As a former professional basketball player and coach for the Brooklyn Nets, David Nurse has helped NBA players with their development on court and with their lives off court.
His first book was Pivot & Go: The 29-Day Blueprint to Redefine and Achieve YOUR Success (Amazon, Bookshop). Now he has a new book that just hit the shelves: Breakthrough: A Sure-Fire Guide to Realizing Your Potential Through Limitations, and Achieving Things You Didn’t Know Were Possible (Amazon, Bookshop).
I couldn’t wait to talk to David about happiness, habits, and productivity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
David: Everyday, I stand in front of the fogged up mirror after a shower and wipe away my self doubt. I call it “the mirror of self doubt.” We all have self doubt, but it’s purely a lens we put on our life. Wipe that away and create a new, more complementary lens that shines positivity.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I thought happiness was about people liking me. Being the big man on campus. Being validated. But what I learned was that loving others and truly caring for others can fill you with happiness, and not being so concerned with what others think or perceive of you. The people you surround yourself with can make all the difference…and it doesn’t hurt that I have an amazing badass wife who is always supportive of me.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
I have worked with more than 150 NBA players and the number one thing that surprised and intrigued me was how many of them struggle with confidence. They tend to base their happiness on their results (their stats) instead of who they are and what they stand for. This is understandable considering they are paid for their performance and athletic ability/stats. But, what many people don’t realize—or have trouble implementing—is that truly knowing what you stand for and who you are as a person is only going to make you perform better. By working with these players and helping them figure out their why, their results on the court improved as did their mentality. It’s one of the reasons I was able to help the Brooklyn Nets go from being 28th in the league to 2nd overall in 3 point shooting.
If you want a specific example: Jeremy Lin (“Linsanity”) was at the top of his game and took over the NBA and the world—he was trending online for weeks. Anyone watching would have thought he had it all; but, he was stuck in the “what ifs” and “what will people think of me” mindset. His happiness was stemming from his stats and results. After working together, many mini breakthroughs led to one big breakthrough where he felt connected to who he was as a person, (his self awareness) and his religious beliefs. I feel so proud for what he has accomplished.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I broke the unhealthy habit of getting stuck in my pain. By looking at painful situations as blessings, I was able to pivot from the pain and accelerate it into growth. And then it becomes a win-win: that pain can lead you to breakthroughs and you can also take those experiences to help others work through their pain and trauma.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I am a full blown Rebel!
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?
Yes. The constant want and drive to do more and be better at what I do. I often have to remind myself to be patient in the daily journey and to not get ahead of myself too often.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Oh yes I have! I was cut from a second division basketball team in Europe…it was basically a joke of a league team, and here I was living on my parents’ recliner chair with no money in a small town in Missouri. I was kicking back on my recliner chair while my mom was doing dishes, and she said “David, when one door closes, four more open and so does an entire beachfront patio overlooking the ocean.”
So in that moment I realized that it didn’t have to be about me pouring everything into getting into the NBA, but rather pouring all my passion and experience into helping and coaching other players get into the NBA and perfect their skills, mentally and physically. My lightning bolt was not about me but about helping others.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
I do “The Snap.” No matter how committed we are to growth, when we start our day, old patterns worm their way back in. So, whenever I find myself heading down the well-beaten path to mediocrity, I literally snap back. The power to snap yourself back is at your fingertips (literally!).
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
Yes—The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon (Amazon, Bookshop). It showed me how important it is to have positive growth-minded people in your corner.
In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?
The term self-help is BS. You can only truly help yourself by surrounding yourself with other great/growth-minded people. It’s not about introspection. It’s about Teamtrospection. It’s bigger than just you.