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March 15th, 2016

Using Motion to Build Better Habits: Lee Brower and John Wooden

By Ron Nakamoto

Lee Brower’s mentor, UCLA and Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden, coached Lee through a series of incidents that led to a concept that Lee calls “Motion Theory”.

Coach Wooden, as we was often called, had a lifelong habit, instilled by his own father, of reading "from good books daily, especially the Bible." When Lee found out about this, he asked Coach Wooden, who was in his 90's at the time, whether he had in fact read from the Bible daily. Coach Wooden responded, "Lee, probably not, but I can't remember when I haven't."

Inspired, Lee decided to emulate Coach Wooden and read 5 pages a day from the Bible. As often happens with people, Lee was diligent at this new practice…for a while. Then he got busy and missed a day. What did he do then?…Exactly, he doubled his time the next day and read 10 pages. So, he caught up…for a while. Then he got really busy and fell behind by 2 days. So he read 15 pages. Then he fell behind by a week. This pattern repeated itself until one day, Lee decided to start over again.

Just as he was restarting his habit, Lee happened to have a meeting with Coach Wooden. Coach Wooden asked him, "Lee, how are you doing with your commitment to read 5 pages from the Bible every day?" Although he attempted justify his inability to stick to his commitment, Lee had to admit that he hadn't maintained his practice and was starting over.

Instead of chastising Lee, however, Coach Wooden asked him why he had made that commitment in the first place. Lee answered that he wanted to emulate Coach Wooden, that he had always wanted to do something like that, and that it sounded good to him.

Coach Wooden listened thoughtfully and then responded with a penetrating question, "If you read 5 pages of the Bible daily, WHO WOULD YOU BE?" At first Lee didn't know how to answer this question. "What do you mean?" he replied. Coach Wooden continued, "Would you be a better person?" He paused. Lee answered hesitantly, "Well,…yes." "Would you be a better father?" Lee nodded. "Would you be a better husband?" Again, Lee nodded.
Coach Wooden paused again and then asked his final question, "Who would you be and what would you then be capable of if you were to read the Bible daily?" In other words, Coach Wooden was asking Lee what his intrinsic motivation was. Lee’s response was very personal and highly emotional. Coach Wooden listened patiently as Lee described his vision of himself as a better man, father, and husband. Then Coach Wooden suggested something deceptively simple: he suggested that Lee read one word a day.

Coach Wooden focused on deeper meaning and intrinsic motivation as the reward and the driver of the change in habits that Lee was seeking. He then broke down the daily action to the smallest “baby step” to get into motion. Because this smallest step was so simple and easy, Lee was able to consistently meet and exceed this daily standard.

Lee calls this process “Motion Theory”.

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