To Be a Winner in Life, You Need to Master the Fundamentals

Throughout his career, basketball coach John Wooden led his teams to a total winning record of 664-162. At times, his teams seemed nearly unbeatable with winning streaks as long as 88 games in a row.

Wooden was awarded the NCAA College Basketball Coach of the Year six times and was eventually inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame1. Today, many sportswriters consider him the most accomplished coach that ever lived. Not just in basketball — but in all of sports history!

And one of Wooden’s central teachings is just as useful in life as it is in basketball.

Master the Fundamentals

Each year, on the first day of practice, Wooden led a peculiar exercise2. He asked all of his players to remove their socks and shoes. Then he proceeded with a careful demonstration of how to put them back on properly.

This seemed very odd to the players who already had substantial experience dressing for basketball. But when Wooden explained his reasoning, it made sense.

If you don’t put on your socks properly, you risk getting blisters. And if you don’t tie your shoes correctly, you risk getting sprained ankles.

That, in turn, might cause some players to miss practice. If they can’t prepare together, they won’t play their best. And if they don’t play their best, they may not win.

Championships are built on a strong foundation. And there’s nothing more fundamental for a basketball player than putting their gear on the right way.

The Fundamentals of Life

John Wooden taught his players strong fundamentals are a prerequisite for success in basketball. And the same is true for the game of life.

If you want to feel great and perform at your very best, there are three critical areas you have to master:

  1. Sleep
  2. Nutrition
  3. Movement

If you take care of these areas, you’ll approach each day calm, focused, and energized. If you neglect them, you’ll constantly struggle with stress, brain fog, and fatigue.

Sleep, nutrition, and movement are basic, simple, and mundane areas of life. But they’re still incredibly important — precisely because they’re so fundamental.

So, from now on, make sure you give these fundamentals the proper care and attention. That will make you much more effective in everything else that you do.

1. Sleep

Imagine if you saw this advertisement:

INCREDIBLE BREAKTHROUGH!

Scientists have discovered a new treatment that makes you live longer. It improves your memory and creativity. It makes you more attractive. It lowers sugar cravings and keeps you slim. It protects you from colds, the flu, diabetes, dementia, and cancer. It decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It even makes you feel happier. And it’s free!

You’d be very interested, right? Luckily, this treatment is readily available to you. It’s called sufficient sleep.

According to leading sleep researcher Matthew Walker, nothing in this made-up advertisement would be inaccurate. All the benefits listed have been well documented in over 17,000 scientific reports.

If you want to feel great and perform at your best, you need to get sufficient sleep. For the vast majority of people, that means 7-9 hours per night. Some people can get by on less, but they are exceedingly rare.

What’s more, research shows we’re terrible at noticing our performance decline when we’re sleep-deprived. So, if you think you need less than 7 hours per night, you’ve probably just gotten used to being sluggish.

Matthew Walker’s number one piece of advice for getting healthy sleep is to stick to a sleep schedule3. Human beings are creatures of habit, and we have a hard time adjusting to irregular sleep patterns.

So, count backward from when you’ll get up and set a bedtime alarm 7-9 hours before that. Make sure to include time for winding down in bed. You’ll know you’re getting sufficient sleep when you feel energetic, wide-awake, and alert all day long.

2. Nutrition

Each time you visit the grocery store, you have the opportunity to boost your health, well-being, and performance.

Good foods help you stay alert, energized, and productive throughout the day. Bad foods have the opposite effects.

And that’s why proper nutrition is so crucial. It provides your body with the building blocks and fuel it needs to stay healthy and achieve your goals.

So, what should you eat? Nutrition expert Michael Pollan provides a simple answer to that question that is worth memorizing4:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Let’s unpack that statement so we can understand each part a little better.

  1. Eat Food
    You should eat real food and avoid processed stuff. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your great-grandmother didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. If you follow just this one rule, your nutrition will be pretty great.
  2. Not Too Much
    Most of us consider it normal to eat until we’re full. But in many cultures, people stop eating before that point is reached. Stop eating when you’re about 80 percent full, and you’ll avoid over-eating.
  3. Mostly Plants
    Fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes are great for your health, well-being, and performance. You don’t have to go entirely plant-based, but it’s a good practice to be “plant-biased.” Actively look for plants to add to your meals, and you’ll gradually build a better diet.

These are great guiding principles. Put them into practice, and you’ll provide your body with the fuel and building blocks it needs to function optimally.

3. Movement

Since the dawn of humanity, we’ve been hunting, gathering, dancing, walking, running, jumping, climbing, crawling, lifting, swimming, fighting, and having sex.

The demands of these activities have shaped us from head to toe. Your body was designed to move. Every function in your body requires movement to work optimally.

And to move sufficiently throughout each day, it’s crucial to understand the difference between exercise and movement. You can think of it this way; movement transcends and includes exercise5.

Lifting weights at the gym is an example of exercise. Taking the stairs at work is an example of movement.

This distinction is important because it’s possible, and very common, to be both active and sedentary. Even if you show up at the gym every week, your body will still suffer if you spend the rest of your time sitting.

Exercise is important, but you also need to move throughout each day. And a great way to get moving is to establish micro, mini, and macro movements6:

  • Micro movements are simple shifts from static to dynamic.
  • Mini movements are slightly longer dynamic movements.
  • Macro movements are typical exercise sessions.

By regularly engaging in all these movement levels, you give your body all the activity it needs. I recommend you start by creating an if-then plan for each kind of movement. For example:

  • Micro movement: If I open my email, then I will stretch my back.
  • Mini movement: If I get out of bed in the morning, then I will do five minutes of yoga.
  • Macro movement: If I leave the office on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will go running.

When you’re consistently executing these movements, you can keep adding new ones. That way, your small tweaks will compound into significant changes over time.

Quick Summary

  • Strong fundamentals are a prerequisite for success.
  • The fundamentals of life are sleep, nutrition, and movement.
  • To master your sleep, stick to a consistent sleep schedule.
  • To master your nutrition: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
  • To master your movement, establish micro, mini, and macro movements.

Footnotes

  1. John Wooden
  2. Wooden by John Wooden
  3. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
  4. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  5. Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman
  6. PNTV: Don’t Just Sit There by Brian Johnson