A Tribute to John Wooden

On June 4, 2010 the world lost one of the wisest, kindest, and inspirational people that has ever lived. John Wooden is considered by most to be the best college basketball coach of all time. He won 10 National Championships with UCLA over a 12 year span. He was the first person to be in the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Despite all of his impressive accomplishments, I don't care about those at all. The reason I am mourning the loss of John Wooden is that he was a profound thinker regarding self actualization and self improvement.

Entire books have been written by Coach Wooden and others about his philosophy and I would be at a loss to try to give an overview of everything he embodied. So, instead of trying to do that I'm going to share three of my favorite Wooden quotes.


"Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. They only true gift is a portion of thyself."

Material goods and gifts are trumped by sincere donation of time. I think John's love for coaching embodied the spirit of this quote. He put everything he had into developing the young men under his charge. Gifting a "portion of thyself" speaks to the importance of experiences instead of "things." Give yourself to your family, your spouse, or your friends; they will appreciate it more than anything you can buy them.

"Do not become too concerned about what others may think of you. Be very concerned about what you think of yourself."

This quote made me think of an article I wrote a long time ago about your most important relationship being with yourself. In my own coaching and in my own life I try to emphasize that the only things worth our attention are those that fall under our sphere of influence. If something cannot be affected by our actions, what use is it to worry about it? You can't change how others think so worrying about that is a waste of time, effort, and attention.

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

There will ALWAYS be more that you cannot do than you can do. If you let that freeze you into inaction, suddenly you aren't doing anything. For example, I am worthless with Photoshop and design but I tried to not let that prevent me from authoring and publishing an ebook. Sure, it wasn't the prettiest thing in the world and there is much room for improvement in that area, but at least I focused on what I could do; namely, write coherently about a topic I care deeply about. Instead of focusing on everything you cannot do, which of your strengths can you focus on? What do you do well that you can leverage?

Rest in peace, John Wooden. You were, and are, an inspiration to everyone.



"Bored" Is a Dirty Word

There is a certain five-letter word that I think might be the most offensive in the entire English language. It starts with a B and ends in ORED. I use it much more than I should and it's my own personal goal to never say it again.

Being bored is what happens when you live life unconsciously and passively. When you have no involvement on what is going on you will end up bored. However, the key to developing the autotelic personality that seems to derive pleasure out of every aspect of life is actively engaging with everything and anything. When you have cultivated the ability to engage with the very mundanity of life you will never have to use the horrible B-word again.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book, Flow, he tells the story of prisoners of war that faced terrible conditions and mind numbing isolation yet still remained engaged with their environment and even further developed their autotelic personalities. "They followed the blueprint of flow activities...they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances. Then they set goals appropriate to their precarious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received. Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves." Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes how one of his fellow prisoners mapped the world on the floor of his cell and then imagined himself traveling across Asia, Europe and America, covering a few kilometers each day. Other prisoners have sustained themselves by having poetry translation contests, doing gymnastics, playing chess mentally etc. According to Csikszentmihalyi,"When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces."

I'm guessing very few of you have spent time as a prisoner of war and the adversity you face pales in comparison to Alexander Solzhenitsyn or others who have spent time in prison. If they could find positive outlets for their psychic energy in such harsh conditions, what is stopping you? With all of the technology and connectedness that is available, what excuse is there to be bored? Being bored is a loss of consciousness; being bored is a loss of valuable time.

The next time you find yourself being bored, try one of the following activities or make up one of your own. The possibilities are truly endless.

  1. Pick a topic and dive into it: This article I wrote several months ago is a great place to start. There are an incredible number of websites that provide access to a huge amount of educational resources. Pick something you know very little about and dive into it. Start with a Wikipedia search to get a rough outline of the topic and links to resources at the end of the article. Before long you'll find yourself two hours deep into interesting research and being bored will be forgotten.
  2. Write (or record) a stream of consciousness piece: The key to making this work is not filtering your thoughts at all. Your fingers (or voice) should be the conduit for whatever rattles out of your consciousness. This can be a great way to analyze any hidden emotions or stress. I guarantee that if you do this correctly you will be surprised by at least one thing that comes out.
  3. Brainstorm something awesome: A year from today are you going to be grateful you started that awesome project? Where do you want to be or what do you want to be doing a year from now? Figure out the smallest of steps that will set you on that path and do it right now. You're future self will thank you.
  4. Practice mindfulness: If you're bored because you are doing some sort of mindless task, try truly focusing on it for awhile. Is there anything you can do to make it more tolerable or possibly take less time? Even if there isn't, use it as an opportunity to practice your mindfulness: your ability to be truly present.
  5. Savor the nothingness: Most of us live very hectic and busy lives. If you're bored because you suddenly have no commitments or a hole in your schedule learn to savor it. If it's generally pretty rare for you to have nothing to do then you should do everything you can to truly enjoy it. Not having any immediate responsibility while having the time to refocus is incredibly valuable.

What do you like to do when you're bored? Share some of your suggestions in the comments so I can add it to my list!



Three Reasons We Like Reading Common Sense Advice

Let's face it, a lot of what I write about (and Everett and Leo and Tim and Steve and Jeffrey) is common sense. In fact, there is very little written out there in the genre of personal development and simplicity that is truly groundbreaking material. Of course, sometimes I read something that feels like it is completely new but upon further reflection I can almost always categorize it under I-feel-like-I-knew-this-but-it's-nice-to-be-reminded. I'm not saying this to bring down the other writers I mentioned (or even myself). In fact, I think they are doing great things by taking those pieces of common sense and repackaging it into something that seems much less common. My point is to ask why it is that the basis of this field seems to be common sense and yet people still love reading about it?

  1. It gives us a sense of control: Reading something that you already knew, at some level, gives me a sense of control. Think about it, if you read or learn something that is completely separate from your experience and beyond your level of comprehension, you are unlikely to feel very good about it. The basis of learning is being able to tie new information to information we have already learned. Much of the "lifehack" literature is a rehash of our own experiences. We've all felt what it's like to be in "the zone," even if only for a few minutes. Almost all of us can remember a time we threw out a bunch of old stuff and felt better about it afterward. Common sense is within each of us and therefore is familiar.
  2. It is usually very easy to implement: Please note that I did not say it is easy to implement well or consistently. However, almost every piece of lifehack advice can be very easily implemented at least once. Check your email only twice per day? Sure, any of us can do that for a day. Reading advice that makes you think, "Well that doesn't seem too hard-- I can do that," can be very empowering. You can spend thirty minutes reading blogs like Zen Habits or Lifehacker and have a full list of things that you can immediately start doing without too much effort.
  3. It can create a huge change in the quality of our lives: Not only is the information at least vaguely familiar and easy to implement, it can create a huge change in our lives. If this point was not true then I doubt I would be writing this blog right now. If people are successful in implementing some of what they read in the personal development genre then chances are they have experienced a positive change in their life. That experience can become intoxicating and people embark on a search to find that next piece of lifehack advice that will give them the same "high" as before.

All three of these reasons for enjoying lifehack advice are not bad in their own right. The real problem comes when I begin thinking that reading about changing my life is the same thing as actually doing it. As long as I'm able to accept that reading about personal development can be valuable research and not actual development in itself, I don't see the harm in enjoying it. I know that I truly appreciate those that take the time to read what I have to say here but if this website ever became such a distraction as to keep them from applying what they read I would tell them to delete my RSS feed immediately.

Common sense is common. Applying common sense is very rare.