Don’t allow any situation to be bigger than you. Some of the thoughts and energy that you put into an issue have emotions attached to them. Have a good grip on your feelings. Wrangle everything in to make sure that all of your energy is focused on the task at hand.
As part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance” I had the pleasure to interview Prince Daniels, Jr.
Daniels, Jr. is a former NFL running back turned practitioner of mindfulness and meditation, author and entrepreneur who lives by the mantra: “Nothing is impossible unless you truly believe it is.” His personal story is one of determination and a true-to-life testimony that anything is possible.
Daniels’ football career began as a walk-on for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. His coach told him that he’d never play college football, let alone make it to the NFL. He not only played, but he became a two-time all-conference tailback and the fourth-leading rusher in Georgia Tech history, with 3,300 yards. He was selected as a two-time All-Academic All-ACC student-athlete, and in 2004 Daniels ran for a still existing NCAA bowl game record of 311 yards and four touchdowns at the Humanitarian Bowl. The NFL’s Baltimore Ravens drafted Daniels in 2006, playing for three seasons until his career ended prematurely in 2009 due to injury.
Using meditation as the tool for recovery from his depression and loss of identity, he found his calling of helping professional athletes find their vision and purpose in the game beyond the game, life. Daniels’ new book, Mindfulness for the Ultimate Athlete: Mastering the Balance Between Power and Peace, helps athletes reach the highest level of their game. From an athlete who realized his dreams of playing in the NFL and going on to live a thriving and purpose-driven life, Daniels’s message is nothing short of inspirational.
Please provide a brief background of where you grew up and the trajectory of your professional career. Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine?
I grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on the University of Southern Mississippi campus with my mom, stepfather, and two older siblings. Growing up was fun. I had a happy and very sheltered childhood. We weren’t wealthy, but we had everything we needed. My mom was a student, and she made ends meet. I am a part of a big family. I have four uncles, and I grew up with lots of cousins. We had a family reunion every two years. In my preteen years, we moved to Houston, Texas, and I went to live with my dad. I lived with him until I was 18 years old and went off to college.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.
When I was a child, I can recall watching an NFL game with my mom. Barry Sanders was playing. He made this incredible run, and at that very moment, I knew what I wanted. With joyful tears in my eyes, I looked at my mother with insurmountable confidence and said, “Mom, one day, I am going to play in the NFL.” Her response was, “Yes, you will, baby.” That moment inspired me to pursue a career as a professional athlete, so I have to say that my mom and Barry Sanders inspired me.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Coming from a large family, a supportive family, as I did, I can honestly say that many people encouraged me along the way, from my parents to siblings, uncles, cousins, etc. I always felt supported. I was blessed to have strong men in my life who were good examples and helped me to be the man and person I am. I’ll never forget my first game on the varsity team in high school, and my uncle told me I needed to switch one of the running back drills. I took his advice, and it worked. I scored my first touchdown on varsity. My family has been very instrumental in my life in ensuring that I progressed and lived up to my full potential.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I would always forget the plays!!! Once I would run away from the sideline, I would forget the play the coach had just given me. That taught me that I needed to study more and stay ahead of the game. In addition to speed and strength, football requires lots of mental preparation, physical skill, and critical thinking skills. In addition to what happens on the field during practice and games, studying is very important.
What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?
The advice that I would give to a young person would be to adopt the practice of meditation. Add it to your regimen so that you can always have confidence, feel courageous and show discipline in your decision-making so that you can live a life of success. Patience + persistence + resilience equal success.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My new book, “Mindfulness for the Ultimate Athlete: Mastering the Balance Between Power and Peace, and the corresponding 6-week course are currently the most intriguing projects that I am doing. It teaches the importance of mindfulness and meditation to help people of all walks of life the key to finding calmness and focusing their attention on themselves to become the best versions of themselves.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview.
As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
#1: Visualize or meditate. Focus on what your goal is. That leaves no room for pressure or doubt.
My mindset is that if I stay focused and work toward my goals, they have to happen. I envision what the outcome will look like, and I wholeheartedly believe in that. One of my favorite quotes is, “Nothing is impossible unless you believe it is.”
#2: Breathe. Control your breath; don’t let it control you. Exercise how to breathe calmly and adequately. Breathing exercises help you relax because they can make your body feel like it does when you are already relaxed. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body because it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax when you do.
#3: Don’t allow any situation to be bigger than you. Some of the thoughts and energy that you put into an issue have emotions attached to them. Have a good grip on your feelings. Wrangle everything in to make sure that all of your energy is focused on the task at hand.
Whatever happens to me, I do not let it dictate my happiness. I focus on the things I can control and let the results speak for itself.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?
One breathing technique that helps optimize myself is what I call “the breath cycle,” which is a deep inhale, holding of the breath for 3 seconds and elongated exhale. Then follow that with a quick inhale and a short exhale.
Another technique I use is merely counting my breaths, being aware of how I’m breathing whether I am in a calm situation or one that might be hostile.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Again, meditation plays an integral role in strengthening my focus and also reading. Both practices allow me to develop my concentration and minimize distractions. When it comes to distractions, you have to zone into what you are looking to accomplish. On your journey to achieving a goal, it is helpful to have conscious conversations with yourself. Ask yourself, “Is this helping me get closer to my goal?” If the answer is no, then it’s a distraction. If the answer is yes, then it’s a part of the process. My special technique is deep, contemplative meditation.
How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?
Sleep is the number one thing, but knowing your body and understanding what it needs is essential. It is necessary to be tuned with your body — to know when it requires work and rest. Keep in mind that a vital part of working out the body is simply making sure that all ligaments, bones, and muscles are activated, strong, and in the right place from your feet to your head’s crown.
These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?
Habits are everything! The humane makeup is based on habits. Everything we do is habitual. Our lives rely on our habits — good habits vs. bad habits. From when we wake up, our morning routines, dressing our bed, what we eat, whether we exercise, drink water, meditate, study, etc. Habits is one of the main parts of having a successful life — or not. Good habits equate to good outcomes, and well, bad habits yield negative results. From all that I have achieved in my career and family, I can attribute to my good habits.
Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
It’s like talking to another person, but you’re talking to yourself. You have to give yourself an ultimatum. Some of the strategies that I used for myself were, for example, telling myself if I don’t meditate every morning, I will not be the best version of myself or I would not reach the highest me or my highest self. I made it a habit by convincing myself that I had to achieve spiritual growth, who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to live my life. I committed myself to the unknown, not knowing all the benefits, but believing in the process that if I adopt this practice, it will enhance the things I already know and take me beyond what I ever imagined.
You stop bad habits by being conscious of those habits — awareness. When you are aware of what you don’t want, you immediately become mindful of what you want. When you have bad habits, you have to get by yourself, sequestering yourself from others not to be influenced by external things. You make your mind up about what you want to do and get comfortable with telling yourself no if you have to.
As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?
I mention this in my book. I don’t want to get too deep into this because I hope you will be inspired to check out “Mindfulness for the Ultimate Athlete: Mastering the Balance between Power and Peace” and adopt some of the exercises, techniques and mindfulness practices that I share in the book.
Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.
I share many of those in the book, but I have a practice that I did not share in the book and will share with you. It’s something that I do as much as possible. It’s called a whole meditation practice. I recite affirmations, words of positivity to remind me of who I am and how incredible I am (how extraordinary we all are). I say things to uplift myself like: I am love. I am amazing. I am courageous. I am beautiful. I am rich. I am enough. I am whole. I am a gift. I am whole. I repeat these affirmations over and over before I go out into the world. It allows me to create an armor of positivity around myself. Therefore, no negativity can penetrate as I go about my day.
Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?
Again, it’s essential to be conscious of your thoughts. You can do that by being observant of the content you absorb, the books you read, the music you listen to, your television viewing, etc. Being mindful of what information you’re feeding yourself will allow you to see and lessen the negative impact that some of these external factors have on you. Although we might not realize it, these things affect how we communicate with ourselves and others. To change that is just like turning anything off. You can turn off the TV, the lights, the radio — you can turn off debilitating thoughts.
You have to tackle these thoughts head-on. Think about if you were to tell someone something negative. How did you make them feel? You have to see yourself as a person. Once you start seeing yourself as a person, then the things that you say to yourself, you begin to become more conscious of it. Since you’re treating yourself as a person you care about, you will not tell it anything negative anymore because now you see that this person needs nurturing, love, and support. If they can’t get it from someone else outside of them, then they need to get it from themselves, inside of them.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love this question. One, by being an example for humankind by sharing my gifts. Secondly, by being a catalyst to provide everyone with a tool that can change the world. Whether they need it, don’t need it, think they need it, or not, meditation is something that every individual in the world can practice to collectively come together and focus on one thing at one time for one second. If and when we can do that, whether it be for world peace, love and less war, whether it’s making sure we wake up with a smile on our faces. If everyone can come together and do that simultaneously, we will see a union and a consciousness shift in the world.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite life lesson quote is “Meditate, Meditate, Meditate.” The reason why that resonates with me so much is that we accept every other thing. We accept listening to music that can be foul. We accept watching negative things. We welcome so many things that do not help us grow and evolve as the spiritual beings we are — having a human experience. The one thing that does allow you to do that is the tool of practicing meditation. When we can all find that we all have greatness inside of us, we have to tap into our Inner-G, then we will realize that we are more powerful than we know and understand, and that will become a part of our evolution.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
It is tough for me to narrow it down to one person. There are so many people who I’d love to break bread with and learn more about them and what makes them who they are. Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Alicia Keys, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Denzel Washington, Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Dave Chappelle, Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Jamie Foxx. The list goes on. All of these individuals are thought-leaders. I would love to sit with any or all of them to learn why they do the things they do to help make an impact in the world.