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A Wood-Chopping Process

bigstock--145341518Meet Psych Central’s odd(est) couple — Gretchen Rubin and Nick Saban.

Rubin is a New York Times best-selling author, producing self-improvement tomes like The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. Saban is Alabama’s head football coach, collecting national championships like you and I collect stamps. Or parking tickets.  

Eyebrows arched, you are likely wondering what Rubin — noted happiness guru — and Saban — noted joyless taskmaster — have in common. For the record, Rubin is not designing a new defensive scheme to neutralize still-galloping Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. And Saban is not producing a cheerful memoir recalling Bama’s football hits interspersed with pithy sayings.

But Rubin and Saban do espouse a similar life philosophy: one that fosters success both on and off the field.  

“Failure Is Fun”

Plowing through Rubin’s The Happiness Project, her “failure is fun” mantra elicited a head shake. Doesn’t Rubin know that failure is disappointing, disheartening — even demoralizing. It is blood, sweat, and a lot of tears. And not always in that order.  

In our professional and personal life, failure stings — piercing our already fragile self-concept. It shadows and torments, fueling pangs of self-doubt. For perfectionists, failure — or even its possibility — induces a numbing paralysis. “Am I making the right decision?” we question. Repeatedly.  

Facing unmeetable expectations, we hesitantly approach the great unknown. The great unknown can be a career transition, academic program, or even a first date. Fearing failure — or its unmistakable scent, we retreat into the familiar. A safe place is more than a PC term; it signifies our yellow light approach to life.

And this is when Saban — grimace and all — arrives. College football’s resident taskmaster, Saban comes across as robotic — even joyless. When he isn’t curt, he condescends. But between his mocking eyerolls and verbal lashings, there is one constant — as any ‘Bama loyalist can attest.

Trust the Process

In his grab-bag of cliches, this is Saban’s modus operandi. At first blush, Trust the Process seems more contrived than championship. But Trust the Process makes — wait for it — failure fun. Or at least as fun as it can be under dictatorial Nick.

King Nick believes a result-oriented approach stunts progress. In fact, he never discusses national championships, SEC titles, or poll rankings. Instead, Saban emphasizes consistent preparation through obtuse sayings: dominate your box. Be where your feet are. Keep chopping wood. In college football’s crucible, The Process has delivered — five national championships to be exact.   

“It’s about committing yourself to being the best you can be on that particular day,” Saban intones. “Improvement is a steady march.”

So make a mistake. Struggle. Even fail. Because failure is a steady march to great — for best-selling authors, Hall of Fame coaches, and, yes, a committed you.

A Wood-Chopping Process

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). A Wood-Chopping Process. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Feb 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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