Thought Leadership

What John Wooden and Socks Can Teach Us About Burnout

“Because it’s the little details that make the big things come about.”

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden has a famous instruction he gave to his players at UCLA, including hall-of-fame player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Put your socks on correctly so you don’t get blisters.

Coach Wooden was trying to teach his players how to prevent an injury, but he indirectly taught them an important tool to deal with burnout: Be present and be in the moment.

For most of us, putting on our socks is just another mindless chore as we tick off the list of things we need to do to get ourselves ready for the day.

Today, some of us completely skip the socks and shoes as we are working from home through COVID-19.

But fall is coming, the chilly days will be here soon enough, and we will put on our socks again.

If you’ll allow me to be literal and figurative for a moment: As we put on our socks, can we try to be more prescriptive and present while doing so?

This month, before we head into a busy fall and winter, let’s focus on:

Being present when we ideate.

Thomas Edison said “The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.”

During this era of turmoil throughout COVID-19, we are growing accustomed to the software and online services that make virtual brainstorming with others easier. It helps solve one problem, but it ultimately creates another. What about how we ideate? It’s been said, “The best thinking is done in the shower.” I don’t have scientific proof that’s true, but I agree with the sentiment. It’s a time in which we can process our thoughts with few interruptions.

When was the last time you brainstormed an idea with as few distractions as possible? No computer, phone, smartwatch, television or music. How novel, right?

My advice: Schedule 30-60 minutes per week without any distractions for you to think about an opportunity you need to flesh out further or a problem you need to solve. By yourself!

Being present as a trusted adviser.

Examine your calendar this week. What’s the next meeting you have where you can truly be present? By “present” I mean, not typing on the keyboard, or having backchannel Slack conversations trying to figure out what the client is referring to, or any of the dozens of other ways we multitask during meetings. This time, you’re focusing only on the person on the other end of the mobile device or laptop. You’re listening intently, and taking notes when necessary, but being present throughout.

Being present for our health.

I’ve written in the past about walk and talk meetings, taking Zoom calls while exercising, or riding your stationary bike while watching (or giving) a webinar. Today, I am talking about a different form of exercise: This is about your mental well-being. Grant yourself 10 minutes per day to go on a walk, by yourself, without any electronics. Focus on all of your senses. The perspective and energy you can gain from this are unrivaled.

Focusing on ourselves isn’t something that can just wait “until September” or “after COVID-19 goes away” or until “January 2021.” It’s something we can do now that will help with our family life and our career, doesn’t cost anything and takes little time. The pressures will come and go in our personal and professional lives, but if we don’t take care of ourselves, then those pressures will only compound.

Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You can say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Right now, we need simple solutions to live through the burnout of experiencing this horror of COVID-19. Look no further than examining how we’re spending our life and doing so with more care and attention than we have in the past.

We all put our socks on one at a time. Let’s take a few extra moments for ourselves the next time we do so.


Mark Mohammadpour, APR is a strategic communications executive, certified personal trainer and health coach. His company, Chasing the Sun, offers health coaching tailored for those who work from home and want to lose weight on their terms. He spent most of his PR career at Weber Shandwick and Edelman. He also served president of PRSA’s Oregon Chapter in 2016.

Photo credit: somko drimko

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Mark Mohammadpour, APR

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