Nick Saban on The Illusion of Choice

A powerful lesson on how to be successful

Welcome to The Process. Every week, I share lessons and insights on the process of improvement.

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Now, onto Issue 56.

The Illusion of Choice

Here’s a nerdy confession: I’ve watched nearly every Nick Saban interview for the last 12+ years.

Probably 75+ hours in total.

I started as a college athlete at the University of North Carolina.

I loved learning Saban’s principles and philosophies for how to be successful. Something about his process-focused approach resonated with my personality and core beliefs.

Saban announced his retirement from the University of Alabama this past week, marking the end of the career of the greatest college football coach of all time.

I want to share one of the most impactful concepts I’ve learned from Saban over the years.

It’s called the Illusion of Choice.

Saban was asked a question after practice a few years ago.

His response was 70 seconds of gold on what it takes to be successful in life.

Saban on the Illusion of Choice:

“These guys, they all think they have this illusion of choice. Like I can do whatever I want to do. 

“You have a younger generation now that doesn’t always get told no. They don’t get told this is exactly how you need to do it. So they have this illusion that they have all these choices. 

“But the fact of the matter is, if you want to be good you don’t really have a lot of choices. It takes what it takes. You have to do what you have to do to be successful. 

“You have to make the choices and decisions to have the discipline and the focus to the process of what you need to do to accomplish your goals.

“All these guys that think they have a lot of choices are sadly mistaken. As we all have done with our own children, they learn these lessons of life as they get older. 

“Sometimes the best way to learn is from the mistakes you make, even though we all hate to see them have to make them, and we don’t condone it when they do.”

→ My takeaways:

1. Excellence has a price. We can complain about that, but it’s a fact of life.

2. Most people don’t want to pay that price. They just haven’t admitted it to themselves.

3. Saying you want to be excellent is easy. Becoming excellent is hard.

4. There may not be one way to become great, but there are very few. And they all have discipline and consistency in common.

5. Every action we take is a choice. We’re choosing to make progress, or we’re not.

6. The formula for becoming successful: Your Daily Choices x Time. It’s simple, but we make it complicated.

7. Sometimes we learn more by making the wrong choices. Reflect on them, pull out the lessons and move on.

8. You have to choose what you do every day. Don’t follow your feelings. Choose to do what will make you better.

9. There are no long-term hacks. It takes what it takes.

I believe Saban got this concept from Trevor Moawad, a former mental conditioning coach (Trevor sadly passed away a few years ago from cancer). 

Here’s a brief clip of Trevor discussing the Illusion of Choice.

If you want to dive deeper on this topic, I’d highly recommend Trevor’s book, “It Takes What It Takes.” 

More on Nick Saban

I wrote a lot about Saban this past week on Twitter / X. 

Here are a couple other things you may find interesting:

Saban on the Importance of Nothing

Saban on the power of Second Chances

I’d love to hear from you

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See you next Sunday.