize overthinking and how overthinking can lead to obsessive and negative thoughts. And here I was ready to have a full on panic attack.
There I was teetering on the edge of a panic attack. I was about to go over and then I realized that I couldn’t. I had to start practicing what I preach. How could I expect my athletes to listen to my advice, if I didn’t listen to myself? How could I ask them to trust that positive self-talk can work, if I didn’t do it myself? How could I ask them to trust me if I didn’t practice the very concepts I believed worked?
I immediately knew I had to stop.
I closed my eyes and started to take deep breaths. I took three. On the third one, I felt myself start to relax. I took out my phone and started to occupy my mind with Candy Crush. I focused on the game and only payed attention to each little piece of candy.
I accepted that fact that it was a tiny, tiny plane. I also accepted that fact that in order for me to get home, I needed to take this plane. I focused on my breathing and Candy Crush. I was doing well.
The pilot then came over the intercom and announced that we were almost ready for departure. He thanked us all for being patient with our two hour flight delay. Then he went on to say that there was an oil leak, that was now fixed, but we would still have to have an external start because something about not having enough power to start the plane by ourselves. Then he continued telling us that we also had some frost on the propeller and that it would take a few more minutes to be deiced.
“Oh great, a tiny, tiny plane, mechanical issues, oil leak, no power, and ice. Cool…I”m gonna die.”
As the plane took off and I could feel the walls closing in and the oxygen becoming thinner, I remembered that it would all be over soon.
I continued my deep breathing, my Candy Crush, and I turned my thoughts positive.
Logically I knew that the pilots wouldn’t fly the plane if they thought it was dangerous. I also knew the flight attendants wouldn’t fly if they thought it was unsafe as well. I knew there was enough oxygen on the plane. I knew that the walls weren’t caving in. Logically I knew I would be fine.
I knew that my overthinking was creating a situation that I had complete control over. I knew we would be okay and I started to become proud of myself for not running around the plane screaming in full on panic mode. And in a moment when I really thought it could have gone either way, I am glad that I experienced my borderline panic attack, because it sure does give me way more understanding to what my athletes go through.
I can completely understand and sympathize with that feeling. I understand how hard it is to talk yourself back from that tipping point. It’s not a fun place to be, it’s not easy, but I know the mental toughness techniques do work and I was glad that I was able to practice what I preach.