Advice That Changed Your Life

john-wooden3lr-2When it comes to developing our talents, we all hear a lot of good advice. In fact, there’s never been a moment in the history of the world when we’ve had such an incredible bounty of good advice – a teeming ocean of it, provided by teachers, coaches, parents, the Internet.

For example, pick up a golf magazine. Each page brims with dozens of perfectly sound, smart tips; it’s a cornucopia of good advice. But does all that good advice actually make you better? (Judging by the historical average of golf scores, the answer is a resounding no.) It’s the same with other sports, music, art, math, business, you name it.

This surplus creates a uniquely modern problem: with good advice so plentiful, how do you know when you’ve located truly great advice – the rare, powerful ideas that really matter?  How do you know when you’ve found advice that might change your life?

For instance, here’s one of the the greatest pieces of advice I’ve heard. It’s from the late John Wooden, and it goes like this: You haven’t taught until they’ve learned.

That’s it.

You haven’t taught…until they’ve learned.

I know what you’re thinking. Because I thought it when I read it for the first time a few years back. My thought was, no kidding, dude.

But then one day shortly afterward I was coaching my Little League team, trying to teach them to field grounders. I was, as usual, putting my attention into my coaching – saying the correct words, showing them the correct form – and presuming if they picked it up, that was their responsibility.

Wooden’s words hit me like an avalanche.  I wasn’t really coaching, because they hadn’t learned it yet. I wasn’t teaching, I was just talking. And no matter how wisely I talked, no matter how brilliantly the drills were designed, it didn’t matter until they actually learned it. That was the only yardstick.

His advice showed me that it really wasn’t about me at all—it was 100 percent about them, about doing whatever it takes to create a situation where they learned. It seems strange to say now, but that was a titanic realization, and I still find myself thinking about it a lot.

I think this kind of advice–truly great advice–tends to follow a distinctive pattern.

  • It seems super-obvious at first, then gets deeper as you live with it.
  • It expresses a basic scientific truth about learning.
  • It jolts your perspective and leaves you somewhere new.

And so here’s the next step: I think it would be good and useful to start to gather some of these jewels of great advice in one place. Namely here, on this blog.

What’s the single greatest piece of advice you’ve ever heard? What’s the one that changed your life? It could be anything – something you heard or read or saw – all that matters is that it works for you.

You can write them in the comments section below, or email them to me at and I’ll start a master list to use and share.

To get things going, here are a few gathered from a peanut gallery of friends:

–Practice on the days that you eat

–If you want to get better, double your failure rate

–Do one thing every day that scares you

PS – Does anybody know of someone who could use Spanish-language copies of The Talent Code — or, as it’s titled,  El Código de Talento?  I’ve got a couple dozen, and would be happy to send them to a good home. Bueno.

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