18 Best Quotes From Phil Jackson: The Zen Master Who Coached Michael Jordan

Phil Jackson was a NBA basketball coach that has coached the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers and won 11 NBA Championships with the two teams.  In the two teams, he has coached superstars like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.  Although it’s nice to have those superstars in the team, it’s not easy to manage the big egos.  Phil Jackson is known for applying Zen, mindfulness and meditations to these successful basketball teams.  Let’s now learn from some of his best quotes.  


“The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.”

As good as Michael Jordan was at basketball, he couldn’t win every game and he couldn’t make every shot.  What should we strive for then?  We should strive for doing well at things that we can control and give ourselves the best chance to win.  We have to understand that we don’t win all the time even if we have worked hard and prepared for winning as well as possible.  Giving ourselves the best chance is the best that we can do.  Live with the results.  You will win in the long run if you keep giving yourself the best chance.  


“When the mind is allowed to relax, inspiration often follows.”

Our mind needs rest, just like our body does.  Think about it.  Do you expect that you can get yourself in good shape if you work out eight hours a day?  No, you would injure yourself.  That’s the same for your mind.  You need to relax and rest your mind everyday.  Get enough sleep.  Meditate or have a long walk daily.  Your mind would become sharper if you give it the amount of rest that it deserves.  


“But trying to eliminate anger never works. The more you try to suppress it, the more likely it is to erupt later in a more virulent form. A better approach is to become as intimate as possible with how anger works on your mind and body so that you can transform its underlying energy into something productive.”

If you have negative feelings, be aware of your thoughts and then let them go.  Meditating or having a long walk regularly help you be aware of your thoughts.  Sometimes, you would see the root cause and then you have a chance to solve some important issues.  Sometimes, you would see that the negative thoughts are just random thoughts or knee-jerk reactions to the environment.  In this case, just be aware of the thoughts and let them pass.  


“There’s a Zen saying I often cite that goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” The point: Stay focused on the task at hand rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.”

It’s very interesting to see how Phil Jackson interprets the famous Zen saying “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”  What he meant in the quote is that the most important lesson to be learnt is to stay in the present.  Focus on the thing at hand.  


“That’s why at the start of every season I always encouraged players to focus on the journey rather than the goal. What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself.”

It’s very important to have a goal and know your goal clearly.  Once you know your goal, you should work backwards to find out what you should do daily to achieve your goal.  Once you know your daily thing to do, you should put less focus on the big goal and focus on your daily tasks.  Focus on the process and trust the process.   That way, you are giving yourself the biggest chance to succeed and that’s the best that you can do.  


“Wisdom is always an overmatch for strength.”

Being physically strong or technically good at what you do is great.  However, if you want to reach excellence, you also need to have the wisdom.  What’s the wisdom?  It’s the ability to stay focused on the present moment.  


“I'm a patient person. I think that's one thing that I feel comfortable I can deal with - the downfall and the errors, as long as I see progress and people trying.”

A project or a game that is worth playing is often a long game.  During a long game, it’s inevitable that you will encounter obstacles and temporary failures.  Be mindful enough to learn from them and not be bothered by them.  Be patient with people who are not performing well.  Focus on whether they are trying and whether they are making progress.  


“You can't force your will on people. If you want them to act differently, you need to inspire them to change themselves”

If you want to be a good leader, you have to learn how to maximize your team’s productivity towards the team’s goal.  However, simply forcing your team members to do what you want them to do is not good enough.  Inspire them and let them understand the importance of reaching the common goal.  It doesn’t always have to be some abstract reason, money can be a reason as long as that resonates with your team members.  


“No one plays this or any game perfectly. It's the guy who recovers from his mistakes who wins.”

Everyone makes mistakes.  The difference between a winner and a loser is that the winner can recover from the mistakes better and faster.  


“Your problems never cease, they just change.”

Don’t expect that you will reach a point that you would have no problems pending.  Learn how to live with a world that is full of problems.  No one says that you have to be bothered by problems surrounding you.  


“The ideal way to win a championship is step by step.”

There is no better way to win than to do it step by step.  It sounds boring but that’s the way.  


“Fall down seven times. Stand up eight.” - Japanese Proverb Quoted by Phil Jackson in Eleven Rings

Success is about sticking to your goal for a very long time.  It’s not difficult to continue on after a good day, but can you wake up and do your thing after a horrible day?


“What you do for yourself, you’re doing for others, and what you do for others, you’re doing for yourself.”

Creating things is very interesting.  Solving a problem for yourself is solving the same problem for many people.  On the other hand, helping people solve problems can also make you better in a lot of aspects.  


“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are the greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

The world is complicated.  Your mind doesn’t have to be.  Keep your mind simple and clear.  Be patient with yourself and others.  Don’t blame yourself and others.  


“I often reminded the players to focus on the journey rather than the endgame, because if you give the future all your attention, the present will pass you by.”

The process is really where the fun is.  Try hiking.  Standing at the peak for a few minutes with a nice view is cool, but the remarkable part is the journey that takes you hours.  


“I had always insisted on structured practices with a clear agenda that the players would receive ahead of time.”

Practice with structure and agenda in mind is important.  Knowing what to improve allows us to focus on the area that we need to improve during practice.  


“If your primary objective is to bring the team into a state of harmony and oneness, it doesn’t make sense for you to rigidly impose your authority.”

As a leader, you have to learn how to be a part of the team.  Using authority to make your team members execute is not a sustainable solution.  


“In the West we tend to think of compassion as a form of charity, but I share Lao-tzu’s view that compassion for all beings—not least of all oneself—is the key to breaking down barriers among people.”

Learning to be compassionate is the process of learning to respect all beings.  You don’t have to agree with everyone but you don’t need to be mad about people when they do things you can’t understand.  

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