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6 John Wooden Maxims To Improve Your Daily Life

6 John Wooden Maxims To Improve Your Daily Life

Seldom has a man been as magnanimous, as profuse with his insights into living with purpose, or as brimming with sharpened sagacity, than John Wooden. His salary hovered around $40,000 a year while coaching at UCLA, while winning an absurd 10 national championships in his 27 years of service. It was rare, almost non-existent, for him to desire accolades, fame, or the spotlight.

John Wooden, off the basketball court, was a voracious reader, prioritizing its inherent value constantly. Consequently, he could not contain himself, when it came to composing pithy aphorisms regarding the requisite tools to living a life imbued with purpose. Here are 6 maxims proffered by Wooden that his players, his fans, and anyone who has taken a slight notice of him, still recollect on and articulate, long after his death in 2010.

“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

Photo courtesy of YouTube, Andy Hill, author of “Be Quick- But Don’t Hurry”

For a larger, more comprehensive discourse on the weight of these 5 words, I’d reference a book written by one of John Wooden’s players, Andrew Hill, entitled “Be Quick – But Don’t Hurry! Find Success In the Teachings Of A Lifetime.”

Hill was of little notoriety, in terms of his basketball prowess, whilst under the tutelage of Wooden; but that should not suggest he wasn’t eager to be receptive to Wooden’s coaching. In the referenced book Hill authored, he retroactively comments on how much of Wooden’s instructions he had incorporated into his own private life. From marriage, to being a Father, to functioning in a high-level position at an entertainment firm, Hill writes eloquently about Wooden’s impact on him, even it was only realized belatedly, long after he had graduated from UCLA.

“Be quick, but don’t hurry,” like most of Wooden’s verbal offerings, is broad, and is thus generally applicable to almost an extant question within the threshold of life. How many of you have been caught in an unwieldy situation, engendering a tempest of ineluctable emotions? What happens to you, when your disposition degenerates upon the encounter of a high-pressure situation, with transgressive force? You inevitably lose your bearing and make avoidable mistakes and errors. You misapply yourself, under a thin veneer of productivity.

Slow down. Be quick, but do not become overwrought. Execute the action immediately before you with temperance and diligence. You’ll discover yourself acting in a much more positive, and ultimately effective mindset.

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Photo courtesy of YouTube, BILL WALTON Learn About Life From John Wooden, a Master Teacher

People do not always unequivocally put there best food forward. We all wander wayward, often tremulously, riddled with anxieties of every manifestation. Our exterior behavior is not, however, always an invocation of our interior character. Only you are aware of your latent moral system, the authentic geminations and offspring of your character. Others will judge you, sometimes negatively. Take solace in your own understanding of your identity. Courage is what counts.

Be at your best when your best is needed.”

Photo courtesy of YouTube, UCLA coach Jay Carty helped Kareem Abdul-Jabbar perfect the Skyhook

The aforementioned quote sits atop Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, beneath the character attribute of “competitive greatness.” There is not much to translate, it’s self-explanatory. Display your mettle, display your temerity, when it is required from you. Frankly promulgate your most positive conspicuous character traits when the context of greatness is most necessary. Those moments are rare, but your orientation toward them, how you react, will define you.

Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

Photo by Sammie Chaffin on Unsplash

Personally, I’ve experienced punctuations of pride when I’ve accomplished things, mistakenly believing they’d prophesy the future. It produced an unearned sense of hubris in me. But life is akin to a swiftly rocking pendulum; and when prior success transforms into the inevitable ignominy of failure, the velocity of the fall can be disorienting. How could this happen, we ask ourselves?  

But failure will happen, it is an invariable verity. Yet successes will still follow. Practice moderation when you win, and practice reflection when you lose. A rocking boat rarely makes it to harbor. Always ambulate forward with both temperance and audacity.

“Make each day your masterpiece.”

Photo courtesy of YouTube, Wooden’s Wisdom: Make Each Day Your Masterpiece

The lay interpretation of this quote would invoke embracing happiness, whenever happiness is possible. That, to me, is not the essence of this maxim’s meaning. Masterpieces are not works of art imbibed with a single, positively associated emotion. If the artist is prudent, his masterpiece will feature a multiplicity of emotions and persuasions illustrating accurately the tenor of the human experience. That includes joy, that includes sadness; that includes frustration, it includes elation; that includes regret, it includes gratitude.

The most important thing is that you reflect and learn from those emotions extant on your daily canvass, your own personal masterpiece. That could include an ongoing issue that’s inducing an especial amount of anxiety; or it could mean, in distinct contrast, appreciating the fountain of wonder that flows through you, as you observe the roses in bloom, two nightingales soliloquizing in the boscage, or the air drowsy with the murmur of bees.

However it manifests, make each day a masterpiece.

“Peace of mind is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did the very best of which you are capable of becoming.


If anything could properly encapsulate John Wooden, it would be this sentence.

Keep in mind, for instance, Wooden’s own biography. Wooden was born in Martinsville, Indiana, to a family of limited means. His Dad, who Wooden almost regarded as a saint, taught him to value the energy directed toward the fruition of an endeavor, over the ensuing outcome. Whatever Wooden deemed his personal “best” was, that was enough.

Wooden’s  consequent resume, as well as the players who matriculated into his program, are a similar marker that he applied his father’s advice conscientiously. 10 titles in 12 years, 7 of which were consecutive. An 88 game win streak that will likely never be broken. Wooden coached two of the greatest college basketball players of all-time: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. He married his high school sweetheart, Nell, after much persistence; and was faithful to her until the day he died.

Wooden’s advice should always be heeded. Fidelity to his words will invariably increase your character, your chances at success, as well as the quality of person you’re capable of becoming. Practice moderation, and practice love.