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You would think that by the time a star basketball player arrived at UCLA to play for one of the most legendary teams in NCAA history, they’d already know how to put on their socks. And yet, each season John Wooden gathered all his new players and showed them exactly that: how to put on their socks and shoes and properly tie them.

If you ask anyone how to get in shape/lose weight/transform your body, they might tell you about the latest documentary espousing the celebrity diet-of-the-month, or tell you to get a Peloton bike or some magic supplement that promises to melt fat. But ask someone like John Wooden, and he’d teach you how to put on your socks. 

You might be scratching your head wondering how in the world putting on your socks is relevant to winning championships (or transforming your body). But Wooden knew if players didn’t put on their socks properly, sooner or later they’d get blisters, and eventually they’d be benched with a completely avoidable injury. And an injured star isn’t going to win a championship. Wooden, and other greats like him, understood tiny hinges swing big doors, and if his players didn’t get these small things right, they’d lead to bigger problems and greatly affect the grand outcome. 

In the quest for getting in shape, no single habit will give you a six-pack, a round perky butt, or get you off cholesterol medication. Rather, it’s the set of habits you have in a specific area of your life that creates your outcomes. This set of habits and behaviors is known as a system. And it’s the system around your health, created either consciously or unconsciously, that is producing your current results. And in every system, there are the things people pay all the attention to (namely, diet/exercise) and other seemingly less important things that few pay attention to. 

Imagine looking at your life from 10,000 feet above and seeing all the components working together, like popping the hood on your car with the engine running. You see all the gears turning, all humming along. Your life operates in much the same way. It’s this view from which you will see what’s working and what’s in need of repair.

For example, you might be scratching your head wondering why all your dieting the past couple months hasn’t yielded the results you’d hoped for. You’re dieting, training, and working hard, but it seems like something’s amiss. You almost write it off as your age, because that’s what everyone else does. But instead, you decide to take a look at your habits from an elevated perspective, to view the entire system.

You find that from Monday to Friday afternoon you’re absolutely on point with your diet and exercise plan, working out each day and staying low carb. But once the sun begins to set on the work week, so does your resolve to stick to your fitness plan. So for two and a half days each weekend (which is about 35% of the entire week), you loosen the reins, drink (sometimes heavily) and eat to your heart’s content because you’ve “earned it.” And furthermore, every couple of weeks, you push it a little further than you should and find yourself hungover for two days, which throws off your sleep, diet adherence, and workouts. You realize this pattern has been happening quite consistently (for years) and explains why you seem to lose the same five to ten pounds over and over again. You discover this is why your long stint of exercise and dieting hasn’t really gotten you anywhere. This has also led you to recognize how being chronically unprepared for the workweek causes you undue stress and anxiety, which explains why you’re so eager for a release every weekend.

In this scenario simply trying a new diet wouldn’t have any meaningful effect. It doesn’t address the root cause in the system: only adhering to your diet about 65% percent of the time and neglecting to make some adjustments to your work/life balance.

So if you’re struggling, you have to ask yourself: Am I looking at the system as a whole? Am I neglecting the small details that are holding me back? If so, remember: Start with your socks. spt

photo of san pedro today author Ricky Magana

Ricky Magana

Ricky Magana is co-owner of Heyday Elite Fitness. Heyday offers a two-minute scan that provides a full one-page body fat analysis to help you tailor your fitness goals. For more info, email