Book review (4): They call me Coach – John Wooden

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingWho can ask more of a man than giving all within his span? Giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from victory. – George Moriarty

This is the quote accompanying the first chapter is this wonderfully inspiring book about the life and time of late John Wooden, a man whose coaching career in university basketball is an awesome story – pure and simple.

What is more, the quote simply summarizes a basic philosophy of success which is a solid basis for any endeavor you may undertake in life.

In an honest, conversational tone this book discusses events and people from John Wooden’s career. His candidness lets his words travel to your heart and give you a glimpse of the great passion he had for the sport of basketball.

If you keep to busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.

A simple phrase, yet very true. Also in learning and educating yourself – there comes a time when learning the tricks to learning is over and you need to get down to it. No matter how much training in using your brain efficiently you receive, you will only graduate from university when you apply that training to your curriculum.

The great thing about this book is the metaphor of coaching basketball which can be applied to many aspects of life. In sharing his experience, with that his wisdom, with you, John Wooden shows you a possible direction you can steer your mind in which enables you to grow and be successful in a way which is fulfilling for you.

To me, the most inspiring aspect of this story, and I am cherry picking from many possibilities, is the chapter in which John Wooden discusses his definition of success.

To me it rings very true and requires a strong command of yourself to live up to. In the end, he says, only you can judge whether or not you were successful. Perhaps you may fool others, but deep inside you will always wonder wether you could have done more, done something different and perhaps changed the turn of events in your life. Only you will know.

The phrase at the start of this chapter summarizes it best, and it is a thought I want to leave you with.

Succes 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. 


The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingHave you ever wondered why talented athletes and top athletes – there is a difference – are brought together in training camps and competitions? Or why the national football competition in England, Spain or Brazil fosters good players?

In one of our favorite types of story, the protagonist must stretch herself beyond what she thinks she is capable of to defeat her ultimate match, the villain. In tennis, for example, you see a match between two players turn into a spectacle when with every decisive actions, the opponent rises to the challenge; creating an upward spiral where both players need to play at their best and a bit more to keep the edge.

Friends with benefits…

Besides your innate abilities and the opportunities you create to develop these, the places you go and people you surround yourself with determine, in part, how far you may go. That is why there are academies where top athletes can interact with people who think and work at the same level, with similar ambitions. This is an environment in which they thrive.

Is it the same where you study? Are you surrounded by students who share your ambition? If that is the case, you are lucky – the group’s momentum will carry you forward. When you are one of few with an ambition to study well, take care not to trade that ambition for the attitude the group has towards studying.

Being accepted is one thing, being accepted for who you are is another thing entirely.

Learning through modeling

One aspect of learning is that we can model behavior we see in others. In fact, much of your behavior is learned through imitation, of your parents, your friends, your teachers, your idols.

To change your level of performance in studying, model the behavior of students who are getting results you would care to emulate. This is why involving yourself with a peer group which shares your ambitions is helpful.

There is no right or wrong

This is not a matter of choosing friends because of their merits; you must make yourself aware of the fact that in your social life, you go where your friends go.

Finding a peer group who are dedicated to their studies at the same level or more than you are, gives you an insight into the choices they are making and helps you establish the ground rules for your academic accomplishments.


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The Myth of Procrastination Performers

The Student Achievement Program Learning Education StudyingYou may feel better throughout a study term. You may experience less stress early on in the semester. You may even go to many parties and do lots of fun stuff! And in the end, your performance suffers.

The Myth: “I perform better under pressure”

Perhaps for menial tasks you may claim this is true. Tasks that require complex learning and synergy of knowledge into a report or a modle are a different story all together. By putting of the task, you increase the pressure in a counter-productive way.

A crucial element of learning and performance is feedback. By saving all your effort for the last minute, you deny yourself feedback on your progress while you still have time to adjust your work.

Why would you do this? Perhaps you are in the fixed mindset, and you do not want to hear any negative comments on your work as to you this means you are incompetent. A great way to avoid feeling incompetent is by “ostrich-ing” your way to the deadline.

We know that feedback improves performance; in fact an assignment that is reviewed several times may only benefit and improve in quality. Also in learning, intermediate testing of the acquired knowledge is a sure fire method to improve performance on the final test.

Healthy pressure and mobilizing anxiety are great motivators, but procrastination is a bad habit that you have acquired over the years because your work ethic is off. You would rather be lazy than tired, live in the ideal that you can rather than in the reality that you can learn.

If you want to get results, stop putting things off. Open your mind to feedback on your work – actively seek it out. And when the feedback is not what you expect, you will know you are learning something and growing as a result. And that is a good thing – no matter what you do.

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Always look on the bright side of… your ability

Optimism. After another interesting read today, the old adage that the more you learn, the more questions you have rings true. Optimism is a wonderful thing; in fact, a recent assessment and training  I did on my emotional intelligence showed that I had greater than average level of optimism.

The first thing a dear colleague said to me when we discussed this was: “Be happy, imagine what it would be like when you see the world and its events for what they truly are.” There was, as there always is, truth in his advice. In fact, so much truth that I did not give his remark any more consideration until I read today’s article optimism and student performance.

If you do not want to be disappointed, do not expect anything. That is one way to go through life. A realistic view of life, or a pessimistic one – you decide which is which – will save you a lot of heartaches, discomfort and disappointment. When you expect to fail and you do, you psychologically win; being right is a great way to make yourself feel good.

Yet when you set a different expectation for yourself; one where you may need to perform at a level just beyond your current ability, do you win when you do not live up to your own expectations?

Did you get the question? Do you win when you do not live up to your own expectations? 

It depends on your frame of mind. When you are in the able or not mindset, then you probably think that you let yourself down. You tried, you reached and you failed.

Writing things like this has become a gut wrenching experience for me, because it is so fundamentally untrue it nearly hurts. There is no greater accomplishment in life than to try.

To try and fail makes you a winner, simply for going beyond your comfort zone and acting. To try and win makes you a winner, simply for going beyond your comfort zone and acting. They are both the same. The result is irrelevant; in fact all that matters is trying – because that is where growth is.

An optimist may say; “Hey, I tried, I failed, but at least I did it. Maybe next time I will succeed.” In fact, this optimist is more likely to try again. And again. And if we know anything about accomplishment, we know that trying eventually leads to mastery.

Whoaa there friend! Let me venture a guess at your thoughts. Trying the same thing over and over again wil not get you any different result. Very true. In fact, simply doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result is about as foolhardy as not trying at all. And it gets real tedious – real fast.

Rather, you can use your natural predisposition to learn from experience and alter what you are doing; to take a different approach to accomplish what you set out to do.

Think of it as training to run a ten kilometre run (6.3 miles). The first run you do, you don’t go for eight kilometres and see what happens. You are better of setting up a benchmark for yourself by testing your general condition; can I jog for thirty minutes straight?

This initial step may have no direct relation to the end goal; but it is a good starting point for your training. If the answer is yes, you can start a slightly intensified training. If the answer is no, you want to build your general condition over one or two weeks until you can break into a comfortable jog for thirty minutes before starting your running schedule. Knowing that you can go it for thirty minutes may give you just the kind of confidence you need to stick to your initial training schedule when it gets a bit tough.

In your studies, when you look at those humongous books you are required to plow through in university, you may consider that startin of with one chapter may be a big enough challenge. And seeing that you can master that first chapter, perhaps you will find the confidence to accumulate more knowledge – and make the connections.

When optimism fails you. If you are overtly optimistic, you may actually fall into something called the self-enhancement bias. This simply means that you overestimate your ability. I have found that the times I am so certain of my natural ability to make something work out, it always goes wrong. Yet when my reasoning is complemented with a healthy doubt, I make it work. Do you know the feeling?

Year in year out, I hear students say that they’ll be fine. They know what they are doing and they are going to be just fine. They did not get the results they wanted last term, but the courses were just so hard. And the professors lectures, to which they stopped going of course, were boring and uninformative. (If this sounds familiar to you – keep reading) But this term, the courses are completely up their alley; in fact, they used to be really good at similar courses in high school.

Usually, this conversation takes place after one (if he is lucky) or two terms in which the student has failed to manage himself appropriately, and failed miserably he has. But rather than look to himself for answers, he looks at the courses, the teachers and the system. Or, even more detrimental, he convinces himself he is not able. Yet his bright outlook on life colors his judgement to the extent that it impedes an appropriate response to this dire situation.

Optimism is perhaps one of life’s great paradoxes. It makes life easier and helps you overcome hardships without loosing yourself on the one hand. Yet on the other hand, it may cloud your judgement and keep you from actualizing your potential in the time you have.

A healthy balance between optimism about and reflection on facts will help you reach decisions. And as you look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Am I seeing myself as more than I am right now?” and your nose starts growing, dare to be brave and call yourself on your self deceit.

As for your ability to learn and grow, keep a rather optimistic view of that. It is in fact, truer than you realize.

Rely on yourself

What is one of the greatest lessons university teaches you? Self reliance.

Self reliance is worth pursuing in life. We have a great way of learning about self reliance in our educational institutions. While you are a student at university you may set your own schedule, follow your fits and fests, and decide what will be a fulfilling university experience for you. And you can make it on your own.

The confidence that whatever challenge life throws your way, you can handle. The confidence to size up a challenge, physical, intellectual, emotional, and take action in spite of doubt, fear or embarrassment. Because it is the right thing to do. For you. Because you can. And you know you can.

Self reliance means that you, independent of the good opinion of other people, make choices which influence the course of your life. This does not mean that you neither search nor heed good advice. No, but it does mean that you trust your own judgement.

The only way to learn self reliance is by making choices, taking decisions, following through and accepting the consequences. This is the only way you learn from what cloth you are cut. And this is the only way for you to understand which decisions and actions bring you closer to actualizing what you have deep inside you.

Bravely dare and make mistakes. Foolish is the one who does not try because of what others may think. Breaking through the barriers and failing terribly, in the public eye or in private are excellent ways to learn. Be daring, go out on a limb – who knows, the response you get might surprise you. But if you never try…

In a sense, the university is a playground. With so many experiences you may enjoy, so many avenues you may pursue, making choices becomes important. The feedback in this system is ruthless; if you make enough choices that do not move you forward through the system, you will end up paying the price.

That is why it is important that along the way, you make sure you reflect on the choices you made, and the results you got because of your choices. This way you can think over choices you may make in the future and based on your experience, take decisions which work to your advantage.

A pleasurable conundrum. As you want to learn self reliance, you must venture out and experiment. Yet venturing out and experimenting requires some measure of self reliance to begin with. So it comes down to a simple starting point: do you believe you are capable of growing and developing your self reliance? Do you trust yourself to learn from mistakes and enjoy both the good and the bad experiences in life without regrets?

Have a little faith in yourself. I know you can grow, if only you remain open to learning. And the best teacher in your life will be you yourself. Trust yourself, and self reliance will follow. And there is no better time to learn this than while you are at university.




Book Review (2): Anthony Robbins – Unlimited Power

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Tony Robbins

The beginning. I think this is a classic in the personal growth canon. And for me, it is the book that started me on this wonderful journey of exploring my deepest motivation and drive. Tony Robbins’ words in his book Unlimited Power, in his audioprograms Personal Power II and the Time of Your Life helped ne find resilience to adversity and hard times and inspired me to pursue my dreams and visions by building, shaping and honing my character. Therefore it seems good to start off this series of book reviews with this wonderful, original and insightful piece of writing from 1989.

This book was suggested to me by my housemate during my first year in university. He and I were both interested in personal development and he suggested I pick up Tony Robbins because he had found it insightful and entertaining. It was the first book I ordered online via the now famous Dutch webshop, and I have reviewed and re-read it several times since 2003.

Before this happened, I had seen Tony Robbins on the infomercials with his Personal Power program; and I had dismissed his program because of that first introduction. All though I was engaged by his charisma and charm, his did not seem like a program I would be interested in because it was sold, with a discount and a bonus CD, through television. But my housemate’s opinion gave me enough confidence to, with my reservations, pick up this book and give it a shot.

A good story. Not only is the content of this book worthwhile and useful, it is also wrapped in a good story. A very important lesson in life for me has been that stories are what bind people together; the story of where we came from, of how we met, of where we are going, or of what we accomplished together. I have, through my work, met few people who do not enjoy a good story.

Not only are stories entertaining, they hold valuable lessons. And from the first page Tony takes you along in his story and he shares the lessons he learned throughout his life, in what I believe is a very open and honest way.

(Re)defining Power. What Tony does quickly is help you redefine power, your personal power to take charge of your life and make it work for you. And from that point in the book I was hooked. Could it be that I was able to turn my life into a fantastic voyage? How? What need I do to make it so?

All though the lessons are there, in the pages, there is no substitue for the school of life. Taking the lesson’s in this book to heart helped be push forward through life and pursue an unconventional career – but an extremely fulfilling life of engagement and inspiration. The seeds were planted when I read this book, but they only came to bloom two years later, when I needed to get in motion. Badly. In a hurry.

The starting point. Tony’s programs always start with your beliefs. Pick any program and you will first get a good review of what goes on in your inner world; in your mind and how that effects what materializes in the outside world; in your reality.

And it is simply true. When you learn and become the master of your mind, your thoughts, your urges, your needs, your emotions, you see the tremendous effect the way your mind works has on your life.

He speaks of how you can choose to respond to events in your life. This book confronts you with your ability to reflect upon yourself, and your life, and if you read it in the spirit in which it was written, there is tremendous power in the lessons on choosing your responses. You grow simply by planting the seeds of these thoughts in your brain.

Physiology. Tony talks about your physiology and how it affects your day to day state. But what he also does is constantly give you a way to apply what he speaks of; immediately and with results.

The force of his writing does not come from the words he puts on paper, but the action these words inspire. And by taking action as you read, you quickly find yourself making the words and lessons your own.

A great read. When you read this book by Tony Robbins, look back at my blog and you will see that many of the lessons in his book are reflected in some way in the writing here, nearly ten years after I first read his book.

Perhaps mixed with new ideas, different experiences and novel research, the principal lessons I have tried to convey to students can be found in the core of Tony Robbins’ philosophy of life, achievement, success and power. It is a timeless one that holds value for anyone who wants to learn from him.

Imagination in Education

The Student Achievement Program Education Learning StudyingSupposedly the young man in the picture once stated that “Logic takes you from A to B, imagination takes you anywhere.”  His name was Albert Einstein.

It is not the ability to know, to store knowledge, which makes you an intelligent human being. Hard drives are described as many things, but rarely as intelligent. Their ever increasing capacity to store is both their strength and their weakness.

If you currently are using a sizable harddrive, you may share the experience that because of this tremendous amount of information stuck on there – gigabyte upon gigabyte –  organization and retrieval become gargantuan tasks.

Whether they are stored on your hard drive as files or held in your brain as memories, the ability to connect those pieces of information is key to your intelligence. The ability to tell one strawberry from ten strawberries is a simple task; the ability to measure out the number of strawberries needed to make jam is one which requires you to piece together information about a variety of different things; from the necessary ingredients to the steps in preparing the jam.

This is why I agree with Sir Ken Robinson when he says that creativity has slowly been pushed out of the school system; where as it should be the cornerstone of any education.

If you do not know that you can build a ship, a house or a table with a hammer, why should we even provide you with that hammer?  You understand that there is more to intelligence and creativity than simply the ability to put the tool of knowledge to good use. It is the ability to make mistakes, to learn from these mistakes and to keep moving forward with determination that you can and will, in some way, some day, make a contribution.

An artist may draw a hundred pictures, simply to capture what she pursues in a single stroke. But she must draw those hundred pictures, steadfastly and undeterred. It is the search, to the find, which matters. It is that search that gives meaning to your endeavor.

Every day you have a choice. You may wake in the morning and go through the same routine. But today, after you have read this post, perhaps you can take a different look to your breakfast, lunch or dinner. Add some strawberries, kiwis or mangos to the mix. To because you particularly like them, but because they are colorful and different. Who knows, it might taste horrible, but for every time it tastes poorly, you may well discover something that tastes real good!

Let your imagination get the better of you sometimes. Everything it needs is right there inside of you. All you need to do is give it some space.

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Setbacks and failures? Adapt and move forward!

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Any setback is a potential leap forward

Never give up. Any number of clichés apply to this topic – and yet it is crucial to any accomplishment, whatever field you choose to grow in. If we take a step back and take a look at the root of the matter, perhaps you can better place these clichés in context.

The starting point is your mindset or the identity you have created for yourself in this endeavor. An identity can be your frame of reference for accomplishment. Have you in your mind created the space to believe that you can experience, learn, adapt and grow? Does the identity you created for yourself as a student foster your belief that your ability is created by your efforts? This is the mindset that is extremely helpful in dealing with setbacks and failures. Why? Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Am I in control of my actions? Perhaps you are responsible for both your successes and failures. Obviously, reflecting on successes it is easy: it was all you. You did all the right things, in the right ways et voilá; success! Are you just as responsible for your failures? Did you do all the wrong things, in the wrong way and then get hit by failure? Or do you tell yourself this all is done to you, that it is too hard for you – that you have no control over these events and that the effort you put into this failure is pointless?

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Sisyphus was doomed to endure a pointless task

If the world is the way it is, and if you are the way you are, no matter how much effort you exert, you might find yourself caught in a Sisyphian predicament; where any effort you exert is pointless, as the world is the way it is – its events determined by a power beyond you.

Luckily you believe, that where you could, you did all the wrong things, in the wrong way, that you are responsible for the behavior leading  to your epic setback. And the logical conclusion to that train of thought is that if you change what you are doing, you can change the outcome.

Believing that you can shape yourself, through effort and learning, is a cornerstone to motivating yourself to discover your potential; in anything.

In another post we already saw that it is fair to conclude that putting in the effort will translate to academic results, when measured a certain way… In order to attain mastery, to learn something to the point where you can apply it and truly know it; that requires effort paired with the mental agility to overcome setbacks. And you overcome setbacks when you believe, when you know you can accomplish the task before you if you keep trying in. When this is your starting point, difficulty is something you experience as telling you the task is meaningful and worth the effort.

You could say that at any given point in time, your direct environment influences which identity you assume: the friend, the lover, the athlete, the social student, the dedicated student. Every identity you have, has a set of behaviors related to it. Subtle cues in your environment can influence which identity surfaces, and thus in which way you will behave.

You can adapt your behaviors. Over time, with effort and practice, you can change your behaviors today based on the what you think you need to do to accomplish your future goals. All it takes is your conviction that you are in control of your future. You can learn to apply these behaviors in different contexts.

Giving up in the face of setback is something you do not do if you want to accomplish anything you think is worthwhile. You take the setback as a lesson, learn from it and move on. But all of this you can only do if you have this solidly founded in your mindset: That you can learn, adapt and grow through your experiences in life, while working to accomplish the goals you have set yourself.

(P.S. the article this morning was a whopping 44 pages… That’s why the post only gets to you after lunch. Enjoy!)