How Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality Can Help You Achieve Your Goals and Prioritize Your Life

Written by Jaymi Naciri Posted On Monday, 10 February 2020 05:30

Basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed, along with eight others, in a tragic helicopter crash in California on Sunday, Jan. 26. In the weeks since, the outpouring of grief has been tremendous.

The emotions raw. And the “Mamba Mentality,” a persona he created for himself that epitomized his killer instinct on the court, has been brought into fresh focus.  

Kobe’s unrelenting dedication to basketball and his constant pursuit of excellence made him an almost-mythic figure. Even those who don’t know a tomahawk from a trey understand the great loss of a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Long after the 18-time All Star, two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) scoring champion, two-time Olympic gold medal winner, two-time NBA Finals MVP, and five-time NBA champion left the court, fans continued to utter “Kobe” as they stepped back to hit their version of his famous fadeaway jumper, or simply let rip a crumpled piece of paper arcing into a corner trash can.

But you don’t have to be a fan of Kobe or basketball or even sports to appreciate the Mamba Mentality. As ESPN sports personality, Stephen. A Smith, noted during NBA Countdown, it isn’t something that’s reserved for just basketball players. Or athletes. It’s for “any human being out there who has a dream.” 

Kobe’s off-the-court pursuits—in particular his dedication to his four daughters and his many philanthropic efforts that have come to light since his passing, like granting more than 200 Make a Wish requests and making countless unscheduled and unpublicized visits to sick children—have resonated with people all over the world. We’ve seen a terrific display of anguish and mourning even among those who never knew him and who can’t comprehend the audacity of an 81-point game or the willfulness to insist on always being the one to take the last shot, and always assume he’d make it. And not because he had the skill—which he obviously did—but because he had relentlessly prepared for that moment. And because he had the mentality. The Mamba Mentality. 

If his shocking and untimely death along with eight others—Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan—has made you personally reflect on your own life and reevaluate or reprioritize your goals, you’re not alone. While the loss is profound, it can inspire change. The Mamba Mentality is something we can all apply to our lives, whether you’re looking to become a real estate tycoon, want to safe place for your kids to play and good schools to learn in, are ready to commit to saving more money so you can meet those financial goals, want to climb the ladder in your career or perhaps change careers altogether to something that provides you with more fulfillment, or simply desire to be more present for your family. 

Put in the work

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to bring the Mamba Mentality into your world. Want to buy your first home but don’t have the down payment? Work your butt off to get there. Get a second job or a side gig, or stop eating lunch out every day. 

Not getting your offers accepted? What more could you be doing? Is your agent searching for off-market properties? Have you thought about writing a heartfelt letter to the seller of a home you really want? Do you need to refocus your goals on earning more money or tightening your belt to buy a bigger house? Maybe you need to lower your expectations and buy something smaller. 

Brett Hagler, the CEO and co-founder of New Story, a San Francisco-based non-profit seeking to end global homelessness, recently re-shared a piece he wrote on LinkedIn in 2016 about Kobe, which he titled, “Because of 4AM.”

The crux of the piece was that Kobe famously made sacrifices for his craft, getting to the gym at an ungodly hour to work on his game while others were sleeping. Because of 4AM “came from Kobe when he was on stage accepting the 'Icon Award' at the ESPYS,” he wrote. “He was addressing fellow athletes: ‘We’re not on this stage just because of talent or ability,’ Bryant said. ‘We’re up here because of 4 a.m. We’re up here because of two-a-days or five-a-days. We’re up here because we had a dream and let nothing stand in our way. If anything tried to bring us down, we used it to make us stronger.’

“There are thousands of athletes that had similar or even better talent than Kobe,” Hagler continued. “Just like there are thousands of executives, leaders, sales managers, artists, musicians, writers, etc. that have the same and more talent than you and me. But at the end of the day, it doesn't come down to who has the most talent or intelligence. It comes down to who is willing to make the choices that others are not willing to make. Who is willing to shoot baskets in the dark when everyone else is sleeping? Who is willing to prepare more for an interview? Who is willing to practice their speech 10X more than anyone else? All are choices we make. The 4AMs and two-a-days become intentional choices. The hard things over the easy, uncomfortable things become routine. The discipline to put off instant gratification is the standard process.”

That was the core of the Mamba Mentality: Simply work harder than everyone else. As Kobe once said, “When we are saying this cannot be accomplished, this cannot be done, then we are short-changing ourselves. My brain, it cannot process failure. It will not process failure.”

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Ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice to get there

How long of a drive to and from work we can endure is often a question we ask ourselves when we are buying a home. In some areas, a commute is inevitable simply because more affordable homes are sparse closer to work centers. But how much is too much? 

A big home with a yard in the suburbs that comes with a three-hour daily commute may not be preferable to a smaller place closer in that allows you to be home for dinner and tuck-ins every night in light of Kobe’s death. It’s hard not to see the sad irony in the fact that Kobe had made the choice to ride by helicopter to maximize the time he could spend with his family, recounting a time when he had missed a school play because he was stuck in notoriously bad L.A traffic. 

Focus on small goals

When you have the impetus to make a life change, you can feel compelled to change everything at once. If you’re newly focused on saving money for a down payment, perhaps, you can set yourself up for failure by setting an unreasonable goal. Want to be the CEO of your company instead of an assistant? Expecting that to happen in six months can ultimately create disappointment and frustration. Instead, set smaller goals and work hard to meet them. 

Kobe once said about his return to the game after an injury, “It’s a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that…were taken for granted. This will also mean that when you return you will have a new perspective. You will be so appreciative of being able to stand, walk, run that you will train harder than you ever have. You see the belief within you grow with each mini milestone and you will come back a better player for it.” 

Don’t be afraid of missteps

Whatever it is we’re pursuing, whether we’re spotlighting our objectives at work, our financial independence, or raising kids, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s making choices, pivoting when necessary, refining our processes, and always keeping the end goal in mind. 

“If I wanted to implement something new into my game, I’d see it and try incorporating it immediately,” Kobe said in The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. “I wasn’t scared of missing, looking bad, or being embarrassed. That’s because I always kept the end result, the long game, in my mind. I always focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I got it, I’d have another tool in my arsenal. If the price was a lot of work and a few missed shots, I was OK with that.”

Keep learning

Kobe was notoriously curious and a voracious learner. On his first show back after Kobe’s death, Jimmy Kimmel told a story about having gifted Kobe with a book; Kobe contacted Jimmy after finishing the book, and had so many questions that Jimmy ended up putting him in touch with the author. Kobe also taught himself how to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata by ear because he thought it would be nice for his wife. Already fluent in three languages, he was also in the process of learning Cantonese. 

You don’t have to go out and learn a new language, or perfect a masterpiece on the piano. But what can you add to your life, or what can help reach your goals, by employing a learning mentality? Would picking up a new skill make you a more valuable employee at your current job or open you up to more lucrative opportunities elsewhere? Would learning to paint or garden or tile your kitchen backsplash add enjoyment to your life or value to your home? Would learning about different types of loans and programs for things like down payment assistance make it more likely that you could buy your first home? The more you know, the more you can advocate for yourself, the more prepared you are to meet your goals. The more Mamba your Mentality, the more likely your success.

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Be a leader

Even those of us who love basketball and are lifetime Laker fans underestimated the impact Kobe had on the game and on other players. The outpouring of grief has been tangible. Turns out that perhaps his greatest legacy is not what he did on the court, but how he inspired others to do and be their best through his example.

Since Kobe’s retirement, he was fulfilling that role for others, mentoring and acting as a support system to a wide range of people, including the children of his former teammates; Shaquille O’Neal’s son, Shareef, called Kobe “Unc” and received a text from Kobe the morning of his death. Kobe was also notably promoting women’s and girls’ basketball to the extent that many felt this would be his most important legacy, surpassing even his unbelievable exploits on the court.  

"The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do," he said. 

With your coworkers, your friends, your family, being more and doing more is a choice. 

Give back

If Kobe’s untimely death has made you think about what you were putting back into the world, you’re not alone. That seems to be a common response, especially in light of all the information coming out about the selfless deeds that he did. If you’re looking for a way to channel your grief, or simply achieve more personal fulfillment, think about how to give back. 

“What is it in life that drives you? Are you motivated by making lots of money at your job? Do you enjoy being recognized for your accomplishments? That’s a good start, but think deeper,” said author and self-help guru Tony Robbins. “Why do you enjoy making money? Is it so you can provide for your family and feel secure? Perhaps you relish being recognized for your achievements because it makes you feel like you’re making the most of your time or you enjoy giving back to your industry in some way. There’s always a greater purpose that drives your actions. Now, what if you could work toward your purpose by contributing to others? This will help you reach a greater sense of fulfillment. You can feel like you’re making a major difference for a good cause and ultimately get closer to achieving your personal goals.”

A loss can be a turning point, if you channel that grief properly. And it doesn’t have to be the loss of someone you knew personally.

“There’s a huge sense of loss when people who are young and really excelling in life are stripped away from us out of the blue,” Lauren Cook, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Pepperdine University, told NBC News. “It’s really triggering as it’s a stark reminder of life's unpredictability. We tend to go through our days with a sense of normalcy that we can take it for granted. A loss like this is something that humans, who crave homeostasis, find tragically alarming.”

The site’s recommendation, which is widely shared by experts in grief and loss: “The next best thing you can do to cope with this loss (once you have fully processed it), is to use it to make you a better person.”

Figure out your priorities and make your time count

Kobe’s dedication to his four daughters and his pride in being a “girl dad” was increasingly on display after his retirement from the NBA in 2016. Few of us have the financial wherewithal to retire at age 34, but his post-NBA life is a good reminder to focus on what’s important.

Kobe was once asked how he wanted to be remembered. His answer: "I've always said that I wanted to be remembered as a player that didn't waste a moment...didn't waste a day. I felt extremely blessed by the God-given talent but, at the same time, I didn’t take it for granted. So if I could be remembered as a person who was born with a lot of talent but did everything he could to try to overachieve and lived every day as if he was the 12th guy on the bench…that’s a very powerful message to have.’

But, he also knew that his time as a player was limited, and that his life goals were much larger than what he could do with a ball. “If basketball is the best thing I’ve done in my life, then I’ve failed,” he said.

That’s a lesson for us all.

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