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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59 Responses to “Advice That Changed Your Life”

  1. Markus says:

    “Practice the way that you feel uncomfortable”

    “Act inspite of fear”

  2. Bob Armour says:

    The best piece of advice I ever heard was from an old boss of mine. We’d been working on an initiative that just wasn’t coming together. He said, “Do you know the best thing about banging your head against a wall? It feels so good when you stop.”

  3. Jimmy Parker says:

    “You reap what you sow.” You can build quite a fulfilling life by living just that one principle.

  4. Tates Locke says:


    Here are a list of quotes by both Bob Knight and John Wooden. Half come from Knight, and the other half from Wooden (the quotes in the plain text are from one coach, and those in bold and italics are from the other. The quote at the bottom in plain text will tell you which is which). See if you can guess which quotes belong to Knight:

    “Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one.”

    “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

    “The will to succeed is important, but what’s more important is the will to prepare.”

    “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

    “Everybody hears, but few listen.”

    “I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”

    “You don’t play against opponents, you play against the game of basketball.”

    “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

    “I don’t have to wait until the next morning to regret something I did that was kind of dumb.”

    “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

    “All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things.”

    Or, for those of you still confused, here is another from our plain text coach, “When my time on earth is gone, and my activities here are passed, I want they bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass!”

  5. Tates Locke says:

    also from, a parable:

    “An old Chinese farmer lost his best stallion one day and his neighbor came around to express his regrets, but the farmer just said, ‘Who knows what is good and what is bad.’ The next day the stallion returned bringing with him 3 wild mares. The neighbor rushed back to celebrate with the farmer, but the old farmer simply said, ‘Who knows what is good and what is bad.’ The following day, the farmer’s son fell from one of the wild mares while trying to break her in and broke his arm and injured his leg. The neighbor came by to check on the son and give his condolences, but the old farmer just said, ‘Who knows what is good and what is bad.’ The next day the army came to the farm to conscript the farmer’s son for the war, but found him invalid and left him with his father. The neighbor thought to himself, ‘Who knows what is good and what is bad.’”

  6. Chris Frank says:

    “Every time you think some person or some unfairness is ruining your life, it is you who are ruining your life.” -Charles Munger

  7. Alex Dunphy says:

    You have to earn the right to be proud and confident. -Coach John Wooden

  8. Paul Clarke says:

    1. “Every day is a school day”…there is ample opportunity out there to learn something new every single day
    2. “Strive for excellence, not success”….focus on the process not the outcome
    3. “Don’t just stand there, do something” (from Dick Dastardly!!)….Be a doer, not a talker.

  9. Chadswims says:

    KISS – Keep it simple, stupid!!

  10. Jorge says:

    “Do one thing every day that scares you” –> “Haz todos los días algo que te asuste” Great piece of advice.

    I would love to have one of those Spanish-language copies if only so I could have a personalized copy of your book (actually is so I can forge your signature, bwhahahha – j/k :D).

    Blast from the past:

  11. brian says:

    “The answer is practice, what is the question? (sign on guitar player/instructor David Mead’s practice room wall…..

  12. mike cambre says:

    I’m sure I did not make the first two up I have been saying #3 so long I convinced myself I did 1)get better…not bitter 2) Those say that it can’t be done get out of the way of those that do 3) Take a deep breath..relax..and enjoy the journey I really enjoy your stuff…Thanks…Mike

  13. Aaron says:

    Two of my favorite pieces of advice: readers are leaders- take at least a half hour a day and read something that challenges the way you think. And a corollary to that: reading entertains but application rewards.

  14. Perhaps the most impactful advice I’ve ever been given was off the t-shirt of pianist Leon Fleisher: “Subvert the dominant paradigm”

    I have continued to stumble across this message in the many years since, e.g. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” -George Bernard Shaw

    To me, much of Seth Godin’s writing reflect these ideas as well, from The Dip to Purple Cow to Linchpin.

  15. Dale says:

    Good article and some good comments. My favorite advice was, “Pick one.” When the alternatives are similar enough to each other that you can’t decide, just pick one and get on with it.

  16. Dale says:

    BTW, thanks for the recommendation of Fires in the Mind. I just read it and it is excellent.

  17. djcoyle says:

    Hey Jorge — Good stuff! Send me your address ( and the book will be on the way. Venga!

  18. djcoyle says:

    A couple more good ones from readers:

    “Learn it as if you’re going to teach it.” (from Talmadge “T” Nunnari)

    “There is no friction without movement” (from Bill Dorenkott, Head Coach Women’s Swimming, The Ohio State University)

  19. Brian D says:

    That’s the most beautiful picture of Wooden. Made me exclaim when I checked your blog.

    Some of his players say they have realized as adults almost everything they believe was what he taught them; it’s definitely the case for me.

  20. djcoyle says:

    …and another keeper:

    “If coaching was about telling kids what they did wrong, it would be called telling. Tell them what they do right, and “coach” them out of what they are doing wrong.” (From Dwayne Keir)

    Great stuff — keep ’em rolling!

  21. Matt says:

    “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” Marie Curie

  22. jay Matt says:

    You evolve by living in the “is” not the “was” otherwise atrophy takes over!

  23. Rebecca says:

    I’m working on my Master’s degree in piano performance, and the other day while I was practicing, this Captain Obvious statement suddenly burst into my mind:

    As long as I keep thinking about a passage in the same way, I will keep on playing it the same way.

    I know it probably seems stupid, but it really helped me a lot!

    And another tidbit of advice lovingly passed on to me by my mom when as a kid I would whine about a chore being too difficult, or a math problem too confusing, or whatever. “Fake it.” Later on when I had an actual job, my co-workers were continually impressed with my ability to figure out how to do stuff with a minimal amount of instruction (or even information, for that matter). I attribute all of those incidents to my mom’s wisdom in making me stand on my own two feet and do things for myself!

  24. Chris G says:

    “Surround yourself with people who have similiar goals as you.”

    Really helpful for those wanting to make a leap of any kind.

  25. jay Matt says:

    You live in the “is” not the “was”, either you evolve and flourish or stagnate and wither

  26. David Glenn says:

    “There is no secret to success”

  27. Dakota Dux says:

    “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going” was always reiterated through tough times by my mother growing up. It wasn’t until I finished college did I realize the severity of the circumstances or the meaning behind the words.

  28. Dennis says:

    These are all from Abraham.

    This is my favorite…
    “A teacher is only as effective as his understanding of where the student is.”

    “Words don’t teach, it’s life experience that teaches”

    “We can’t even teach you that words don’t teach with words.”

    “Words don’t teach, you teach through the clarity of your example.”

    “You can’t manifest beyond what you believe.”

    “The only thing that keeps you from getting what you want is a belief. And a belief is just a thought you keep thinking.”

    “The most effective uplifters are those that do the best job of distracting people from their problems.”

  29. Tim (from Australia) says:

    “You either win or you learn”. It changes the perspective on so called “mistakes”

  30. parklane says:

    I have so many good advice that I cannot really say this one or that one but then if I am to say one, it has to be when I was in Grade 2 (that was in 1982) and I was strugling learner and I had this classmate who was the best student in the school back then and on our way home I asked:
    Myself: how come you get to be this brilliant?
    Jibril: whenever you get home after school practice whatever you were taught that day.
    To me that has been my turning point academically in life as for other things I have come to attain, they have been built on this foundation.
    So to put it succintly: “Rehearse what you have been taught and it will stay”.

  31. Mauricio says:

    “If you ever get some idea you’ve arrived at a certain level, you should only be taking it as a cue to work harder and push farther.” – Jack White from The White Stripes

  32. Mike in Chicago says:

    Two favorites.

    The first from when I was an exchange student in the far north of Sweden. I was trying to learn to downhill ski, and kept giving up when I fell. One night I came home early (again) and my Swedish mother looked at me and said, in pretty coherent English, “if you don’t fall three times you are wasting your time!”.

    The second is from conversations with a friend at work. Over the years we’ve built a remarkably resilient philosophy that helps me to stay on track. He started it with “Make Change” (yes, really that simple sometimes) and I finished it years later with “Start Somewhere”.

    Love the site, keep it up!

  33. Patricia says:

    Daniel, you’ve changed my life. I’m a mother of 3 and I just finished reading the Talent Code. WOW! What an amazing book. Now I’m reading all the notes that I took from your book and putting them into practice with my own children. Every morning before the children go to school, I tell them practice hard and play nice. 🙂 Now, I want the school principal where my children attend to read your book. I’m going to make a case for it.

    By the way, do you have any extra copies in Spanish?

  34. VictorNYC says:

    “Decide what you want” – Zoe Caldwell
    “Never be in awe of anyone, just be inspired by them” – Miles Davis.

  35. djcoyle says:

    A great one from Rod Roth:

    Everyday I remind myself of Archilocus’ observation: The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
    I first ran across it in Jim Collins’ Good to Great. It has served me well in my effort to master my trading style.
    The Talent Code is a super book! Very helpful for the same effort.

  36. djcoyle says:

    …and a keeper from Bryce Bunting:

    Something that I read a few months ago has been on my mind ever since and changed my approach to teaching, coaching, mentoring (any activity where I’m interested in helping people improve):

    “Learning is risky.”

    It’s simple and easy to gloss over, but seems to have lots of implications for both the teacher and the learner (I would argue that the whole endeavor is risky for both parties, but that’s another much longer email).

  37. M. Brown says:

    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

  38. “Think small, think do-able.” I’ve made and done a lot of things by breaking down the “big” into what is do-able each day.

  39. Derrick says:

    Chris Potter, great jazz saxophonist, at a clinic I attended back in 2007: “Yesterday’s solutions don’t fix today’s problems.”

  40. Madhan says:

    “Waves are nothing but water, so is the sea” – Swami Athmananda.

  41. Kumaran says:

    Never fight with a pig.It loves mud & stink and you don’t.Identify a pig and avoid it.

  42. djcoyle says:

    From Ken Van Allen:

    I think the best (most useful) advice I have ever received was this: treasure the criticisms of your adversaries. They will do more to strengthen you than the encouragement of your friends.

    This little tidbit was given me by a father figure early in my adult life, and has withstood decades of testing.

  43. Steve K says:

    When your green you grow…when your ripe you rot! Oh, and a closed mouth gathers no foot. God gave us two ears but only one mouth so listen twice as much as you talk.

  44. Steve Errey says:

    “Do something.”

  45. Timothy says:

    It may not be advice but it is a quote that has really resonated with me:
    “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
    Jackie Robinson said that and it is on his tombstone.

  46. Phil says:

    This quote stays with me all the time: To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be forgotten. I am a high school teacher/cross country coach and I use it all the time in class.

  47. djcoyle says:

    From Ala’a Mohammed:

    Here are two from top of my head:

    1) an Arabic poem translated: “Today a droplet of knowledge, and tomorrow another droplet. A flood is
    only a collection of droplets.”

    He did not mean a droplet you read – we all read (sometimes being
    overloaded by) dozens of tips/tricks/ideas/information/advices every
    day – but he meant the one you put-to-action/activate/use … you can
    read a book in days but “Did you put it to action?”, nowadays I prefer
    to read a chapter or section (of the books I read and found full of
    nuggets) in the beginning of a week and see if I can
    activate/put-to-action only “1” nugget during the coming 6 days)

    2) A true story told to me about giving when to help and when to advice:
    a wise man was walking and passed near two brothers where the older
    one was shouting and yelling on his brother due a trouble the later is
    experiencing, “Didn’t I warn you about that? Are you dump?”.
    The wise man came and said to the older brother “May I ask you a question?”
    older brother: Sure!
    the wise: If you found your brother trapped inside a hole in the
    ground, will you say to him ‘what got you there?! didn’t I ask you to
    keep an eye on the road while walking?! first or will help him first
    and then talk to him!”
    older brother: I’ll help him first!
    the wise: so don’t be both of you and the trouble against him from the start!

    Regards, and hope you the best results in your coaching

  48. jet says:

    live and learn, or just live.-Kent Towlerton

  49. Alan K says:

    Adversity doesn’t build character… it reveals it.

  50. Nathan M says:

    It’s a far cry from Wooden, but Tommy Sr. Was on to something: “In this business you’re either growin’ or your dyin’. There ain’t no third direction.”

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