John Wooden was a master of success. He defined it as peace of mind.

Does Your Definition of Success Contain These Words? If Not, It Should.

10-time NCAA Champion Coach John Wooden Was Successful Because He Defined It Better Than Anyone.

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden (1910–2010) is one of the most successful college coaches of all time. His teams won 10 national championships, including seven in a row — a feat that will probably never be equaled, no other coach has managed to win more than two in a row since.

Yet, for all of his success on the court, Wooden never talked to his players about winning. Instead, he stressed the importance of character, teamwork, and self-discipline.

No teams practiced harder than Wooden’s. By the time the games came around, the team could play instinctually, having full confidence that their practice time would pay off.

Rafer Johnson, a member of the UCLA varsity team in 1958–59, and later winner of an Olympic Gold Medal in Decathlon, said, “On the first day of practice, Coach Wooden told us, ‘Don’t worry about whether you’re doing better than the next guy. Just give your best. That’s all I ask.’ I knew I could do that. He had given me a new definition of success.”

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” — John Wooden

Wooden understood success so well that he wrote several books on the subject and created his “pyramid of success” a visual pyramid containing all of the qualities he had learned to make anyone successful in anything.

I strongly encourage you to look up the pyramid of success and read each definition — it’s one of the best infographics for leaders ever developed.

Here is how Wooden himself, arguably one of the most successful people to have ever lived, defined success, “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

I love this definition for many reasons, but one is that it includes the words “peace of mind.”

I have met many people who the world thinks are successful, but once you spend some time with them behind closed doors you find that they have no peace of mind.

Many of them bought into this lie that if they ever allow themselves to be satisfied with their work they will lose their competitive edge.

This makes them too concerned with what others think. They become petty and resentful any time they feel their authority is being challenged.

Now if you’re a little cynical like I was when I first heard Wooden’s definition of success, you might be thinking: It’s easy for someone like John Wooden to say that success is self-satisfaction, he’s the most successful coach of all time.

However, Wooden took a very understated and humble approach towards his titles. He often said that he would have been just as happy coaching high school ball and that he didn’t think of himself as an exceptional game-day coach but a better teacher in practice.

At the very top of Wooden’s pyramid of success we’re the words “patience” and “faith.”

While John Wooden was a man of Christian principles, he could be tough as nails on his players when he needed to be.

There’s a great story about how Wooden responded to a player who got out of line.

It demonstrates the difference in a person who has found peace of mind versus someone chasing the wrong kind of success.

The angriest that players, fellow coaches, and fans had ever seen John Wooden on a basketball court occurred during the 1969 semifinal game where UCLA was playing Drake in Louisville, Kentucky.

Bill Sweek, the Bruin’s senior guard, had been benched early in the first half by Wooden for being too careless with the ball. Wooden would leave Sweek on the bench for most of the game.

Back then, Sweek had a reputation on the team as being a little cocky and a bit of a loose cannon. He had tested Wooden’s patience on several occasions during the season with his antics in practice and on road trips.

UCLA was trying to make it to their third national title and all of the players were feeling the pressure to perform.

Pressure can make people behave in strange and sometimes hostile ways.

Late in the game, when another UCLA player got into foul trouble, Wooden motioned for Sweek to check back in.

Sweek took his time walking to the scorer’s table causing Wooden, who paid attention to the body language of his players at all times, to take notice. “If you don’t want to play, come over here and sit down,” Wooden said to Sweek.

The headstrong Sweek lost his cool and walked off the court in a huff — trying unsuccessfully to get back into the team’s locker room.

Behind Sweek, Wooden was enraged. It took several assistant coaches to hold him back from going after his player.

The next day at practice, everyone expected Wooden to lay into Sweek — maybe even kick him off the team.

Instead, the coach called out to Sweek in front of the whole team, “None of us is too old to change. I’m going to try to understand you better from now on.”

Sweek was so shocked at Wooden’s introspective response that the player apologized for letting his coach down on the spot. Wooden quickly forgave him for his attitude during the game, and Wooden and Sweek shook hands in front of the rest of the relieved team.

Sweek played key minutes in the NCAA title game two nights later against Purdue, shooting 100% from the field, and the Bruins won their third national title by a score of 92–72.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor E. Frankl.

No one would have thought Wooden was wrong if he had kicked Sweek off the team for refusing to go in a game, but Wooden’s deeper understanding of success allowed him to see past the embarrassment of being walked away from in the middle of a game — to focus on the long-term health of his relationship with his player.

Wooden put himself in Sweek’s shoes and saw a young man who thought his individuality was being stifled by a strict coach who had too many rules.

Today, just like so many of Wooden’s former players, Sweek has grown to admire and defend the virtues of his wise former coach.

In dealing with Sweek, Wooden had used the teachings of positive psychology taught by Viennese psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, who wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Frankl had survived the Holocaust after spending months in a Nazi concentration camp and emerged to write several incredible books, the most popular being Man’s Search for Meaning.

Frankl’s own experiences had taught him that if someone could find meaning in their lives, this sense of meaning could help them overcome any circumstances — even something as painful and demoralizing as a Nazi death camp.

When you define success on your own terms, no one else can shake that sturdy foundation from underneath you.

Matthew McConaughey knows what it takes to be successful.

The academy-award winning actor and University of Texas “Minister of Culture” Matthew McConaughey has five things he measures every day to determine his level of success:

  1. Being a good father
  2. Being a good husband
  3. His overall health
  4. How his career is going
  5. The quality of his friendships.

He checks in with himself daily to see which area he thinks he is lacking in–and that is the area he puts his energy and action into to build it back up.

It’s a fluid system and a good reminder that you should never get so unbalanced in your priorities that other areas of your life die from lack of attention.

Like McConaughey’s checklist, your definition of success should be a measurement of things that are important to you in your life.

Don’t waste your time trying to fulfill someone else’s version of success in your life. And don’t jeopardize your own peace of mind to win the approval of others. That is the fast track to unhappiness as you’ll watch yourself turn into someone you don’t want to be.

A good way to develop your own success checklist is to make sure it covers these four bases:

  1. Physical-your health and wellness.
  2. Psychological-the health of your thoughts and mind.
  3. Social-the health of your relationships and how you relate to others.
  4. Spiritual-your sense of being and purpose.

When you start living a life that checks all of these boxes, you begin to view success as self-satisfaction and start to see possibilities in yourself that no one else can because only you know your true potential and understand what drives you.

Another one of John Wooden’s finest quotes is, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Character is what you really are. Reputation is what people say you are. Character is more important.”

People who learn to define success in a healthy way can do amazing things. They not only move forward in life, but they can end up inspiring an entire group to take action.

If you want to be successful, you have to first define what success means to you. Then, whatever that definition is, spend time doing the things that will get you there. Just make sure your definition is worthy of all that practice.




Writing as I live it. Creativity. Flow. Leadership. Peak Performance.

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Brendan Patrick Blowers

Brendan Patrick Blowers

Writing as I live it. Creativity. Flow. Leadership. Peak Performance.

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