Simple and Usable.

These two words became the theme of the year.

If an idea or concept is not simple enough to be usable, then what good does it do? Complexity may feel as though it has to be right, but let me tell you a secret. Complexity is a way to trick ourselves and others into thinking an idea is right. After all, if we hear or read something complex, if we don’t understand it, then our ego screams at us that we must not be smart enough, so the author has to be right.

In an age where we are inundated with information, the problem is no longer collecting what the greatest minds on the planet do, it’s in making sure it is applicable. As the philosopher Montaigne pointed out we have two kinds of knowledge: Learning and Wisdom. Learning refers to what most would refer to as what occurs in High School. Wisdom on the other is defined by its usefulness; Any piece of knowledge that helps a person live well.

Therefore, to have any profound effect on how we perform our craft, information has to be simple and usable. Simple enough to understand, usable so it can be applied.

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I look back at 2016. I’m not a huge fan of resolutions, as they are likely doomed to fail, but instead, I prefer to reflect on the lessons I can take forward into 2017 and beyond.

In looking back and moving forward, here are a few of my lessons and heuristics which I will keep in mind for the new year:

1. Turn Around and Look the other way.

Whenever the crowd is going all in one direction, it’s time to turn around. This is a preventive heuristic to keep us from following the crowd. Trends are like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. When the pendulum is swinging heavily in one direction, it’s time to turn around, to make sure you aren’t simply following the crowd towards the next fad.

2. Evaluate the obvious.

The breakthroughs lie in the obvious. Why? If they are obvious, we cease to evaluate them. We skim over their faults because we already “know” them well.

3. “Do good, be good.”

This is taken from psychologist Timothy Wilson. It’s a reminder that part of how we understand ourselves is through our actions and behaviors. If we do the behavior, we will believe that we engender the qualities that behavior entails.

4. Zoom in and out

Perspective is life’s greatest challenge. It’s our ability to get stuck and wrapped up in what is only in front of us that traps us. Our minds tend to narrow on one and only perspective as we gain knowledge and understanding. Harnessing the ability to zoom in and out, changing perspectives, is a skill that must be cultivated

5. It’s the car ride home.

When we look at why kids quit sports in their youth, it’s not because of what happened in the game. It’s what happens between the parent and child on the car ride home. This is a reminder to me of when what I say as a coach matters the most.

6. Let it come. Don’t force it.

I’m a pusher. I want progress. But the more you strain, the slower it comes, just like when you are trying to sprint fast. Slow down, let it come.

7. Pause and Reflect.

Reflection is a lost art. Breakthroughs don’t happen in the midst of the grind, they occur in the moments of pause afterward. We call these “Aha moments.” Take time to reflect.

8. Their motivation, not yours.

It’s not about my motivation; it’s about theirs. What is it, where does it come from? Too often we get wrapped up thinking the world revolves around us. It doesn’t.

9. “To learn is to change.”

George Leonard uttered these words and their truth still resonates. We need to change.

10. Facts don’t change behavior.

When we argue, we use facts. They don’t work. Behavior is changed through an emotional appeal and from understanding others mental framework. It’s much harder than throwing out facts and seeing them go nowhere.

11. Intention Matters

It’s not just performing a movement or act that gets the job done. Instead, our intention drastically effects the adaptations and results, even if the movement is executed in the same way.

12. We need obstacles to overcome.

Obstacles are not negative; they are a necessity. Without a challenge, our motivation drops, and our purpose dissolves. Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is The Way is a good read on this philosophy.

13. All we have is our story

In the end, forget everything else and remember this one tidbit: The only thing that matters it the story that we tell to ourselves. It colors our lens we see the world through.


It’s with these reflections that I wish all of you a worthwhile and productive new year. No doubt it will be filled with challenges, but embrace them. Too often, we spend our time always pressing forward, always churning our bodies and minds to stay afloat. I encourage you to take a moment, reflect on what you’ve learned, and figure out how to translate that to actionable lessons going forward. Feel free to let me know your lessons and reflections for 2017.

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    1. James Marshall (@CoachExcelsior) on January 13, 2017 at 7:44 am

      Nice and succinct Steve. I think Finn Gunderson referred to the car journey home as the “Volvo Caucus”. Athletes might spend an hour with you, but 2 hours in the car with nagging parent.

    2. […] Steve Magness: My Rules of Coaching and Learning for 2017 […]

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