35 Timeless Life Lessons & Quotes From John Wooden, The Greatest Coach Ever
john wooden quotes

35 Timeless Life Lessons & Quotes From John Wooden, The Greatest Coach Ever

John Wooden was a legendary basketball coach at the University of California, Los Angeles. During his last 12 years as a coach there, he won 10 championships, including seven in a row, and including an 88-game winning streak.

Some people say he was the greatest basketball coach ever. Some say he was the greatest coach in the 20th century. Others say he was the greatest coach of all time. Period.

John Wooden himself would not have bothered about such titles – that’ll get clear to you after reading some of his quotes below. He was much more concerned about the process, about putting in the work, about doing everything he could to become the best he could be. He was a truly inspiring man and a role model for me personally. Here are 35 timeless life lessons we can learn from him.

1. Learn Forever, Die Tomorrow

“Early on I came to believe that you should learn as if you were going to live forever, and live as if you were going to die tomorrow. What does this mean? In the simplest way, I would explain it like this.

Always be learning, acquiring knowledge, and seeking wisdom with a sense that you are immortal and that you will need much knowledge and wisdom for that long journey ahead. Know that when you are through learning, you are through.

But I want to live that life as if I were going to die tomorrow: with relish, immediacy, and the right priorities. I also will not waste even a minute.”

Such a simple way to live. First, learn as if you’re going to live forever. Acquire as much knowledge and wisdom as you possibly can. Get a little bit better every single day.

That’s what Charlie Munger, the great billionaire, is all about as well, “I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you. Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up”.

Second, live as if you’re going to die tomorrow. Give today all you’ve got. Put in all of your effort. Use yourself up fully. Have fun. Be enthusiastic about what you’re doing and have your priorities in order. Above all, do not waste even a minute.

2. Make Today A Masterpiece

“When I was teaching basketball, I urged my players to try their hardest to improve on that very day, to make that practice a masterpiece.

Too often we get distracted by what is outside our control. You can’t do anything about yesterday. The door to the past has been shut and the key thrown away. You can do nothing about tomorrow. It is yet to come. However, tomorrow is in large part determined by what you do today. So make today a masterpiece. You have control over that."

Everyone wants to have a great future – we want to be fulfilled, happy, rich, successful, etc. But most of us seem to forget a simple truth: The future is in large part determined by what we do today. The harder we work today, the better our future will be.

So if you want a great future, focus all your efforts on making today a masterpiece. Make today as perfect as you possibly can. Don’t waste time. Don’t hold yourself back. Make today count and throw everything you’ve got at it. That’s all you have control over. And that’s all you can do to increase the likelihood of experiencing a fulfilling future.

3. You Can Never Make Up for a Lost Day

“It begins by trying to make each day count and knowing you can never make up for a lost day. If a player appeared to be taking it easy in practice, I told him, ‘Don’t think you can make up for it by working twice as hard tomorrow. If you have it within your power to work twice as hard, why aren’t you doing it now?”

What are you waiting for? If you have more to give to this world, then why aren’t you doing it right now?

Remember what Coach Wooden said about living as if we’re going to die tomorrow? Most of us are living our lives as if we’re going to live forever. Someday we’ll get that job we’ve always wanted. Someday we’ll start exercising regularly. Someday we’ll start chasing our dreams. Someday we’ll do what we’re capable of doing…

Guess what?! Someday never comes. Right now is the time. Start living. If you have it within your power to work twice as hard, why aren’t you doing it? What are you waiting for? Life is short enough.

Reminds me of one of my all-time favorite quotes by the Sufi mystic Rumi, “Travelers, it is late. Life’s sun is going to set. During these brief days that you have strength, be quick and spare no effort of your wings.”

It’s late. Your life is going to end soon. So, as long as you’re alive and have strength, spare no effort of your wings. Don’t hold yourself back. Give us all you’ve got.

4. Always Keep Trying

“It’s important to keep trying to do what you think is right no matter how hard it is or how often you fail. You never stop trying. I’m still trying.”

This is a man who has achieved a great many things in his life. He was in his eighties when writing this book – and he was still trying.

Figure out what you think is right. Keep trying to make that happen.

5. Politeness and Courtesy

“You’ve heard the expression ‘Politeness and courtesy are a small price to pay for the goodwill of others.’ In fact, I’ve used it myself from time to time even though I don’t really agree with it.

Being polite and courteous isn’t paying a price any more than smiling or being happy is paying a price. You get more than you give when you are polite and courteous. You don’t pay. You are paid."

Many of us look at being a good person - kind, loving, respectful, polite, and courteous - as paying a price. “Why do I always have to be nice to people? Why do I have to be so polite all the time? Why should I care about the well-being of others?”

Being a good person takes effort. It’s hard at times. But at the end of the day, you don’t pay, you get paid. You’re always getting back more than you give. Even the research is backing this up. Acts of kindness, for example, are a proven way to improve your happiness while giving in general is a surefire way to become more successful.

You see, being a good person isn’t necessarily something we do for other people, it’s something we do for ourselves. We don’t need to expect anything in return. We’re getting paid well enough.

6. The Fundamental Goal in Life

“The goal in life is just the same as in basketball: make the effort to do the best you are capable of doing – in marriage, at your job, in the community, for your country. Make the effort to contribute in whatever way you can.

You may do it materially or with time, ideas, or work. Making the effort to contribute is what counts. The effort is what counts in everything.”

This is one of Coach Wooden’s fundamental principles. Life is about making the effort to do the best we are capable of doing. The effort is what counts in everything. Period.

Don’t worry about how smart you are, or how educated you are, whether you’re winning or losing, failing or succeeding. The one thing that counts is your effort. If you do the best you can do, then you have succeeded.

It’s like Gandhi used to say, "Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory."

7. Strive For Perfection

“Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts.”

We will never be perfect. We will make mistakes. We will fuck up things along the way. We will be miserable at times. We will be dickheads at times. We will lose our temper at times. We will hurt people at times. We are human beings after all, bound to suffer and bound to make mistakes. That is okay.

But no matter how imperfect we are, we can always try our best and do the best we can under the conditions that exist. Even though we can never reach perfection, everything other than striving for it would show a lack of effort.

8. Faults Are Fine

“I probably have all the same faults anyone has, and so do you. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having faults means you’re human; you’re alive and breathing. There’s nothing wrong with having faults so long as you work conscientiously to correct them.

How hard you work at correcting your faults reveals your character.”

None of us is perfect. We’re all struggling with our own personal flaws and shortcomings. That’s nothing to bother about, it’s human.

Character isn’t revealed by your faults, but by how hard you’re working at correcting them. The world doesn’t care about your struggles – it cares about your comeback, about how you succeeded in spite of those struggles.

Don’t cry and whine and bitch about your faults. Instead, focus all your effort into correcting them.

9. Worrying About a Thing Won’t Change It

“Does worrying about it, complaining about it, change it? Nope, it just wastes your time. And if you complain about it to other people, you’re also wasting their time. Nothing is gained by wasting all of that time.”

Worrying about a thing won’t change it. Complaining about it won’t either. These things are pointless, they just waste your time.

Now you may think, “I know that worrying isn’t helpful, but I can’t stop it. I don’t know how to turn it off.” I’m with you. Worrying isn’t something we’re usually doing on purpose. Most of us would love to stop, but we don’t know how.

Coach Wooden has an answer. He says it’s all about self-control. We need to catch ourselves worrying and then put our attention on something else – preferably the present.

“In the many years before we won a championship I overcame disappointment by not living in the past. To do better in the future you have to work on the ‘right now.’ Dwelling in the past prevents doing something in the present. Complaining, whining, making excuses just keeps you out of the present. That’s where self-control comes in. Self-control keeps you in the present. Strive to maintain self-control.”

Learning to control your attention - your ability to focus on what you want, when you want, and for however long you want – is one of the most important skills you can ever learn in life. The good news: It’s like a muscle. It grows with use.

10. The Doer Makes Mistakes

“The doer makes mistakes.”

Notice the period.

People who are trying to achieve things in life will inevitably make mistakes. Benjamin Franklin went broke before he rose to fame and fortune. Bill Gates’ first company failed. Henry Ford’s first car company failed miserably. Edison famously failed 10,000 times before he hit the jackpot. Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Sanders was rejected 1,009 (!) times before he got a `yes`.

Michael Jordan once said, “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

The doer makes mistakes. There’s no way around it. If you’re afraid of committing mistakes, then you deny yourself any chances of success. Think about it, fear of failure usually leads to inaction: If you’re afraid of making a mistake, then you will never do anything. To avoid failure therefore means to avoid success. It makes statistical sense, too. The more times you try, the more you will both fail and succeed. To fail more means to succeed more.

The doer makes mistakes. Get comfortable with it.

11. Hard Work Is the Difference. Very Hard Work.

“Many athletes have tremendous God-given gifts, but they don’t focus on the development of those gifts. Who are these individuals? You’ve never heard of them – and you never will. It’s true in sports and it’s true everywhere in life. Hard work is the difference. Very hard work.”

Angela Duckworth, a leading scientist in the field of personal achievement, talks about the myth of “the natural” in her book Grit. She admits that people like Elon Musk, Roger Federer, Mozart, Lebron James, and other high achievers were likely born with some genetic advantages – aka talent. However, just like Coach Wooden suggests, talent alone is not nearly enough to succeed. The difference lies in hard work. Very hard work.

Duckworth’s theory of achievement consists of two equations. 1) Talent multiplied by effort yields skill. 2) Skill multiplied by effort yields achievement. In other words, effort counts twice. It helps you in building up your skill and then, a bit later down the road, in turning that skill into achievement. Effort makes the difference.

The world of Hollywood stars and professional athletes of full of such examples. Will Smith, the Hollywood actor, said in an online interview, “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping, I’m working. While the other guys’ eating, I’m working.”

He goes on, “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me. You might be all of those things. You got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.”

Kobe Bryant once said, “I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.“

Hard work is the difference. Very hard work.

12. Agree to Disagree, But Don’t Be Disagreeable.

“We can agree to disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable.”

You can disagree with people. But you don’t have to be a dick about it.

13. Stop Looking for Shortcuts.

“If you spend too much time learning the tricks of the trade, you may not learn the trade. There are no shortcuts. If you’re working on finding a short cut, the easy way, you’re not working hard enough on the fundamentals. You may get away with it for a spell, but there is no substitute for the basics. And the first basic is good, old-fashioned hard work.”

Are you looking for the shortcut, the quick fix, the secret formula, the magic bullet? In other words, are you spending too much time learning the tricks of the trade, instead of the trade itself?

Newsflash: You’ll never become a millionaire by spending a couple hours a day on the Internet. You’ll never rub 15 years off yourself with some anti-aging cream. You’ll never lose 20 pounds in 5 days. You’ll never fix your love life with a pill (blue or otherwise). You’ll never find lasting happiness or success by following some sort of get-successful-overnight scheme.

Stop looking for the shortcuts. Focus on the fundamentals instead. Start putting in the work, the good, old-fashioned hard work.

14. Slow and Steady Gets You Ready

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens—and when it happens, it lasts.”

This principle of making small incremental improvements over a long period is sometimes called the slight edge or the compound effect.

It’s all about doubling down on the fundamentals and making tiny gains on a daily basis. Not focusing on big leaps, but just getting a little bit better every single day. That’s a surprisingly powerful recipe for success.

Darren Hardy, former publisher of SUCCESS magazine, puts it this way, “I want you to know in your bones that your only path to success is through a continuum of mundane, unsexy, unexciting, and sometimes difficult daily disciplines compounded over time.”

Meditating every day. Eating healthy every day. Moving your body every day. Reading a little bit every day. Working on getting better every day. Not watching TV. All of these activities sound incredibly mundane, unexciting, and unsexy. Yet they make the difference between success and failure.

Jeff Olsen, author of The Slight Edge, explains, “The things that take you out of failure and up toward survival and success are simple. So simple, in fact, that it’s easy to overlook them. Extremely easy to overlook them. It’s easy to overlook them because when you look at them, they seem insignificant. They’re not big, sweeping things that take huge effort. They’re not heroic or dramatic. Mostly they’re just little things you do every day and that nobody else even notices. They are things that are so simple to do—yet successful people actually do them, while unsuccessful people only look at them and don’t take action.

Be patient. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time.

15. Turning Enemies Into Friends

“Toward the end of the Civil War, reparations were being discussed in the White House. Abraham Lincoln was told by one of his advisors who favored punishing the South, ‘Mr. President, you’re supposed to destroy your enemies, not make friends of them!’

Mr. Lincoln replied, ‘Am I not destroying an enemy when I make a friend of him?’ He understood the tremendous force of friendship. Friendship includes others and adds strength to your foundation.”

The normal way to destroy your enemies: Kill them, steal their money, deprive them of power, make them suffer, or take them as slaves.

The Abraham Lincoln way of destroying your enemies: Make them your friends.

16. Be Persistent. Be Determined. Be Tenacious.

“The road to real achievement takes time, a long time, but you do not give up. You may have setbacks. You may have to start over. You may have to change your method. You may have to go around, or over, or under. You may have to back up and get another start. But you do not quit. You stay the course. To do that, you must have intentness.

Here’s a little example of what I mean. In 1958 I began coaching basketball at UCLA. Each hour of practice we worked very hard. Each day we worked very hard. Each week we worked very hard. Each season we worked very hard. For fourteen years we worked very hard and didn’t win a national championship. However, a national championship was won in the fifteenth year. Another in the sixteenth. And eight more in the following ten years.

Be persistent. Be determined. Be tenacious. Be completely determined to reach your goal. That’s intentness. If you stay intent and your ability warrants it, you will eventually reach the top of the mountain.”

Almost everyone can name the man who invented the light bulb. Thomas Edison was one of the most successful innovators in American history. He’s not only famous for inventing the light bulb, but he’s almost equally as famous for failing over 10,000 times before making the light bulb work successfully. Edison himself put it this way, “I have not failed 10,000 times — I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

That’s persistence, and intentness, and determination, and tenaciousness. And that’s what brings success.

Napoleon Hill, the father of personal development, once wrote that persistence is like an insurance against failure, “Those who have cultivated the HABIT of persistence seem to enjoy insurance against failure. No matter how many times they are defeated, they finally arrive up toward the top of the ladder.”

It reminds me of a story I read about Jerry Weintraub a while back. He was a guy who represented, promoted, or worked with hundreds of singers, bands, actors, directors, and writers over the last five decades. The long, long list of the singers and bands he has promoted includes Bob Dylan, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Aerosmith, and Led Zeppelin. Oh yeah, he also produced 22 films including the Ocean's Trilogy (Ocean's Eleven/Ocean's Twelve/Ocean's Thirteen) that has grossed more than 1.1 billion dollars.

In 1962, at age 25, Jerry Weintraub decided that he wanted to take Elvis Presley, then the biggest star in the world, on tour across America. He called Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, every day to ask if he could take Elvis on tour. Every day the Colonel told him `no`, but Weintraub persisted and called and called and called for every single day for about a year until unexpectedly one day the Colonel called him back and asked him, "Do you still want to take my boy Elvis Presley on the road?" Jerry Weintraub agreed and managed to take Elvis Presley on tour.

17. Drink Deeply from Good Books

“Poetry, biographies, and all the other great books will greatly enrich your life. There are so many that are so good, and they are all available to you.”

Like so many great people, Coach Wooden was a lover of books.

Quick lesson: Read more books.

18. The Greatest Joy

“Happiness is in many things. It’s in love. It’s in sharing. But most of all, it’s in being at peace with yourself knowing that you are making the effort, the full effort, to do what is right.”

So this is an 80-something year old who has, by all standards, achieved great success in life. He’s been named the greatest coach ever. He’s made a fair share of money. He’s somewhat famous. And he’s literally been one of the most successful coaches of all time.

Yet he says that the greatest joy in life is making the effort to do what is right. It’s not about money, fame, power, or whatever. It’s about doing what is right. It’s about living with integrity to your ideals and values.

Let that be your definition of success: doing what is right and living according to your values. It’s like Albert Einstein said: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

19. A Successful Journey Is the Destination

“You know where you’d like to go, whether it’s to a national championship in basketball or a particular goal in your business or life. You must also realize that this goal will be simply a by-product of all the hard work and good thinking you do along the way – your preparation. The preparation is where success is truly found.

Set your compass in a chosen direction and then focus your attention and efforts completely on the journey of preparation. A successful journey is where your real accomplishment lies.”

This comes back to one of Coach Wooden’s key principles: Focus on the process and judge yourself on effort. Don’t worry so much about winning that championship or reaching that goal. Instead, focus on doing everything you can to get there – a successful journey is where true success lies.

In the book, Coach Wooden explains that by his measures of success, they were just as successful in years they didn’t win the championship as in years they did. You see, he didn’t judge success on winning the championship, he judged success on the preparation, on the journey to get there. If they did everything they could during the preparation, then they were a success – whether they won the championship or not.

“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort? That’s what matters. The rest of it just gets in the way.”

20. The Struggle for a Noble Cause

“In classic times, the courageous struggle for a noble cause was considered success in itself. Sadly, that ideal has been forgotten. But it is well worth remembering.”

Are you trying to make the world a better place? Are you constantly working on yourself, trying to get a little bit better every day? If so, count yourself a success. And keep going.

21. Sweat the Small Stuff

“I believe in the basics: attention to, and perfection of, tiny details that might be commonly overlooked. They may seem trivial, perhaps even laughable to those who don’t understand, but they aren’t. They are fundamental to your progress in basketball, business, and life. They are the difference between champions and near champions.

For example, at the first squad meeting each season, held two weeks before our first actual practice, I personally demonstrated how I wanted players to put on their socks each and every time: Carefully roll the socks down over the toes, ball of the foot, arch and around the heel, then pull the sock up snug so there will be no wrinkles of any kind.”

So some of the best basketball players in the world came to UCLA to play under Coach Wooden. What’s the first thing they’re taught? Before even getting on the court? How to put on their socks.

Why did that matter? Because not putting on the socks properly could mean blisters. Which could mean sub-optimal practice. Which could mean sub-optimal performance during a game. Which could mean no championship for UCLA this year.

You see, Coach Wooden understood that, in life, everything counts. No matter how small or insignificant it seems. You may think eating that cookie once in a while doesn’t make a difference. You may think skipping a day of meditation doesn’t matter. You may think reading some gossip here and there doesn’t count. You may think hitting the snooze button once in a while doesn’t matter.

Well, you’re wrong. Everything in life counts. Every thought you think. Every action you take. Every move you make. Everything either moves you closer to the accomplishment of your dreams or moves you further away.

Details matter. They are the difference between champions and near champions.

“It all began with attention to, and perfection of, details. Details. Details. Develop a love for details. They usually accompany success.”
“When you see a successful individual, a champion, a “winner,” you can be very sure that you are looking at an individual who pays great attention to the perfection of minor details.”

22. You’re Not Better, But Just as Good as Everyone Else

“A favorite observation of my dad’s was the following: ‘Never believe you’re better than anybody else, but remember that you’re just as good as everybody else.’ That’s important: No better, but just as good!”

Always keep that in mind: You’re not better than anybody else. But you’re just as good.

23. Focus on What You Can Control. Forget About the Rest.

“I never dreamed about winning a national championship. It happened before I even thought it was possible. What I was dreaming about each year, if you want to call it that, was trying to produce the best basketball team we could be. My thoughts were directed toward preparation, our journey, not the results of the effort (such as winning national championships). That would simply have shifted my attention to the wrong area, hoping for something out of my control. Hoping doesn’t make it happen.”

Step 1: Focus on what you can control: Your effort, your preparation, your journey. Whatever you want to call it. Make sure you do the best you can under any given circumstances.

Step 2: Forget about everything else. Forget about the outcome. Forget about what other people think. Forget about the laurels. Forget about praise (or criticism).

Did I win? Did I lose? Remember, those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did you make your best effort? That’s what’s under your control. The rest just gets in the way. It’s like Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher, used to say, "Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens."

If you win, great. If you lose, great. Take it as it happens and move on from there.

24. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People

“It’s simple. Don’t compare yourself to somebody else, especially materially. If I’m worrying about the other guy and what he’s doing, about what he’s making, about all the attention he’s getting, I’m not going to be able to do what I’m capable of doing. It’s a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable.”

Are you often comparing yourself to other people? What a waste of time. Not only will that detract you from doing the best you’re capable of doing, but it will also make you more insecure, vulnerable, threatened, and plain unhappy – as happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in her book The How of Happiness: “You can’t be envious and happy at the same time. People who pay too much attention to social comparisons find themselves chronically vulnerable, threatened, and insecure.” And: “The happier the person, the less attention she pays to how others around her are doing.”

Comparing yourself to other people is like comparing apples to peaches. They are two separate things. Sadhguru, an Indian mystic, puts it beautifully: “If you look at a mango tree and a coconut tree, and your idea of being better is being tall, then what you will do with the mango tree is you chop off all the branches except the highest one, hoping that it will grow. It is never going to be a coconut tree – it is only going to be a crippled mango tree. This is what has happened to most human beings. They have become crippled because they are trying to be better than someone else.”

If you’re a Mango tree, what’s the point of comparing yourself to a coconut tree? If you’re building a Ford, what’s the point of comparing it to a Mercedes?

“Let’s say I want to build a car – maybe a Ford or a Chevrolet or a Plymouth. I want to build it the best I can possibly build it. Will it be better than a Cadillac or a Mercedes? That’s irrelevant.

If I’m building a Ford, I simply want to build the very best Ford I can build. That’s all I can do: to come close to my level of competency, not somebody else’s. I have nothing to do with theirs, only mine.”

Focus on becoming the best version of yourself, not a crippled version of someone else.

25. Envy, Jealousy, and Anger

“Envy, jealousy, and criticism can become cancerous. They hurt the person who feels them rather than the person they’re directed toward.”

The Buddha supposedly said, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." And someone else once compared holding a grudge to eating rat poison and thinking the rat will die.

The point is, emotions like envy, jealousy, or anger don’t hurt the person they’re directed to. They hurt the person who feels them.

Learn to let go of such emotions.

26. Choke?

“I think that is the tendency of people who choke under pressure. They’re thinking about living up to the expectations of everybody else instead of just doing their job the best they can.”

Next time you have an important game, presentation, or test, don’t worry about living up to other people’s expectations – that’s a surefire way to choke. Instead, focus on doing your job as best you can. That’ll relieve the pressure.

27. Don’t Let Criticism and Praise Affect You

“’Your strength as an individual depends on how you respond to both criticism and praise. If you let either one have any special effect on you, it’s going to hurt us. Whether it’s criticism or praise, deserved or undeserved, makes no difference. If we let it affect us, it hurts us.’

It goes back to what my dad used to say. ‘If you get caught up in things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect those things over which you have control.’ You have little control over what criticism or praise outsiders send your way. Take it all with a grain of salt. Let your opponent get all caught up in other people’s opinions. But don’t you do it.”

Do you enjoy it when other people tell you how to feel? Of course not. But it’s actually exactly what happens when you take praise or criticism too seriously. Think about it. If you ever let yourself feel good when people praise you, you are preparing yourself to feel bad when they criticize you. That’s called being a puppet - getting played by events and people around you.

Next time you’re being criticized or praised, remember that you’re not a puppet. Take it with a grain of salt. Don’t let it affect you.

28. Adversity = Opportunity

“Adversity often produces the unexpected opportunity. Look for it. Appreciate and utilize it. This is difficult to do if you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you’re faced with adversity.”

Most people have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder. But did you know that the opposite also exists? It’s called post-traumatic growth – the phenomenon of people becoming stronger after a tragedy or trauma. They don’t just bounce back, but they bounce higher than they were before.

It’s like Napoleon Hill says, "Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit." The problem is, we won’t see this equal or greater benefit and we won’t experience post-adversity-growth if we’re feeling sorry for ourselves.

Next time you’re facing adversity, buckle up and look for the opportunity. Make sure you use it as fuel for growth, not as a reason to quit or wallow in self-pity.

29. Want Peace of Mind?

“I believe one of the big lessons of sports for dedicated individuals and teams is that it shows us how hard work, and I mean hard work, does pay dividends. The dividend is not necessarily in outscoring an opponent. The guaranteed dividend is the complete peace of mind gained in knowing you did everything within your power, physically, mentally, and emotionally, to bring forth your full potential.

I see the same self-satisfaction occurring in every area of our lives when we strive mightily to do our best, whether it’s working in a business or community or raising a family. The great satisfaction that comes from trying to do your best is the guaranteed dividend.”

Hard work always pays dividends. You may not become rich, famous, wealthy, or otherwise successful. But you’ll get peace of mind, which, in Wooden’s eyes, is true success:

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

30. 110 Percent Isn’t the Goal

“The players were charged with trying to improve a little each day, trying to get closer to becoming their best. I tried to be honest with them in letting them know they wouldn’t reach perfection. But I was also honest in saying that I expected them to give everything they had in trying to reach perfection. That’s what we worked toward. Let’s see how close we can get. We won’t reach 120 percent, or 110 percent, but how close to 100 percent of our potential can we get? That was my challenge to them: how close can we get to perfect?”

How close can you get to reaching 100 percent of YOUR potential?

“No one is an overachiever. How can you rise above your level of competency? We’re all underachievers to different degrees. You may hear someone say that a certain individual ‘gave 110 percent.’ How can that be? You can only give what you have, and you have only 100 percent.

I preferred to judge individuals on the basis of how close they came to giving 100 percent, knowing they would never reach perfection, but perhaps they would operate near their level of competency when their greatest skill was needed.”

31. Strive to Maintain Self-Control

“In the many years before we won a championship I overcame disappointment by not living in the past. To do better in the future you have to work on the ‘right now.’ Dwelling in the past prevents doing something in the present.

Complaining, whining, making excuses just keeps you out of the present. That’s where self-control comes in. Self-control keeps you in the present. Strive to maintain self-control.”

Self-control is about more than getting up early in the morning and taking a cold shower. It’s about controlling your mind, keeping it in the present moment, and making it free from anger, self-pity, envy, jealousy, etc.

If you complain, whine, or bitch a lot. If you compare yourself to other people. If you get affected by praise or criticism. If you’re not the master of your mind… Know that you have work to do on your self-control. (We all have)

It’s Rumi who once said, “The intelligent desire self-control; children want candy.”

32. Count Your Blessings

“So often we fail to acknowledge what we have because we’re so concerned about what we want. We fail to give real thanks for the many blessings for which we did nothing: our life itself, the flowers, the trees, our family and friends.”

Hows your gratitude muscle doing?

Remember, being grateful is one of the best things you can do for your health and happiness. Robert Emmons, a leading researcher in the field, sums up the benefits like this: “Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.” And: “We have discovered that a person who experiences gratitude is able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, may show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and may recover more quickly from illness and benefit from greater physical health. Our research has led us to conclude that experiencing gratitude leads to increased feelings of connectedness, improved relationships, and even altruism.”

33. Help Others

“Oh, the great joy there is in helping others, perhaps the greatest joy! You cannot have a perfect day without helping others with no thought of getting something in return.”

Helping others. A surefire way to success and happiness.

34. Improve the Team by Improving Yourself

“The best way to improve the team is to improve ourselves.”

How often do you hear people complain about the president? He should have never passed that law. He should really do something against illegal immigration. He should protect our climate. He should this and that and blah blah.

If you want to change the world, start by changing yourself. For the best way to improve the world is to improve yourself.

Joseph Campbell said it best, “We're not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

Mother Theresa put it like this, “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.”

35. A Definition of Success

“I finally coined my definition [of success] in 1934: Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

Furthermore, only one person can ultimately judge the level of your success—you. Think about that for a moment.

I believe that is what true success is. Anything stemming from that success is simply a by-product, whether it be the score, the trophy, a national championship, fame, or fortune. They are all by-products of success rather than success itself, indicators that you perhaps succeeded in the more important contest.

The real contest, of course, is striving to reach your personal best, and that is totally under your control. When you achieve that, you have achieved success. Period! You are a winner and only you fully know if you won.”

If you are striving to become the best version of yourself, you are a success.

Money, fame, power, wealth, championships are only by-products. This goes hand in hand with what Warren Buffett says, “Making money isn't the backbone of our guiding purpose; making money is the by-product of our guiding purpose. If you're doing something you love, you're more likely to put your all into it, and that generally equates to making money.”

“Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Over To You

Coach Wooden is one of my all-time greatest role models. I never met him or anything like that, but the wisdom he shared in those quotes is just mind-blowing to me. I hope you've found them as impactful as I did.

Please let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed those tips. Which one was your favorite? And thanks for reading.

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Nils Salzgeber

Nils Salzgeber is the author of two books and co-founder of the popular NJlifehacks blog. He is passionate about anything that helps him become a more peaceful, productive, and loving version of himself. After quitting university twice, he has recently gone back to get a psychology degree. Nils lives in Thun, Switzerland.

  • Abdul Abbasi says:

    The content you guys share is top notch.

  • Malcolm Bromley says:

    Thank you Nils …stunning advice from a very wise and great human being and still so relevant ! I also enjoyed and appreciated your additional thoughts and comments.

  • Abraham k tesfay says:

    Nils is a wonderful and help person. I wish him and pray for his success, health and happy life.

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