“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle/Durant
So there’s some interesting debate over the validity of the origin and translation of this quote but I don’t care. I think it’s an awesome quote anyhow.
What this quote reminds us is that every moment of every day, you are strengthening habits whether you are aware of it or not. When you are aware of the actions and habits that you want to cultivate, you create excellence through intentional and meticulous practice.
The beauty of this reality is that you can get better at anything. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting from, and the finish line might seem dauntingly far away but if you don’t let yourself get discouraged by that and you just…put in the work…you’re going to see progress. Sometime it seems quick and sometimes it seems non-existent, but if you keep at it, excellence will come. To the degree that you practice, you will master that skill or habit.
So if you want to build a skill, practice repeatedly. Dance every day. Run regularly, and push yourself to go faster. Practice getting up with the sun to increase your productivity. Make exercise part of your lifestyle. Practice planning and cooking healthy meals. Repeat intentions to yourself so your brain starts to habitually think them: “I’m strong and dedicated” or “I am working towards this goal” or “I am capable and confident.” All of these things will feel difficult at first and it’s okay if you don’t feel like doing them…just DO it anyway. Do whatever it is that you want to be excellent at, over and over. You’ll get better at doing the thing, guaranteed.
Here’s what sucks about this…when your brain goes on default mode, it sometimes guides you to do the things that maybe you don’t want to become habitual. Sometimes we get in our own way, right? So it’s just as important to identify and stop practicing habits that are decreasing your quality of life, wasting your time and sabotaging your efforts.
Take time to think about the habit you have that you don’t want to strengthen anymore. Many of these behaviors are impulsive so you have to think about them when you’re not doing theml. Make a list. Drag these habits out of your subconscious and into your consciousness where you can then start to change them.
Do you impulsively eat out or grab unhealthy foods because you’re not planning meals, getting to the grocery store, or making time to cook?
Are you signing up for classes and then not going?
Are you setting an alarm but hitting “snooze” for an hour?
Are you wasting precious time on your phone, video games, YouTube or TV?
Do you find yourself grabbing addictive substances (sugar, alcohol, drugs) in order to numb, distract, or calm yourself?
Once you identify the things you don’t want to be doing, you can start to decrease and eventually eradicate these behaviors by replacing them with desirable ones.
It’s simple. Practice, repeat, and repeat again.
Is it easy? Oh no no no no nooooooooo. No, it’s not easy. If it were easy everyone would be excellent at everything immediately, right?
It’s easy to get your meal at a fast food joint. It’s easy to hit the snooze button. It’s easy to skip your cardio. It’s easy to hold onto resentment. It’s easy to speak unkindly about others. It’s easy to make up excuses for not doing the things you know you really do want to be doing.
Those things are easy peasy.
If you are at all under the impression that simple is synonymous with easy, you are practicing delusion and you’ll be disappointed, frustrated and confounded at the results.
So don’t expect the road to excellence to be easy, but there’s no reason to think you can’t do it either. Do the simple things that are hard. There will always be that moment where you have to tell your inner 5-year-old that they have to buck up and get out of bed, cook their meal, practice their art, get their workout gear on. But that only lasts a moment. The beauty is that the more you do the things that you want to be doing, the more you feel the rewards and the easier it gets to get yourself to do it again. And again.
There’s nothing that does not grow light
Through habit and familiarity.
Putting up with little cares
I’ll train myself to bear with great adversity. ~ Shantideva