An Instagram story. A stupid Instagram story.
That’s how I received the news about Kobe Bryant and the nine others victims who tragically passed from the helicopter crash heard around the world.
My girlfriend and I were casually enjoying our Sunday morning, when suddenly her eyes lit up with concern.
“Is this true?” she asked.
She quickly showed me her phone. On it was a screenshot of the TMZ article with the headline that till this day confuses my brain when I see it.
Of course my initial assumption was that it was a hoax. But just to be sure, I sprung up off the couch and grabbed my phone. When I saw the 100+ notifications I had missed, the reality of the situation sunk in. I’ll never forget that feeling.
Why We Mourn
Countless tears have been shed since then. Some from former players sharing the nostalgic moments of their playing days. Others from people who had a chance to meet the man outside the game. I’m one of those people. I had the privilege to work for him several years ago.
And then there’s the rest of the world.
In just one week, fans from all across the globe have turned Staples Center, Lower Merion High School, and all of social media into a never-ending Kobe Bryant memorial, sharing their own heartfelt memories and detailing the impact Bryant has left on their lives.
But why is it that we are all so collectively affected by this?
How is it that people can mourn so deeply over someone they have never even met?
The answer lies in everything Kobe Bryant represented.
The Mamba in all of us
On some level we all feel that we haven’t given our best in everything we’ve done — whether that’s at home, at our job, with our hobbies, etc. Watching Bryant grow up in front our eyes and witnessing his relentless work ethic first-hand reassured us that it’s possible to give every ounce of ourselves to our craft in order to be great at whatever we do.
And that’s how this article came about.
I’ve had an entire week to go through the various stages of grief, and while I’m not sure what the actual stages are, the one I’m currently on involves transmuting the sadness of the situation into something constructive.
Hence, I wanted the opportunity to share stories of Kobe Bryant that expose the defining characteristics that made him great, and further detail how we can incorporate those attributes into our own lives.
This article wasn’t written to motivate you. There are plenty of YouTube videos online for that. This is a guide that aims to draw tangible connections between the work ethic of a man who reached his greatness and the untapped potential we all have within ourselves.
So, without further ado, here’s a list of 8 ways to immortalize Kobe Bryant’s work ethic into your daily life.
1. Analyze your process. Make adjustments. Repeat.
Progress is a deeply iterative process. It doesn’t happen overnight and its ingredients include large servings of introspection and evaluation.
Bryant understood this better than most. He was meticulous about studying his own game footage — always looking to fine-tune his skills, analyzing what worked versus what didn’t, and almost instantaneously imagining alternatives.
Bryant watched film of himself at halftime
This desire to improve had no off-switch either. As ESPN’s Jackie McMullan explains, Bryant even took time during games to look at sequences from the first half, highlight the deficiencies, and make in-game adjustments within the second half.
“He often corrals teammates, fires up the laptop, and shows them precisely how they can carve out easier shots for themselves.” — Jackie McMullan
Notice how rapid this iterative process is for Bryant. The mental muscle of seeking improvement fires so quickly that he is able to adjust his play before the buzzer even sounds.
Revisiting the championship loss with UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson
Halftime adjustments are one thing, but what happens after a demoralizing loss? After all, losing comes with a lot of emotional baggage, especially if elimination is the result.
That’s exactly what former UConn star Katie Lou Samuelson faced when her Huskies lost to the Notre Dame Fight Irish at the hands of a last-second shot from Arike Ogunbowale during the 2018 Final Four.
When Bryant and Samuelson met later that summer, Bryant asked if she had reviewed the tape from that final game, to which Samuelson replied that she hadn’t. She wasn’t ready to face the pain. After being one second away from the National Championship, could you blame her?
“You’ve got to face it,” Bryant said. “It’s the only way to learn from it.”
Together, they watched the entire game, dissecting everything from footwork to body language. Sameulson was so appreciative of that experience that she later convinced her entire team to do the same.
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Constantly re-evaluate your work. Before your next sales presentation, record yourself practicing in an empty room. Replay the video and identify what needs to be adjusted. Does your posture need to improve? Tone? Opening hook?
This doesn’t only apply to your profession. The form on your deadlift, your morning routine, your mental health, and your relationships can all benefit from re-evaluation. Learn to identify your weaknesses and make adjustments.
- Lose your ego. Face your failures. You learn more from them than your successes. The quicker you can shed the emotional baggage associated with failing, the sooner you can move towards redefining your experience by learning from it.
2. Become Disciplined. Run away from shortcuts
The legendary workouts
A quick Google search will reveal the many examples of Bryant’s relentless work ethic retold by teammates and others in the league.
There’s the one by former NBA player OJ Mayo, who asked to train with Bryant one summer. Bryant agreed to meet with Mayo for a workout at 3 the next day, but when Mayo showed up, Bryant was nowhere to be found.
The following day Mayo asked Bryant where he had been the day before, to which Bryant replied:
“Three in the morning, not three in the afternoon.”
These early morning workouts were the norm for Bryant. He believed that in order to outplay his opponents, he had to outwork them. To him the morning was the best time to do that.
Practice, practice, practice
If a team exposed any chinks in Bryant’s armor, he would immediately fill it with a godly amount of repetition.
Often after losing games, Bryant was seen shooting for several hours at visiting arenas, not leaving until he hit a personal quota.
Nonetheless, the repetition allowed Bryant to develop muscle-memory so strong that he could then incorporate the sequence in an actual game using the least cognitive effort.
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Discipline > Motivation. Discipline is showing up to your early morning workouts when everything is telling you to stay in bed. Motivation is the feeling you get when you’re creating your New Years resolutions. Both can be helpful, but motivation is finite. It comes and goes. Don’t rely on it. Get disciplined.
- Practice until it’s automatic. Once the skill that you are practicing becomes second-nature, you will have alleviated much of the cognitive energy that comes with concentration. This will then allow you to further add components to that skill and build off it. After all, talent is simply an aggregation of several skills that have been practiced cumulatively.
3. Be detail oriented. Break things down and build them back up again…slowly
Deconstructing a single skill
Jamal Crawford once witnessed Bryant practice just one shot for a straight hour.
Per The Players’ Tribune:
“I watched [him] in a workout practicing one shot for an hour. The same shot. For one hour. And it wasn’t like a three-pointer, it was a little shot in the mid-range area. Do you know how tedious that is? Do you know how locked in you have to be to do one shot for an hour? To trick your mind that way? That’s unbelievable.”
Whether it was dribbling with one hand, box-jumping to improve explosiveness for rebounding, or shooting from a single spot on the court, Bryant approached many of his training sessions by breaking his skills into smaller segments and sharpening each one individually.
Addition by subtraction
Bryant also added various unique challenges to his training. For instance, former Lakers player and head coach Byron Scott once found an 18-year-old Bryant shooting in a dark gym.
The idea was that by inhibiting one sense, Bryant would be strengthening his others, and consequently his overall game.
He used this same concept by often practicing without a ball. As Shaq mentions in his book,
“You’d walk in [the gym] and he’d be cutting and grunting and motioning like he was dribbling and shooting — except there was no ball. I thought it was weird, but I’m pretty sure it helped him."
Such routines remind us that there is always something we can do to get better if we’re willing to work hard, think outside the box, and risk looking weird for the sake of being great.
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Be detail oriented. If you’re struggling with learning something, break it down. Start with the basics and become hyper-focused on the form. Try strengthening each component individually with precision before you bring it all back together again.
4. Learn how to learn
Unlike conventional basketball players who are usually hand-dominant (most American sports focus on throwing, shooting, swinging, etc.), soccer places most of its emphasis on the feet and balance.
This is why Bryant, who was raised in Italy and played soccer as a child, was able to develop such sound footwork at an early age. The fact that he was so much better at moving his lower body than his contemporaries, immediately opened his eyes to look for inspiration outside of the sport itself.
He was soon incorporating techniques that would enable him to shorten his learning curve, like instinctively looking for parallels between two unrelated concepts and deconstructing his learning into smaller, digestible skills (as previously mentioned).
Let’s look at an example.
Learning the Moonlight Sonata
Bryant once took on the challenge to learn to play the Moonlight Sonata on the piano as an anniversary gift to his wife, Vanessa.
And he didn’t do it the conventional way.
There were no piano lessons or tutorials.
Instead, he put headphones on, listened to “Moonlight Sonata” on loop, and tried to figure out how to play it by ear.
“If you just sit down and say, ‘I’m going to learn this thing until I do,’ ” Bryant says, “there’s not really much out there that you can’t figure out eventually.”
He would learn a small section, come back the next day, try to recall what he learned, and then, only if successful, attempt to advance ahead.
Here, Bryant approached the challenge of teaching himself how to play the piano by using two methods of critical learning: deep observation and reinforcement.
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Look to your previous successes to help with your current failures. Many lessons transcend the environment they were learned in. There’s plenty to learn from what has worked for you in the past.
- Master the art of meta-learning, also known as learning how to learn. For instance, understanding how memory works — the difference between working and diffused memory, chunking, reinforcement learning, etc. — can dramatically shift how quickly you grasp a new skill and ultimately shorten your learning curve.
5. Learn from the best. Seek feedback.
Bryant was always full of questions and never shied away from asking them.
He would often reach out to the legends who paved the way for him, pick their brains and absorb any advice they were willing to give.
Even Michael Jordan, who was positioned as Kobe Bryant’s roadblock and gatekeeper to the ‘Greatest of All Time’ conversation, talks about how impressed he was at Bryant’s curiosity. He noted that on a few occasions Bryant would even ask him questions mid-game, something Jordan wasn’t particularly used to.
Where normally people would be intimidated by, and sometimes even fearful of, the legendary status of someone like Michael Jordan, Bryant was eager for every opportunity he had to learn from him.
Bryant continued this approach even in retirement. He was new to the world of business and looked to the advice of others by reaching out to as many people as he could.
“I’ll just cold call people and pick their brain about stuff. Some of the questions that I’ll ask will seem really simple and stupid. But if I don’t know, I don’t know. You have to ask. I’ll just do that. I’ll just ask questions and I want to know more about, like how they build their businesses, how they run their companies, and how they see the world.”
Bryant was a concoction of the greats before him
He never tried to re-invent the wheel.
Whether it was Jordan’s fadeaway, Magic Johnson’s court vision, or Julius Erving’s footwork, Bryant was phenomenal at adding various moves from his idols to his own repertoire.
Just a week before training camp began in 2009, Bryant asked Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon for a workout. Together they spent 2 hours working on everything, from head fakes and ball fakes to spin moves and jab steps.
It wasn’t long after his session with Olajuwon that we saw some of those exact moves he learned incorporated into his game.
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Seek the feedback of those who came before you. There are people who have already accomplished what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t make it any harder on yourself by walking without a map when the blueprint of your path has been outlined by someone else who already took the time and effort to figure it out. Connect and learn from these people as much as as you can.
Feeling stuck in your career? Go find a person with the title of your dream job on LinkedIn. Look at all the jobs that they have completed prior to their current position. Observe what skills they possess and try adding them to your own arsenal over time. Message them and ask for the opportunity to pick their brain over coffee. People love giving advice. Become good at taking it.
6. Bring passion to the process
Practicing with mindfulness
Basketball seasons can be grueling. NBA athletes play 82 games a year, some back-to-back days. They fly coast-to-coast, play in different time zones, altitudes, on major holidays, and barely get to see their family.
Bryant did this for 20 years.
In his 2015 Showtime documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse, Bryant addresses how he dealt with the various demands of the sport, and one of the things that resonated with me was his perspective towards the tedious aspects of training.
He fixated on the idea that in order to be great at something, you have to find passion in the smaller things.
For instance, whenever Bryant got injured, he would become obsessed with his recovery process by shifting his perspective. Instead of letting frustration takeover, he would channel his energy into the exact opposite: that is, he would trick his mind into focusing on the excitement that comes along with improving.
Bryant treated his stretching sessions no differently than practicing for an important game, hyper-focusing on the minor details. He did this with everything — his diet, watching film, weight-lifting, healing from injuries, etc.
Bryant brought mindfulness and passion to even the micro-aspects of training, often making it a game within the game.
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Be process, not accomplishment oriented. We all have goals, achievements that we aim to accomplish. This is never a bad thing. The problem occurs when we tie our happiness to these achievements and completely forego falling in love with the journey it takes to get there.
It’s a given that you will have to go through several unpleasantries in order to achieve whatever goal you are chasing. For instance, waking up before sunrise and going straight to the gym will unlikely be the most thrilling part of your day. But once you give in to the fact that it is something that MUST done in order to lose the weight you’ve always wanted to lose, you might as well trick your brain into enjoying it. Flip the switch. Don’t look at these boring stepping-stones in a miserable light and instead, start becoming obsessively passionate about the process. Enjoy the feeling of getting to the gym before everyone else. Revel in the soreness that lingers from an intense ab workout. Make it a part of your identity to enjoy the minute, boring tasks that will ultimately lead you to your greatness.
7. Progressively Overload
Milos and the cow
Before I get to Bryant on this one, let me introduce you to the legend of Milos, a 6th century wrestler from Greece. Everyday he would carry a baby calf from one location to another, and each day as the calf grew in size, Milos too would grow in strength. This carried on for several months until the calf was fully grown and Milos had built enough strength to carry the weight of an entire cow.
Although many question the authenticity of the story (in fairness, carrying an entire cow does seem improbable), it gave birth the concept of progressive overload, the idea that increasing one’s load day-by-day, bit-by-bit would cause growth in strength over a period of time.
As revealed in his autobiography, The Mamba Mentality, Bryant incorporated progressive overload in his own training regimens. For instance, since basketball requires many sporadic sequences of running, stropping to recover, and running again, he chose to center his training in the off-season around improving his recovery time.
“I did a lot of timed work on the track where I would incrementally decrease the amount of time between each set until, after a full off-season, my recovery time would be almost nil.”
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Focus on improving everyday. Progress is never going to feel linear. There’ll be days where you feel stagnant, or perhaps even that you’re regressing. It happens. But the plan you set out to execute should always have the progressive overload principle in mind. That is, make intentional, minor goals to improve every single day in whatever aspect of your life you want to master.
This concept connects well with the previous tip of being process over accomplishment oriented. We’ve all far too often seen people set out to lose weight only to become frustrated when the number on the scale barely nudges, sometimes even after just one week. It should be known that one’s weight fluctuates based on various factors (water-retention, time of day, number of bowel movements passed, etc.). Here, instead of focusing on the process of improving their physical activity in a measurable manner over time (ie. increasing weight on key lifts, improving run time/distance), they are dismayed by their unrealistic and short-sighted measurement of improvement.
8. Focus on the solution, not the problem
Dealing with injuries
Bryant’s various injuries throughout his career have been well-documented.
Due to their unpredictable nature, Bryant learned quickly not to mull over his injuries or any other aspects of the game that were beyond his control.
“Whenever I got hurt, I never dwelled on what happened.
I always asked myself ‘what do I need to do to get back to 100 percent?’”
This form of reverse-engineering was instinctive to Bryant and the reason he was able to get back on the court again, often quicker than doctors anticipated. It was a solution-based approach that eliminated time waisted on complaining.
Adjusting to injuries
Additionally, Bryant perceived his injuries as opportunities for improvement. That’s right — opportunities.
Before the 1999–2000 season, Bryant fractured his shooting hand and used this time to develop a left-handed shot (as seen in the photo above).
Instead of sitting idly and waiting for the injury to heal, he actively sought out to improve other parts of his game. The left-handed shot was then added to his arsenal which he would later use, albeit sparingly, to keep his opponent unbalanced and guessing.
🔑 Actionable Takeaways:
- Be a problem solver. The quicker you get at going from complaining about a problem to devising a solution, the more valuable you’ll be to everyone around you. The one who complains about the fire, gets burned by it. The one who grabs the fire-extinguisher, saves them all.
- Be proactive, not reactive. Next time something doesn’t goes your way, take a moment to be mindful of your natural, emotional response. Is it anger? Frustration? The quicker you identify how you feel, the better you’ll be at compartmentalizing your emotions (and their byproduct of clouded-judgement) from the rational approach that is needed to move towards a solution. To simplify, problem-solving is the practice of shortening the time between the initial emotional reaction and the ultimate rational action taken.
- Take every opportunity to revaluate yourself. Make adjustments. Continue to iterate.
- Become disciplined with practicing. It’s the only proven way to make something automatic.
- Deconstruct things. Break things down meticulously. Strengthen each component one by one.
- Learn how to learn. The quicker you do this, the quicker your learning curve is for everything.
- Learn from the best. There are people who have already accomplished what you are trying to accomplish. Don’t make it hard on yourself, pick their brains and absorb their wisdom.
- Enjoy the process. Don’t rely on being accomplishment oriented — it will leave you feeling empty. Enjoy the journey with complete passion and be mindful of the process.
- Strive for progression. Work to improve each day at the skills you are trying to master.
- Be solution oriented. The quicker you can eliminate dwelling on the problem and move towards focusing on the solution, the quicker your progress will be.
Some of you might come away from this finding it difficult to relate your day-to-day life with that of a world-class athlete. But understand that Kobe Bryant’s work ethic transcends basketball and his larger-than-life-persona.
To better explain, I want to leave you with one last quote from Bryant himself, who when challenged by the same idea in an interview, gave us this eloquent response:
“You have to dance beautifully in the box that you’re comfortable dancing in. My box was to be extremely ambitious within the sport of basketball. Your box is different than mine. Everybody has their own. It’s your job to try to perfect it and make it as beautiful of a canvas as you can make it. And if you have done that, then you have lived a successful life.”
Now go dance.