Chris Ronzio (02:12)
Hey everyone, and welcome back to Organize Chaos. I'm your host Chris Ronzio, and today we have a really interesting guest that I can't wait for you all to meet.
His name is Alan Stein Jr and he's a basketball performance coach. So we're going to dig into his books, his experience coaching basketball, and all of the lessons that you can apply to your businesses. As you know, I'm a huge basketball fan, so if you follow me online, you're just going to see how glowing I am through this conversation. But Alan, thank you for being here.
Alan Stein Jr. (03:03):
Oh my goodness, my pleasure. I've been looking forward to this since we put it on the schedule and I'm amped for a fun conversation for sure.
Chris Ronzio (03:10):
Awesome. Okay, well let's dig into it. So you've got two books that you've written, Raise Your Game, which came out in 2019, and Sustain Your Game, which is a new book out this year. And both of those stem from your experience as a performance basketball coach. So I'm curious, let's start there. How did you even get into coaching? What is that background that started this all?
Alan Stein Jr. (03:31):
So basketball was my first identifiable passion. It was my first love and I fell in love with the game at five years old when my parents signed me up for my first recreation team. And I'm so thankful that here 40 years later, basketball is still a major pillar of my life. And I'm incredibly grateful that I've been able to not only make a living, but build an extraordinary life around something I'm so passionate about. And for the first portion of my life, I was a basketball player, fortunate enough to play at Elon University down in North Carolina.
And while I was at Elon, I started to develop an equal affinity for performance training, for strength and conditioning and nutrition and mindset. And when I graduated from college and the writing was on the wall that I didn't have what it took to be a professional player, I thought what could be better than marrying my original love of basketball with my new found love of performance training? So I became a basketball performance coach, and I did that for almost 15 years.
I specialized in working at the high school and middle school age level because that's where I felt I could make the biggest impact. But then that led to some work with some pretty renowned players at the Nike Skills Academies and some events for the Jordan brand classic. So I was able to work with guys like Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry and LeBron James and Chris Paul who I know you have a ball behind you from. And loved every minute of that. And then five years ago I decided to evolve again and reinvent myself.
And I decided to take all of the lessons that I had learned through the game and through these extraordinary players and apply them to the business world as a keynote speaker and as an author. So I still very much identify with being a coach. I still use all of the lessons and the disciplines and the routines that I learned through the game, but I now show folks how to apply those to their business and to their lives.
Chris Ronzio (05:21):
So you've found a way to make money through basketball, whereas all I do is spend money on basketball, not just the merchandise of the tickets, but I think it's probably better to be on your side of the fence. But I want to dig into this. So you were a player, you became a coach. I played as well only up until high school, but a lot of times people in business have trouble going from player to coach. So how did you embrace that? How did you first become a coach and understand how to help other people improved?
Best Advice Alan Ever Received
Alan Stein Jr. (05:51):
Well, I hadn't modeled for me from my parents. Now, my parents were not coaches but my parents were teachers. And if you were to ask me to list synonyms to the word coach, a teacher would be one of them for me. So my mom was a first grade teacher for 30 years. My father was, he started as an elementary educator and then became a middle school principal. And so I always had modeled for me the importance of pouring into others, the importance of guiding others and lighting other people's candles.
I've always believed that you don't lose anything when you light someone else's candle. And that was modeled for me at a young age. And I was also incredibly fortunate that I had a couple of very influential youth coaches that I had such a favorable experience playing for them. I had such a positive connotation of what it meant to be a coach. I mean, these were role models in my life, people that I really look up to, people that made the game fun, but people that actually helped me improve and develop and pursue my goal of playing college basketball.
So I've always had an incredibly high reverence and respect for the coaching craft. And coaching is also kind of an amalgam of the ability to communicate, the ability to teach, the ability to inspire. And those were things that I guess, kind of came naturally to me. I've always been fairly decent at articulating my feelings and getting point across. And one of the youth coaches that I was just kind of referencing gave me to what I still consider to this day the best advice I've ever received.
And he said, "You need to find something you're passionate about, Find something you're naturally pretty good at, and then find where those two things intersect." So find what you love to do, find what you're pretty good at and find were those two things crisscross. And he said, "If you can do that, that's called your strength zone." And the more time you can spend investing in your strength zone, not only will you perform at a higher level, but you'll have a much higher sense of fulfillment and enjoyment as well.
And I've stayed true to that intersection my entire life. Now, as I've gotten older, I've developed new passions and I've developed new skills. So that point of intersection has moved. But even now as a keynote speaker and author, I'm still staying true to something I love which is lighting other people's candles. And I'm still doing something that I'm fairly decent at, which is communication and articulating a message.
Chris Ronzio (08:13):
I love that. And you're right, coaching is so much about teaching, in sports, in business, whatever it is. So I love that you're embracing helping others. Do you have a favorite coach? Is there someone you look up to?
Alan Stein Jr. (08:24):
Very early in my career I read a book by Coach K, the recently retired hall of fame coach. I know you know that. But just providing context for your listeners called Leading With the Heart. And I read that in the early 2000s as I was kind of beginning my coaching journey. And it really reshaped my perspective on leadership, my perspective on how you build a team and culture, my perspective on how you hold people accountable with love, the importance of discipline. It was a game changer for me and I certainly idolized Coach K at the beginning of my career and continued to grow a respect and reverence for him over time.
But that was definitely someone that I thought was doing it the right way and for the right reasons, had an incredibly high standard. And I know there's plenty of naysayers to the Duke Basketball Program, but nobody can argue the results and the level of excellence that they've maintained over his 42 year coaching career. So that was definitely somebody that I look to try to emulate those qualities. And I never wanted to be Coach K, which is good because that was already taken, but I certainly wanted to emulate the way he approached his craft in his standard of excellence in everything that he did.
The Secret To Kobe Bryant's Success
Chris Ronzio (09:36):
Yeah, that's great book suggestion. I read 11 Rings by Phil Jackson and I thought there were so many lessons in that one too. There's this other book, A Trillion Dollar Coach, it's about kind of a Silicon Valley business coach, but there's so much we can learn from coaches. And so now we're going to learn a lot from you and in the rest of this episode. So you touched on being a high school basketball coach, but what you didn't mention is you coached guys like Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo, some of the greats.
So were there characteristics that you noticed in those athletes that set them apart from everyone else even at an early age?
Alan Stein Jr. (10:12):
Oh, absolutely. And I'm glad you bring that up for context and I do appreciate you mentioning that. Because what makes my journey very unique is I've had a peak on either side of the curtain. I had a chance to work at two different very renowned basketball programs here in the Washington DC area. The first of which was Montrose Christian, which is where Kevin Durant graduated from. And the second of which was DeMatha Catholic High School where Victor Oladipo graduated from. And in my 13 years there, I think we've put over a dozen players that are currently playing in the NBA.
So this was a very, very high level of high school basketball. So I was able to work with the best of the best. But I was able to see the peak behind the one side of the curtain of what it took to reach that proverbial mountain mountaintop. For these guys to go from 13, 14, 15 year old kids with a dream, and then actualize that to the point of making the NBA which was absolutely their goal. Because I was working with these renowned high school players, that's what gave me an opportunity to work for the Nike Skills Academies and stuff for Jordan brand and USA Basketball.
And then I got a peak on the other side of the curtain and I got to see guys that had already reached the proverbial mountaintop. But what it took for them to not only stay there, but to continue to elevate and refine and maintain a high level of excellence. And that was when I got to do events for Kobe and Steve Nash and Chris Paul and Step Curry and LeBron James. So I've seen both sides. What it takes to get there and what it takes to stay there.
And to answer your question, the things that it takes to reach that proverbial mountaintop are principles of high utility that aren't just true in basketball, they're true in business and every area of life. And the first of those, I learned this lesson directly from Kobe Bryant the first time I met him in 2007 when he told me that really the secret to his success was never getting bored with the basics and having a strong appreciation and respect for the fundamentals. And that's something that was a life changing moment for me.
To realize that a guy of his stature and his level, arguably the best player on the planet at that time, said that his secret was working towards mastery of the basics and the fundamentals during the unseen hours. So the lesson I pull from that is whatever you're trying to be good at, whether you're trying to be an exceptional podcast host, you're trying to be an exceptional mother or father or doctor or lawyer, the key is getting crystal clear on what the fundamental building blocks are of that craft and working on those relentlessly during the unseen hours.
And the beautiful part is, you don't have to spend hours on end every day doing the basics. You just need to make a commitment to doing them 15, 20, 30 minutes every single day. But if you do that, the compounding interest effect will be massive. So the first is absolutely a respect for the basics. And the second is, every high performer I've ever met in basketball or business does a masterful job of blending confidence with humility. They've earned their confidence by the work they've put in, by the sheer repetitions that they've put in during the unseen hours.
So they deserve the right to be confident, but they brush that with the humility that allows them to stay open to coaching, to be open to feedback. It keeps them humble enough to know that no matter how good I am, I can still get better and I have not hit my ceiling yet. And it's that combination that is certainly a commonality amongst all high performers. And I probably have another half dozen if so but I think those are the two that jump out immediately.
Always Come Back To The Basics
Chris Ronzio (13:46):
So when you're witnessing these guys in high school in their early form before they go pro, it's really just a discipline to the basics, the fundamentals that they keep practicing, keep getting up shots, showing up every day. And that's a lesson I think that applies to all of us in our jobs. A lot of us think you achieve a certain level of success you have to stop doing the other things, but it's being plugged in and showing up every day and grinding I think that that separates the true performers.
Alan Stein Jr. (14:13):
Oh, absolutely. And keep in mind, I'm not saying that you don't graduate to doing more advanced techniques or more advanced in this case, drills. What I'm saying is you never leave the basics. You recognize those are the foundation to which the rest of your house is built. So in the game of basketball, and again, I know you know this, but for your listeners, we're talking about things like your footwork and your shooting mechanics. Those are things that Stephan Curry is arguably the greatest shooter to ever play the game. And he still does basic form shooting every single day of his life.
Literally standing three feet away from the basket trying to get a certain number of swishes in a row. I mean, you were talking about someone who has like I said, will go down in history as the greatest shooter ever. And part of his daily routine is doing the exact same form shooting drill that you and I probably started doing when we were in first or second grade. Now, that doesn't mean that's all he does. He certainly will do some more advanced techniques and more challenging moves and shots and so forth, but he never leaves the basics.
And I know in my own life from personal experience, anytime I'm not getting the type of outcomes or results that I believe I'm capable of, it's usually because I've unconsciously started to drift away from the basics. And I got to tighten the screws and refocus the lens and remind myself to get back to those basics. And it's true in every area of life. I mean, it's true for me as a speaker, it's true for me as a father.
It's true for me as being a guest on someone's podcast. There are basic building blocks and I want to work towards refining those and work towards mastery of those as consistently as possible.
Chris Ronzio (15:52):
It's funny you mentioned the basics and those three foot shots, anytime I go to a game and see the players warming up before the game. Like Devin Booker, he has this routine for 20 minutes or something where he is taking these little basic shots then he backs up and then everywhere on the court. And it's that routine over and over again that's just the commitment to the basics. So I think that's such a great point.
So as you worked with these athletes, people that have had incredible careers, people like LeBron that are coming up on two decades in the league. The ability to sustain performance emerge to you as this topic, something that you wanted to write about in your newest book. So how did that experience in particular start to form the principles for this book? Where did the idea for the book come from?
Alan Stein Jr. (16:35):
Well, basically I'm always writing about what it is that I'm experiencing in my own life. So in essence, I'm always writing the book that I need to read myself. I find it both therapeutic and incredibly helpful to research and write on the topics that I need to work on. So when I wrote Raise Your Game, it's because I had just transferred careers. I had just pivoted, pun very much intended, and left the basketball training space to become a keynote speaker. And I was asking myself, what do I need to do to become the best speaker that I'm capable of?
So that was the reason for researching and writing Raise Your Game. And then certainly not to imply that I've reached that proverbial mountaintop. I mean, I'll be on the climb my whole life, but after five years in the business, now I'm looking at longevity and how can I make my speaking career something that if I choose to do it for the next three decades, that that is a viable option. But how do I stay relevant? How do I constantly reinvent myself? How do I stay a top of the craft and not get to the point where people are like, oh, we've heard this guy before? How can I do that for 20, 30, 40 years?
So I started to uncover those types of things which was the reason for writing Sustain Your Game. And I came to the conclusion that there are three things that undermine our ability to not only sustain high performance and excellence, but to sustain enjoyment and fulfillment and that stress, stagnation and burnout. And those are three things that I have absolutely experienced in my own life that to varying degrees. So I want to make sure in the truest sense of vulnerability that I'm letting you and your audience know, I'm not coming from a place of mastery with any of this stuff.
This is all stuff that I am constantly working on, constantly struggling with and challenged by. But I'm very proud of the progress I've made and I'm very proud of the path that I'm on. And the stuff that I put in the book, I know that it works because I've already seen that the byproducts of doing these things consistently. But this will be a journey that I'll be on for the rest of my life. So that was the reason for writing both of those books. And I'm already working on my third book because I'm in that stage of my life now.
And it's very similar to you never leave the basics but you can start working on more advanced things. As I'm writing the third book, I'm still very conscious of trying to both raise and sustain my own game. Like I'm not a finished product to put under museum glass. I will be a work in progress my whole life, but I can continually and simultaneously raise my game, sustain my game, and then also start to uncover the things that I'll be working on in the newest book.
How To Handle Burnout
Chris Ronzio (19:12):
Well, it sounds like you've got that humility you were talking about that you're constantly working on this and still coachable. I love the idea of writing the book that you need for yourself. I circled that one in my notes and we'll come back to that. I'm going to ask you about the third book too when we get to the end of this interview. But first, let's focus on sustaining your game. So you mentioned stress, stagnation and burnout, and those are the three parts that the book is broken into, right?
Alan Stein Jr. (19:36):
No, I was going to say, and what I found, what was interesting about those three traits and qualities was they kind of happen over three different timelines. Stress is kind of in the moment, what we feel on the day to day. Stagnation is kind of that midterm, I can't exactly put a timeline on it, but it's something maybe after a few months or maybe a year or two where you've reached a certain level of success and you click on the mental cruise control and you just kind of toe the line of mediocrity. You don't dip down to hitting rock bottom, but you're also not growing or evolving or feeling fulfilled.
It's just kind of that numb middle line. And then burnout is something that occurs when there is an accumulation of both stress and stagnation. And burnout I look at more in the long term, something that usually takes a couple of years to develop. But one of the most important things to bring up about burnout is burnout can happen at any age. I think a lot of people unconsciously think burnout is something that happens in your 60s and 70s after you've worked several decades.
I first experienced burnout as a basketball player at Elon in college.I got burnout on the game of basketball and then I experienced it again or was approaching it again when I decided to leave the basketball training space to become a keynote speaker. So burnout is not relegated to your age, but it usually takes a couple years of accumulation to actually to rear its ugly head.
Chris Ronzio (21:03):
So we're hearing about burnout I think more than ever right now. Through the pandemic, I feel like I'm seeing headlines and the people talking about burnout. And so this is happening like you said, not just at some stage of life, but for some stage of stress or busyness or something. What do you think it is that's causing so much burnout right now?
Alan Stein Jr. (21:21):
Well, the research was showing that burnout was reaching an all time high before the pandemic started which is insane. Because I'm of the belief that the pandemic threw kerosene on that fire. And I actually think burnout is unfortunately worse today than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. And there are a variety of reasons for that. What I found is, burnout really comes from two different areas. On the surface level and this is how I think most people identify with it. It is literally letting yourself grind down and emptying your cup.
Where your internal battery no longer feels charged, that you no longer prioritize sleep or self care, working out. You don't prioritize your own self development and growth and you're just wearing yourself out. You were just logging hour after hour and you were grinding yourself to a halt. That is a portion of it and I think that's kind of the initial conduit to real burnout. But real burnout stems from a misalignment between the work that you're putting in and the meaning that you attach to that work.
So it's not just from working long hours, it's when the long hours you're working and the sacrifices you're making are no longer in alignment with what you find meaningful, what you find purposeful, to what excites you, to what you're fascinated by, to what aligns with your core values. It stems from when you don't believe the work you're doing is serving a greater good or you're not making a contribution to something bigger than yourself. When all of those things are not happening, that's when you start to feel burned out.
Because we all know somebody that can work 60 hours a week, still prioritize their self care, and finds so much meaning in their work. They're not at risk at burnout even though they're working long hours. So it's that splintering and that misalignment that's the real culprit.
Chris Ronzio (23:13):
The quote that I wrote down from that part of the book was burnout is the long term effect of misalignment. You just summarized that for us, but I think it's so brilliantly said, because if you have purpose and if you are excited about the work that you're doing, you'll work 60, 80, 100 hours a week because you're so charged up to do that thing. But when you're starting to feel burned out you got to wonder, what's the underlying reason why I'm just not excited about this work anymore?
Alan Stein Jr. (23:41):
Absolutely. And that's where you have to self awareness which was the first chapter of Raise Your Game comes back into play. I mean, you have to be willing to reflect and be introspective and ask yourself, why don't you find meaning in this work anymore? I mean, assuming you did in the first place, that was what drew you to that job or that industry or that vocation. But why are you not find meaning in it anymore? And sometimes we can make minor shifts. Not everything has to be the result of the great resignation where you just have to say, I don't enjoy this anymore, I quit, I'm going to do something different.
Maybe if you're working at a traditional company and a traditional role, maybe you just need to have a different role, play a different position. You've had this one job description and you've done that for years, but you no longer find enjoyment in that, or it longer fascinates you or you're not curious about it anymore. So maybe you play a slightly different role. That was how I was feeling when after 15 years in the basketball performance space, I loved working with players, I loved working with coaches, I loved the game of basketball, but I was no longer fascinated by sets and reps and workouts.
I was much more drawn to things like leadership and cohesion and accountability, the stuff that I do now. So for me, that just wasn't lighting me up anymore. Now, it lit me up for 15 years, and for that I'll be eternally grateful. And I loved every minute that I was in the basketball training space. But this time I had the awareness and I gave myself permission to acknowledge the fact that, you know what? I don't really feel like going to the gym this afternoon. I don't really feel like writing up this workout for this player today. And that was a major red flag to me because that was something I loved to do before.
And now that I was noticing that wasn't exciting me anymore, I started to say, okay, what are some pivots that I can make? How can I still use all of these skill sets and mindsets and knowledge and things that I've learned, but can I use them in a different way to relight my fire? So that was why I left being a basketball performance coach and I now kind of consider myself a business performance coach. So not a whole lot shifted, just really the intended audience and the method of delivery. So keep that in mind for anyone that's experiencing burnout, just know first and foremost, it's okay to not be okay and that you are not alone.
There's nothing wrong with you if you're feeling burned out, but see if you can really be introspective and get to the core of what do you believe is causing the burnout. And then take a look at some of your options for maybe reinvigorating that love and that passion and that meaning
How To Handle Stress
Chris Ronzio (26:18):
Great advice. Okay, so let's go back to the beginning to stress, because stress is something that can plague people in the short term. And so how would you suggest people could alleviate that day to day stress in their lives? What should they be thinking about?
Alan Stein Jr. (26:31):
One of the biggest epifital moments I've ever had in my life and one of the most enlightening moments was when I realized and this was through the teaching of a gentleman named Eckhart Tolle, who is kind of a modern day philosopher for lack of a better word. He said something in a podcast I was listening to that really resonated with me. And ultimately what he said is, "stress is a choice." And that really hit me between the eyes because I was thinking, well, why in the world would anyone choose to be stressed? And on a conscious level, I don't think most people would. But his explanation of it just really made sense to me.
And he said, "Stress is not caused by outside forces. Stress is not caused by circumstances, by events, by what people say or what people do. Your stress is caused by your resistance to those things, your perspective of those things and how you choose to internalize them." So when something happens, that in and of itself does not cause stress automatically. It's you fighting against that, that resistance is what creates the stress. So the way you alleviate stress is by acceptance. On some level, a synonym to that is to simply surrender and say, what's going on in the world is what's going on in the world. I have no control over that.
But what I do have control over is how intentional and thoughtful I am to my response to what's going on. And that response is what will dictate whether you feel stressed or whether you don't. And perfect example is the pandemic. I mean, I could talk to two people, both well informed, both incredibly intelligent people, and one of them could say the pandemic is the worst thing that has ever happened to humans in history. And the other person could say, the pandemic is the best thing that has ever happened to humans in history.
And in theory, they're both right, because it's just a matter of their perspective, it's just their vantage point, it's just the biases at which they see the world. So that's when I realized sitting in traffic does not inherently cause me stress, it's my desire for things to be different in the moment and for all of these cars to get out of my way and for every light to be green, it's that desire that's creating my stress. And once that clicked with me, I mean my entire world opened up. And as I said before, I'm not speaking from a place of mastery.
I would never sit here and pretend I don't ever invite stress into my life or that I always choose a thoughtful and intentional response. But I tell you what Chris, I have gotten so much better at that. And I look at the world so much differently. Years ago, if I was running late for a meeting and I had to grab something at Target and the line was long and the cashier was working really slow, I would be so irritated and so frustrated. I would feel my heart rate accelerate, my blood pressure go up, and I would literally be thinking, why is this happening to me?
And now when something like that happens, I think, all right, well, how can I gain from this experience? Well, it's a chance for me to practice patience. And I tell you what, I need all the practice I can get. So it'd be my preference that the line was shorter and the cashier was faster, but that's not happening and I don't control it. So why punish myself by getting stressed out? They'll ring me up when they ring me up, I'll get to my meeting when I get to my meeting. And that doesn't mean that I have a casual approach to life. And that doesn't mean that I'm not respectful of someone's time.
If I say that I'm going to meet you at 1:00 then I want to be early if not on time. It just means that I don't control this situation. And fighting against it is completely futile. So I've learned to just surrender and let it go. And last thing I'll say, just so your listeners don't think I live in a fantasy land, I am not saying that everything that goes on in the world is to my liking and that everything that goes on in the world is my preference. I'm not even saying that everything that goes on in the world is inherently good.
I mean, I think we've seen some borderline acts of evil in the United States over the last several weeks and months. What I'm saying is, I don't control any of those things. And it's not the universe's job to conspire to make me happy. The world is going to do what the world is going to do, but I keep the keys to the car and how I choose to respond. And that is something I find incredibly liberating and empowering and was an absolute game changer for me.
Chris Ronzio (30:46):
I didn't even want to interrupt you because that was so poetic. So thank you for sharing. I love that. But you're right, stress is just how we internalize it. I was watching the WeCrashed movie. I don't know if you've seen that series, It was about the WeWork story, but it had Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto. So it was a dramatized version of it. And in the first episode, Anne Hathaway has a quote that says, "Fear is a choice." And it was very much the same framing of what you said.
When you start to notice the physiological responses, how do you notice that, compartmentalize it and have the patience to say, okay, how do I want to react to this? And I think that's the lesson that you're sharing which I think is so powerful. So sometimes stress can also be a motivator. Can you use stress positively?
Alan Stein Jr. (31:33):
Absolutely. Well, one point to what you just said because what you just said was so insightful. I don't want us to get lost on that. And what you just said reminds me of something I learned from a buddy of mine who is the mental performance coach for the San Francisco Giants in Major League Baseball. And he said, "Our emotions are designed to inform us, they're not designed to direct us." And once again, that was another one of those epifital moments that hit me right between the eyes and what I pull from that is it's okay to feel whatever you're feeling.
I don't believe in resisting feelings, suppressing feelings, ignoring feelings. There is nothing wrong with being angry. There's nothing wrong with being upset, with being frustrated, with being disappointed. We have those emotions for a reason. Now, what we can't do is allow those emotions to dictate how we behave, how we show up, how we treat people. So I mean, this is something I say to my own children all of the time. I have 12 year old twin sons and a 10 year old daughter. And I say look man, it is okay for you to be upset right now. It is not okay for you to be disrespectful.
It's okay for you to be disappointed. It is not okay for you to demean your brother or your sister. There's a difference between the two. And when you can learn to allow yourself to feel however you're feeling, but not use it as a directive in how you treat people, to me that's the sign of very high emotional intelligence and having emotional regulatory skills which are vital not only for high performance, but especially in leadership. To have the type of leader that is going to consistently show up no matter how they feel. Because as human beings, our feelings ebb and flow.
I mean, you know as well as I do, you can be feeling elated one moment, here's some very tragic news and be down in the dumps 30 seconds later. You can change your entire state in 30 seconds just based on hearing something. And there's nothing wrong with that. But what you can't do is allow that lousy feeling to then spread in how you treat people. So from an emotional standpoint that regulation is important. But to your question of can we use stress in a good way? Absolutely. In fact, we need a certain level of stress or stimuli in our life to keep us sharp.
I mean, even going back to what Anne Hathaway said from a fear standpoint, even having some fear in our life is a good thing. If you have no fear, you'll just walk out in the middle of a highway because you're not worried about a car running you over and you'll be reckless. Now, on the other end of that spectrum, if you are so afraid of getting hit by a car that you won't even leave your house, now that's paralyzing you. So too much fear and no fear on either end of the spectrum is a problem. Same thing with stress, having so much stress that you can't cope and you feel overwhelmed.
But then having no stress where you're just so casual and lousy about everything, that you don't have any type of ambition or drive to continually evolve and develop, well, that's also a problem. So kind of like the three bears, you want to find that beautiful spot in the middle.
Warning Signs Of Stagnation
Chris Ronzio (34:34):
You dial in stress to the right amounts so that you can continue making progress. Because I do think stress is healthy. When you've got the meetings on the calendar and you say yes to projects and you take on commitments that seem scary, that's what pushes us. But if you take on too much, you may have to dial that back. So it is the right amount. So the next part of the book is about stagnation. And I think that this is a part that we hear a lot about stress, we hear a lot about burnout, but what you mentioned earlier is this middle zone of mediocrity.
Where you're just kind of showing up and checking the boxes. I think that's a slump that a lot of people fall into and don't totally recognize. So how do you see the warning signs of that stagnation?
Alan Stein Jr. (35:17):
Many times stagnation comes from playing the most dangerous game that any of us can play and that is the comparison game. And it's a game that I played for four decades of my life and decided to take myself out of that game a couple of years ago because I wasn't finding it beneficial. And stagnation can be a result of that. Now when you play the comparison game, ultimately there's two things that can happen. One, you can compare yourself to everyone else and feel lousy. You feel unworthy, you feel like everybody has got a better job, everybody has got a better spouse, everybody's got more money.
And it makes you feel less then because you're comparing yourself to others. And that's one issue. The other issue, and this can often cause stagnation is the opposite of that. You compare yourself to the guy in the cubicle next to you and go, I'm doing pretty good. My life is pretty good so I don't really need to grow or evolve or push any further. I can just put on the mental cruise control because life is pretty good right now. And to me, and I'm very careful in how I choose my words. And for me there's a difference between being content and being complacent.
I am very content in my life. I'm incredibly happy with the life that I have. I've got three wonderful children, I've got a great relationship with my ex-wife. I'm healthy, I'm fit. I get to do work that fills me up and I find meaning in. I am content with my life, but I am by no means complacent. I'm not done yet. And each of those areas as content as I may feel, I'm not complacent in becoming a better father or becoming a better speaker. So there's a difference there. And I think it's the complacency that can cause the problems. It's the complacency that causes the stagnation.
And the reason it's tricky is usually when somebody hits rock bottom, whether that's in a relationship, that's financially, maybe that's with drugs or alcohol, they hit this low point, they all of a sudden feel inspired to start making some change because they have hit that rock bottom. The dangerous part about stagnation is you don't hit a low point, it's just this numb feeling. So nothing ever jostles you into making a change, and this is one of the keys to it, unless you insulate yourself with people that care enough about you to tell you.
And just say, "Hey, Chris, man, I believe in you. I think you're better than what you're showing me right now. I think you've been stagnating man and I'm telling you this as a friend because I care about you but I just feel like you've been trading water for these last couple of years. And because I care about you, I just want to bring that to your attention because maybe it was a blind spot." And there have been a few times in my life where I've definitely stagnated and I'm very grateful that I've had people that cared enough to tell me because it was a blind spot.
I don't think anyone that's got the mental cruise control on realizes that they flipped that switch. They don't know it. And that's why we have to bring it to awareness because you'll never improve something you're unaware of and you will never fix something you're oblivious to. So until you can acknowledge that you are stagnating and aware that you're stagnating, you'll continue to have that mental cruise control on.
Change Up Your Inputs
Chris Ronzio (38:21):
So let's say you hit a wall and you've got your relationship or your business or your friends that are intervening and telling you that you seem to be stuck. What's the first step you take to get out of that place?
Alan Stein Jr. (38:35):
Well, I believe to shake things up, you have to change your inputs. I'm a huge believer that your inputs, what you read, watch and listen to, who your friends are, the people you spend most time with, all of the things that are coming into your life dictate your outputs. That the inputs dictate your mindset, your attitude, your belief system. So in order to change the outputs, because that's what's been stagnating, we got to change the inputs. Which can mean maybe there's some people in your life that aren't adding value and helping you improve.
Maybe they have more of an apathetic approach and you're kind of lugging them around dead weight. And I'm not saying anyone needs to cut anyone out of their life, but you can make the conscious choice to spend less time with those people if they're kind of dragging you down. Then also shake up what you're reading, watching and listening to. Pick up a new book or listen to a new podcast or do something that's going to kind of shake things up. And this is where too, you have an opportunity to expand outside of maybe your direct genre or industry. You have an opportunity to read, watch, and listen to stuff that has a different perspective than you have.
One of the mistakes most people make is we insulate ourselves in this filter bubble where all we do is associate with and read, watch and listen to things that we already believe. And we increase our bias towards these things. I find a tremendous amount of value in diversity, especially diversity of thought. So I intentionally listen to and read books that have a different life perspective than I have. And the beautiful part is, either one of two things happens. One, it gets me to increase clarity on what I actually believe and will help me strengthen my convictions which is a good thing.
Or it gives me new information that I wasn't privy to and actually gets me to see the world differently, to change my mind, to look at things in a different way. And that's also valuable, but you only get that if you step outside of what you're currently believing. So just remember, you will always keep getting whatever you've been getting unless you change whatever it is that you're subjecting yourself to.
Chris Ronzio (40:45):
Mixing up your inputs. And one of those inputs could of course be your book, which I highly recommend, Sustain Your Game. So I recommend everyone that's listening, go get the full version. You're getting the cliff notes, the preview right here, but the full version Sustain Your Game. So we covered stress, we covered the stagnation, we covered burnout, and those are obviously topics that we could talk about for a long time.
All that goes into the idea of sustaining your game, of being a high performer. You told a lot of great stories in the book. I'm curious, what story stands out to you as just a favorite that you shared?
Alan Stein Jr. (41:19):
Oh, boy, man, there have been so many. I mean I've just been so fortunate to work with so many different players and as I mentioned earlier, and I think I kind of botched the quote a little bit earlier. The actual quote is, "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle." And I'm not the originator of that quote, but that is a life philosophy for me. And I realize that I have been afforded some amazing opportunities to be in some rooms with some incredibly high performers. And I've had an opportunity to see and do things that a lot of people have not had the opportunity to do.
And I believe my role as a steward to pay those things forward. If I've had an opportunity to have a 10 minute conversation with Kobe Bryant or with Coach K, I don't want to keep that to myself. I want to take what I learned from them and share it with others. And doing so doesn't detract from me in any way. All I'm doing is lighting other people's candles. And I feel indebted to do that because so many people have poured into me. So many people have helped me light my candle and have told me stories from rooms that I haven't been able to be in.
So to me that's most important. One of the stories and I think you'll really appreciate this because it has a very practical applicable lesson for folks. I had an opportunity to work with the men's basketball program at Queens University down in Charlotte, North Carolina. And I would work with them every year during the Jay Bilas Skills Academy. And Jay Bilas of ESPN is a really good friend and mentor of mine. And the Queens University men's basketball program just for your listeners that don't follow basketball, is one of the top division 2 programs in the United States.
Over the last decade, they've averaged almost 30 wins per season and they regularly make the Elite 8 in the final 4. Last Season's team put seven players in the pros. Now, not in the NBA, but playing overseas, making a really good living, which is remarkable for a division 2 program. And their coach, Bart Lundy, who just recently took a job at a division one school in Milwaukee, did a masterful job of figuring out that there were four key stats that heavily influenced whether or not Queens University would win the basketball game.
And now keep in mind that, and here's another book for folks to add to their reading list, is Simon Sinek's newest book, The Infinite Game. And Simon Sinek brilliantly points out that a game like basketball is a finite game. It has a distinct start and a distinct stop. And we have all unanimously agreed around the globe that the team with the most points on the scoreboard when the final buzzer goes off is the winner. Like that is not arbitrary, that is who will win the game. Now, business and life is much more evergreen and esoteric.
We don't have a definitive start and stop. And if I were to interview 100 CEOs, certainly there'd be some overlap, but 100 CEOs would not describe winning in business the exact same way. They would all value different things and might view it differently. So the example I'm going to give here in basketball can absolutely be applied to business and life. So back to Coach Lundy, he figured out there were four statistics that influenced whether or not Queens would win. The first was turnover differential. If we can have more possessions than our opponent, it gives us a better chance to win.
Second was offensive rebound differential. If we can take more shots than our opponent, gives us a better chance to win. Third were free throws attempted. The free throw in basketball is the highest percentage shot per possession. If we can make more of those than our opponents, gives us a better chance to win. And the fourth characteristic was three pointers taken. The three pointer as you know is a massive weapon in college basketball. And if we can take more clean looks from three than our opponent, it gives us a better chance to win.
Well, when Queens University comes out on top and those four categories, they win 97% of their games. I'm going to say that again because it's pretty profound. If they just do those four things, they win 97% of their games. That means mathematically and statistically they are almost unbeatable and all they have to do are those four things. So the rhetorical question I'll ask your beautiful audience is what do you think Coach Lundy and his staff talk about, reinforce and emphasize, every workout, every practice, every film session and before every game?
Yeah, it's just those four things. What do you think he uses to design every practice plan, every workout plan, every film breakdown and every game plan? It's just those four things. Coach Lundy and his staff never had to talk about winning, never had to talk about trophies, banners, or championships. All they had to talk about were those four things because if they did those four things, the winning, the banners, the championships and the trophies would just take care of themselves.
And the lesson I want folks to pull from that is, get crystal clear on what winning looks like to you and then figure out what are a handful of measurable behaviors, habits, or analytics that will directly influence whether or not you win at whatever you're trying to win, and just focus on those things. It's about being focused on the process and just let the outcome be a byproduct of that. And that parlays nicely to the beginning of our conversation where we're talking about the basics. Like Coach Lundy doesn't have to get super fancy with anything.
Let's make sure that we are taking care of the ball, let's make sure we are aggressive on offensive rebounds, let's make sure we're attacking the basket so we're getting fouled, and let's make sure we make the extra pass to get a teammate in open three. You do those four things guys, we win. And I use that mindset and that construct for everything that I try to achieve in my life.
Chris Ronzio (46:55):
Great advice again. And those four things, it reminds me of another episode we had about strategic planning. And when you've got something laser focused, when you've got those me measurables, those outcomes and you can design everything else, all the workouts, all the game plans around those things, things just click. Things just come together. And it reminds me of this past season that my team, the Phoenix Suns, if they went into the fourth quarter with a lead, 100% of the time, they won that game 50 something times. And so they designed their game plan around how to make that happen.
It didn't result in a championship unfortunately, but it was a good season nonetheless. So I said I'd come back to this and this is my last question for you. Can you give us a hint at what the third book in the trilogy so far will be about?
Alan Stein Jr. (47:40):
Well, I love that you brought up trilogy because there's something about threes that I think as human beings we're internally wired to be attracted to. So while I never want to force anything, it is hard for me to not wrap my mind around there being a third installment, which of course has to have the word game in it. And at present, I'm kind of compiling some notes and some ideas and at present, I'm kind of thinking something along the lines of either change the game, change your game or play your game.
And really, the theme of this book will be, you don't have to play by the rules that society is telling you have to play. You can create your own rules. I think society wants us to play the comparison game. That's one of the main reasons people are on social media is to see what everybody else is doing and then you inherently decide, I'm I doing better or worse than that person? The retailers want you to play the comparison game because you come to the conclusion that if I buy a nicer car, I will feel better about myself. So I want to invest that money.
And that's a very slippery slope. And I think there's a few other constructs like that that society tells us we have to play. One of them is just the sheer definition of success. I know in my 20s and 30s, I really and truly believe success was correlated to how much money I had in my bank account, what type of house I had, what type of car I drove, the young lady on my arm, what she looked like. I thought that's what success meant. And at that time, I guess with less life experience and less wisdom, that was my definition.
Well, now at 46, I see the world completely differently. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with desiring those things or having those things, but those things no longer are my north star and they no longer are what give me a sense of purpose and a sense of self-belief and self-worth. I've learned to detach from those things. So I don't want to play the game that everyone else says we have to play. I want to come up with my own rules, my own definition of success and live my own life accordingly.
So at present and the book will take another year, year and a half to write. That's the direction I think I'm going because that's the stage I'm in in my life. And that's absolutely the book I need to read myself.
Chris Ronzio (49:53):
I was just going to say that. I love that you write the books that you need to read yourself. So we're excited to follow along. I'm excited to follow along with you on your journey. Where can people reach you and find you?
Alan Stein Jr. (50:05):
They can go to my primary website which is alansteinjr.com. I also have a supplemental site, strongerteam.com. That has information on my books, podcast of course, I do some exclusive one-on-one coaching. I'm very easily found on social media at Alan Stein Jr. And I take a lot of pride in being both accessible and responsive. So if someone enjoyed this conversation and you want to keep the dialogue going, just shoot me a DM on Instagram or on LinkedIn. I'm very good about getting back to people.
And then certainly you can find either book, Raise Your Game or Sustain Your Game on Amazon or Audible or wherever you buy your book. So this was so much fun, man. You do a masterful job. I love your show and really appreciate you asking such insightful questions and being such a terrific active listener. So this was very enjoyable.
Chris Ronzio (50:50):
Well, thank you. Alan Stein Jr, amazing author and coach, performance coach. So many good lessons in there, nuggets. I can't wait to record the intro to this one because I have so many notes. I'm scrolling through them all right now and the quotes that you shared are just incredible. So thank you again for the time and thank you for lighting thousands of candles with your candle here today.