What makes the best, the best? Ultimately, the best are where they are because of the mindset, habits and rituals they have both in their respective arenas but also in private during the unseen hours. Success isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something that you attract and you create. The highest performers in all walks of life have taken full ownership. They got to where they are and have stayed there because they’ve chosen to establish, tweak and repeat positive habits.
They understand that you can’t be selective when it comes to excellence that how we do anything is how we do everything. Alan Stein’s new book, Sustain Your Game, brings you the keys to lasting unimaginable success. The secret? Return to the basics. They’re simple but they’re not easy. But the truth is, that more connected, productive and influential leaders and teammates find long-lasting success, not with big flashy changes but with the accumulation of the little things.
The book teaches you how to bring your A-game to every area of your life by using a framework for a how to beat stress, stagnation and burnout to be the best in your arena, wherever that might be.
Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Alan Stein Jr., author of Sustain Your Game: High Performance Keys to Manage Stress, Avoid Stagnation and Beat Burnout. Alan, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Absolutely, my pleasure, I’ve been looking forward to this for a while so it’s lovely to be with you.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, help us kick it off if you will. Can you give us a brief rundown of your professional background?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Sure, the vast majority of my professional background was in elite level basketball. Right after playing college basketball down in Elon in North Carolina. I began a career as a basketball performance coach, where my main focus was working with middle school and high school-aged players to improve their athleticism, to help bulletproof their body against injury, and to really do everything that I could to help them improve their on-court performance and I did that in a variety of different capacities.
I had an opportunity to work at two really renowned high schools here in the Washington D.C. area that have both produced over a dozen players currently in the NBA. That got me some opportunities to work directly with Nike Basketball and Jordan brand and USA Basketball, which allowed me to work events for guys like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and Stephen Curry, and Steve Nash.
I’ve had a really enjoyable journey in the basketball space and then five years ago, I decided to make a very distinct pivot and leave that world and become a keynote speaker and author. I now take the lessons and the strategies and approaches that I’ve learned from these world-class players and I show folks in the business world how they can apply that to their own performance but also to their team and organizational performance.
Commitment To The Fundamentals
Drew Appelbaum: How did you make the transition? I know you made the pivot right there but how do you now pivoting to being an author? Being a keynote speaker is one thing but now, getting those words on to paper is a whole other journey. Were you inspired by their books out there, are there speakers out there or are you just saying, “Hey, this is a great way to spread the word to a mass audience”?
Alan Stein, Jr.: It’s a little bit of all of that. I mean, to be honest, I’ve been a really voracious reader ever since I was an adult. I didn’t really enjoy reading when I was younger in school and I think that was because I was forced to read what someone else wanted me to. When I became an adult and realized, “You know, I can read whatever I want” I dove in headfirst and have been a voracious reader ever since.
I’ve always had a really strong respect and reverence and appreciation for authors and for books and, I could list off a series of books that really had a huge impact and influence on my life. I saw the world differently after I read some of these books and I thought, What could be better than having that as part of my legacy or being able to put something on page that someone else would find valuable, something that would encourage and empower them or help them see the world slightly differently?
I’ve always known kind of in the back of my mind that writing a book was on my professional bucket list. I figured when I made the pivot from basketball to keynote speaking, that was an opportune time to do that and for a couple of reasons. One, it actually helped me really get crystal clear on my messaging and get super organized with my content, which helped me as a speaker for sure but then it also served as a way to help drive the speaking business.
I consider both of my books kind of glorified business cards if you will and it’s one of the main sources of lead generation in my speaking business. If somebody reads the book and says, “Man, can you come deliver this message to our team?” I’ve really enjoyed the process. I’ve enjoyed the writing process and funny enough at the risk of sounding like I lack humility, I actually love the promotion process. I love trying to spread the word about something that I’m very, very proud of.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, it’s an accomplishment certainly to have your second book published. About the book itself, it sounded like you got your ducks in a row when you were to starting to write this book. Looking at the book itself, you have a ton of references in it so this is something you know a lot about but, by doing some of this research or sometimes digging more into some of these topics, a lot of authors will kind of have major breakthroughs and learnings. Did you have any breakthroughs, learnings or pivots along your writing journey for this book?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Absolutely and that’s one of the reasons that I enjoy the writing process so much. For me, it’s important whatever I’m writing, it’s really what I’m going through and experiencing at that time. Three years ago, I wrote the book Raise Your Game, which was about how you can achieve optimal performance in any area of your life and that was certainly the track I was on. By no means am I saying that I’m on the top of the mountain, I will be raising my game for the rest of my life, no question.
But that was definitely the focus. Then with this most recent book, it really became crystal clear to me that reaching the top of that preverbal mountain is only part of the journey. The harder part, the more challenging part is staying there and sustaining excellence for long periods of time. I know, I’ve always been fascinated by high performers that have been able to stay at the top of their craft for not just years but for decades, you know?
I mean, an easy analogy looking currently in sports, when you have someone like a LeBron James or a Tom Brady, who have been the best of the best going on two decades now — which is absolutely unbelievable — but then, you could find just as many examples in the business world and entrepreneurship and in other areas.
That’s something that’s fascinated me and while I’m not at the top of the mountain yet, I’m still on my climb. I wanted to start digging in ways that I could sustain that for long periods but at the same time, drive immense joy and fulfillment. Really enjoy the process and enjoy the climb.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s dig into the book itself. You start it off with a pretty powerful statement and you say that “in sports or business or anything else, the best aren’t the best by accident, genetics or good fortune, they’re at the top because of their commitment to the fundamentals.” So can you unpack that statement for us?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Be happy too. I can think back to a few different moments in my life, spanning my entire life that we’re just absolutely epiphanal moments that just — the light bulb went off. One of those was after the first time I got to see Kobe Bryant workout in a private workout in LA back in 2007 and I remember, as a younger coach, being so surprised that he was doing such basic drills, basic offensive moves, basic footwork.
In 2007, for any of your listeners that don’t follow basketball as closely as I do, just know that Kobe was the best player in the game. I naively thought that when I was going to go watch him working out, he’d be doing a bunch of fancy drills. You know, a lot of sexiness, a lot of sizzle and instead, he was focusing on basics. I mean, he was doing drills that I had routinely done with middle school-aged players and that really surprised me.
When I asked him about it later that day in camp, I’d literally said to him, “Kobe, you’re the best player in the world, why are you doing such basic drills?” and he smiled and gave me a friendly wink but he said in a very serious tone, “Why do you think I’m the best player in the world? Because I never get bored with the basics.” It was in that moment that I realized that just because something is basic, it doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Those are not synonyms and yet, people often use those words interchangeably. Just because it’s basic, it doesn’t mean it’s easy and if it was easy, everyone else would be doing it but having a commitment to the basics, embracing the fundamentals, working towards mastery of the basics and fundamentals during the unseen hours is never easy to do but I found that it’s the common thread amongst all high performers.
Not just in sport, in music, in the arts, in business, in any area of life, those that have ascended to their potential have a respect for the basics and fundamentals.
Drew Appelbaum: Now in the book, you use advice and lessons from folks all over the map, successful athletes, entrepreneurs, journalist, other motivational speakers, and coaches. How did you choose these particular folks to feature? Was it because of your access to them or is it something that each of them did in particular?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Once again, it’s a little bit of all of that. I mean, there’s certainly folks that I have a long-standing admiration for either as a fan or a consumer of their content. These are the people that I read, watch and listen to. That’s one group and then, while I was doing research and uncovering some of these stones, then I started to hear stories about some folks that I wasn’t familiar with but immediately was attracted and fascinated by their story.
It was really important to me to be as eclectic as possible in the folks that I reference and the folks that I resourced and really enjoyed that. I mean, again, that is another part of the writing process that I loved was everything that I got to learn by hearing the stories and journeys and lesson from people that I wasn’t even aware of before that.
For me, because I’ve spent my entire life in the game of basketball, I’m working really hard not to be pigeon hold as the “Basketball Guy.” I don’t want that, I don’t want someone to think that that’s all that I have to offer. While that is still a primary passion of mine and I enjoy the game and I’ve got pretty good historical reference of those that have performed well in it, I want to continue to expand and learn in other areas and kind of balance that out.
I intentionally was looking for folks in other industries, folks that I haven’t heard about before and just was fascinated that these principles of high performance that have such high utility. It was all of these new folks that I’m researching and learning from and learning about. It’s still the same handful of fundamental principles from everyone that I had ever already known in the basketball space.
Consistently Navigating Towards the Person You’re Aiming to Be
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you were finding those goals and when you were working towards them, how much does perfectionism come in and what does it do to your mindset? And should perfection in whatever your goal is, should that actually be a goal?
Alan Stein, Jr.: I’ll speak candidly from the first person. I chose to throw out any attempt to be perfect or any semblance of perfectionism a few years ago because I don’t believe that it’s attainable. I don’t think that anything in this world is perfect. You know, as human beings, we’re flawed and we’re fallible and we’re going to make mistakes. I didn’t want to keep measuring myself against an unrealistic standard.
For me, while I want to give my best effort and have my best attitude in everything that I do, I don’t use perfection as the measuring stick. For me, it’s more about progress. Am I better today at my craft than I was yesterday? Am I moving closer to being the person that I strive to become? To me, that’s more important because the pursuit of perfection in my own experience is both frustrating and exhausting and I wanted to kind of take myself off of that roller coaster.
Drew Appelbaum: The book is broken into three sections, managing stress, avoiding stagnation and beating burnout. I’d love to dig into just each of those overarching topics a bit and let’s start to committing to a new process is always stressful. To manage that, how could people really prepare to make that life transition a bit easier on themselves?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Well, the first thing you need to do is have a better understanding or recalibrate your definition of stress. The definition that most resonated with me comes from Eckhart Tolle who is an author but really he is more of a modern-day philosopher. Eckhart basically says, “Stress is the desire for things to be different than they are in this present moment” and for whatever reason — there is a variety of different definitions of stress out there and I am sure they are all equally valid, but that was the one that really hit home for me.
That it was, whatever it is that you are doing at the moment, if you find it stressful it’s because you wish things were different. The easiest example that I think most people can relate to is sitting in traffic. I think most people would agree that increases their stress level especially if they are running late for an appointment or meeting up with some family members for dinner or what have you.
So it’s this resistance against what is. You know, we don’t have any control over the traffic and yet, it’s a feudal attempt to try to fight against that. So for me, a big part of managing stress is merely having an acceptance of what we have control over and what we don’t and with that said, it’s okay for us to still have preferences. I mean, as sure as I am sitting here, I would prefer not to be stuck in traffic.
I would prefer that all of the cars get out of my way so I can go where I’m trying to go. That is a preference but I also realize it’s not the universe’s job to line up exactly in the way that I want it to, you know? That there is going to be things that aren’t my preference and adversities and challenges and if I try to resist what is, that’s what increases stress. So instead, I have taken a much more serene approach and I just allow the world to unfold the way that it is.
I acknowledge that I don’t control it. I acknowledge that I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I put my focus on how I respond to the things going around me and for me, that has worked wonders in my ability to manage and hopefully conquer stress.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, that road that you’re on if traffic or no traffic is always a bumpy one when you have — when you are starting out for a new goal as we were talking about. The second part of this book is avoiding stagnation. So what is that mindset you need to really have the right discipline and staying positive as you are on your way through the ups and downs of reaching a new goal?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Well one, is accept and acknowledge that there will be ups and downs, so don’t be surprised by it and to not get too high during the ups and don’t let yourself get too low during the downs. Constantly be striving to reinvent yourself. I very intentionally use the word pivot earlier when I decided to make this career change but we should all be making little minute pivots probably every day of our life.
We need to constantly be navigating towards the person that we are aiming to become and for me, that’s what’s most important. I no longer get really caught up in external validation or achievement or accomplishments. I am much more interested in the process and I am much more interested in my own growth, evolution, and improvement. Any accolades or success or anything that comes with that is just the cherry on top of the sundae.
It is just the nice byproduct but I put my focus into the work. For me, that’s been incredibly hopeful and not allowing myself to stagnate because I am never going to be done. I am never going to be a finished product. I will always be a work in progress and under construction. You know, I am 46 years old at present. I don’t see any reason why I won’t be on the planet for another 46 years. I take really good care of myself.
I know that that’s not promised by any means, this whole thing could be over for me tomorrow but I have the optimism to believe I’ll be around for another 46 years. I am so excited to continue to apply all of the lessons and perspectives and approaches that I have learned over the last 46 and apply them to the next 46. So for me, the way that I combat stagnation is I acknowledge I’m not done and I never will be done. I want to keep evolving and growing and part of that is making sure I surround myself with people that are on a similar journey.
They might be on a different timeline in their spectrum but they have a similar approach and people that care enough about me to hold me accountable to being my best self as consistently as possible. I have people in my life that if they believe I have put on the mental cruise control and I am just towing the line of status quo and I am starting to stagnate, if it happens to be a blind spot and it is something that I am unaware of, they care enough about me to tell me that and that’s really, really important to me.
Alleviate Burnout by Doing What Fills Your Cup
Drew Appelbaum: Along the way, it might be tough for some people to hear that here you are working so hard, you’ve gone so far and yet you don’t see the end of the road. You just keep going further and further and further and for some people that might lead to the third part of this book, which is burnout. Maybe you have made it to your goal, maybe you’ve made really great strides and the journey isn’t over yet. How can folks really again, endure those ups and downs when the road just keeps getting further and further and further in front of them?
Alan Stein, Jr.: What I find really interesting about burnout is it’s not necessarily the amount of work you are putting in or the sacrifices that you’re making. It is when the work you’re putting in and the hours you’re putting in and the sacrifices you are making are no longer in alignment with your interests. They are not in alignment with your core values, they’re not in alignment with the vision of who it is that you are trying to become.
When those things are not in harmony, that’s what leads to burnout. You know, when you’re doing work that fills your bucket that you derive fulfillment from, joy from, you do work that you believe is meaningful and is making a contribution either to your organization or to the world around you, then you’re going to alleviate burnout because you are doing what fills your cup. It is basically you’re rejuvenating yourself every single day that you are putting those hours in.
It is when we start to deviate from that and we start doing work that we don’t find meaningful is not filling our cup or deriving joy or fulfillment, that’s when we start to lead to burnout. So what I’ve noticed and many of the statistics prior to the pandemic were alarming and it’s been my own observation and opinion and assertion that many of those have been heightened in the past two years I see burnout being rampant.
If it’s because of a misalignment, I want folks to have the confidence and to feel empowered to take the power back and say, “Okay, first I need to acknowledge that I am starting to feel burned out.” We will never improve something in our lives that we are oblivious to, we’ll never fix something we’re unaware of. So awareness is always step one and it’s okay to admit that you’re heading towards burnout.
That is not a weakness, that actually takes tremendous courage and vulnerability to acknowledge and admit that and then once you do, then you can kind of lift up the hood and start to look at the engine and figure out, “All right, what tweaks do I need to make? This used to be a job or a role or work that I used to love. I am not loving it anymore. Let me see if I can pinpoint why.”
Once you can start to figure out why, then you can start to make some tweaks. Sometimes you can do some things to shake it up and start to get the love back. Sometimes, if you are working in a traditional organizational structure, maybe you assume a different role or you move to a different department or you have different responsibilities or you report to someone differently or if you are kind of making your own way, you are a CEO or you’re self-employed then maybe you pivot and you go on a completely different direction like I did a few years ago.
But what I want folks to understand is they need to be the ones to take control, that burnout is understandable. It doesn’t feel good, it is understandable. It is normal, it’s part of the process of being a human but you are not stuck there. It is not permanent, you can make decisions to make some changes to hopefully relight that fire and alleviate burnout.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, also in the book, you have actions steps along the way. So what do you ask of the reader as they go through the book?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Ever since I was a child — I always heard this phrase and I actually think there was a PBS library commercial. I even think I saw it on TV when I was younger — that says, “Knowledge is Power”. It’s not that that’s incorrect, I just think that it is incomplete because I don’t believe knowledge is power. I believe the power comes from the application of knowledge. Simply knowing is not enough, knowing without doing is feudal.
Knowing without executing your action is ultimately worthless, so it is not just the knowing that I think is important, it’s putting things into practice and because of my coaching background where my job was to help improve habits and behavior and discipline and mindset with the players I was working with, I’ve always been very action oriented. It wasn’t enough for me to tell a player, “Here are the things that you need to eat to perform better.”
I needed to somehow impact and influence and encourage and support them to actually start eating better. It is one thing to know what you should eat, it’s another thing to do it. For me, while I certainly want someone to enjoy the book, I want them to find the stories and stats entertaining, I want them to pick up little nuggets and strategies that they find helpful but I actually want to help give them a plan and I aimed to do that at the end of every chapter of tangible exercises that they can do.
It is my belief that if you want to get the most out of this book, you will make the time at the end of each chapter to do those things, not just role your eyes at them, not gloss over them, not say, “Oh yeah, I’ll do them later” but to actually do them and then start to see if it is making a difference in your life. I am all about action and execution.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, in addition to the book, you also have your website and can you tell us where we could find your site and what listeners and readers can find there?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Sure, if someone is looking specifically for the book, they can go to sustainyourgamebook.com and there’s some videos, a ton of inside peeks of the book, a lot of information there. If anyone wants more information just on my work as a whole, my main website is alansteinjr.com and then I have a supplemental site, strongerteam.com that has information on my podcast, my course, my one-on-one coach, the books, newsletter, kind of everything that supplements my main work as a keynote speaker.
Of course, you can just search Sustain Your Game on Amazon or Audible or wherever you get your books or audiobooks and then I am also very active on social media at Alan Stein Jr. on the major platforms and I love engaging with folks. So if anyone listening to this right now, if something we’ve discussed has struck a chord or you have something you want to share or a question you want to ask or even a perspective you want to challenge, I would love to keep the conversation going. Just shoot me a DM on Instagram and I am very good about getting back to people.
Drew Appelbaum: That’s amazing and, Alan, we just touched on the surface of the book here. There is so much more inside for listeners to find but I want to say just sharing your expertise and educating folks and just furthering their life and sustaining those goals is no small feat. So congratulations on having your second book published.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Oh, thank you so much. This was a fun conversation. I really appreciate your interest and support.
Drew Appelbaum: I do have two questions left, usually there is on one hot seat question but you are getting two today, Alan, so prepare yourself. The first is —
Alan Stein, Jr.: I am ready to roll.
Drew Appelbaum: If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Alan Stein, Jr.: That you have more control over managing stress, avoiding stagnation and beating burnout than you may think that you do. It is a very easy default to believe you are a victim of circumstance or a victim of situation. It is very easy to blame, complain and make excuses about whatever situation you find yourself in but you actually have the power to take control in times of stress whenever you feel like you’re stagnating and definitely if you are on the doorstep of burnout.
Drew Appelbaum: The second question, because you named Kevin Durant, Kevin Durant wrote a nice blurb about the book, do you think the Nets win in five over Boston?
Alan Stein, Jr.: Oh boy, that’s an interesting one. I do think when everybody is playing and all cylinders are firing, I actually believe the Nets are the best team in the NBA not even just in the East Coast but eastern conference rather but we’ll have to see. Celtics are really good and boy, Jayson Tatum is about as good as a young superstar as we’ve seen in a while.
Drew Appelbaum: It’s going to be a great series. I am sure you’re going to be locked in and Alan, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Sustain Your Game, and you could find it on Amazon and again, Alan listed many places where you can go and contact him if you have any questions. Alan, I just want to say thank you for coming on the show today and best of luck with your new book.
Alan Stein, Jr.: Absolutely, my pleasure. Thank you.