We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Originally attributed to Aristotle, it's now come to light that it was actually a quote by Will Durant, who was writing about Aristotle.“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I remember when I first saw this quote because it encompassed exactly what I was learning and discovering about habits or routines.

It was this quote that made me realise the everything in my life is due to the habits that I have. All the success and all the failures; it always comes back to habits. Always.

I wish I’d fully understood this when I was a teenager, not waiting till I’m in my forties before cottoning on.

Success comes from habits

I’m not sure why it took me so long to grasp this truth because the evidence of it is in the life of  every single successful person that you can think of.  Always their success can be attributed to the habits or routines that they have in their life.

Some quick examples in case you need convincing. I doubt you do, but here they are anyway:

Michael Jordan – hours and hours of relentless practice. Even after he was rejected.

Katy Perry – Practicing on her guitar and writing song after song. (I just saw a movie/documentary on her. I have a whole new respect for the woman.)

Stephen King – he sits down at the same time every day, at the same desk, in the same chair and writes every day.

What about bad habits? Is it the same for failure?

In the same way, it’s our bad habits that lead to our demise and poverty and disappointment. You don’t need to think too much about this one to know it’s true, right?

  • The overweight person who is in the habit of McDonalds for lunch.
  • The unfit derby player who was in the habit of letting her work take priority over exercise and training.
  • The aspiring writer who only writes when she feels like it. Which isn’t every day.
  • The athlete who knows they should practice every day to get better… but doesn’t.

I think we all know instinctively (even without me giving repetitive examples) that habits are THE thing that lead to our success or demise?

The habits that make us successful: are they inherent or learnt?

Look, I think there is a lot to be said for the person who is born with a particular skill set or into a supportive environment. The tall basketball player, the pianist with long fingers, the physicist with high IQ or the entrepreneur whose parents have deep and generous pockets. Just being born into a first world country has huge benefits over being born into a third world country.

But genetic lottery, family heritage or societal privilege is no guarantee of success. A person must use those skills or traits to their advantage.

They must learn to harness those benefits and hone them into success. Anyone without those benefits can do it too… you just have a work a bit harder, be a bit more resourceful and it may well take you longer to see the success you’re seeking.

If the habits are learnt… why are they so fricken hard to learn?!

I really wish I had the answer to this. But I don’t.

I’ve read and heard so many people/experts/gurus tell me that ‘I don’t want it enough’ or ‘I don’t have a clear enough vision’ or ‘I need to tell the universe what I want, not what I don’t want’ etc, etc, ET CETERA.

To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of hearing that.

You see, I’ve done all those things that they tell me to do. Explored all those ways to make myself do the things that I know I should do, and yet, I’m still the same.

For example – making myself exercise regularly. Why is it so hard? Why do I struggle to do it? I actually do enjoy exercising (especially if it’s not too hard) and the fitter I get the more I enjoy it. But still, I don’t want to do it. Everything in my body is saying ‘No, I’m too tired’,  or ‘It’s too hard’, or ‘Really?! You want me to get out of breath and put in all that effort?!’

Another example not weight or fitness related – I want to write. I want to earn money through writing. Whether by blogging, freelancing, writing courses or authoring a book. But, of course, I need to practice writing. I’m not a natural writer, it’s not something I’m compelled to do ‘just because’. But when I do write, it often makes me feel so empowered and the words just flow out of me. I feel like I’m finally contributing to the world (even if only online) rather than just being a rabid consumer. But I find it sooo hard to do everyday.

Habits are the only way

Is it the same way for you? Do you have things that you want to achieve, but you’re not exactly passionate about them? So you have to work at making yourself do the stuff that matters.

Well, I’ve found the answer.

It’s all about habits. (Ummm, no surprises there right?)

So just for the moment; forget about what you want to achieve, and instead think about what activities you need to do in order to be successful. And make those into habits.

But don’t forget, you want to work on the habit first. Not the activity.

So you want to establish the habit of writing. Don’t make it hard on yourself by saying you need to get into the habit of writing 1,000 words a day. Not even 200 words a day. First develop the habit of writing 5 words a day. Yes you read that correctly. I said FIVE words. You’re not working on developing your writing yet. You’re developing the HABIT. So get in the habit of sitting down preferably in the same spot at the same time, every day, to write your 5 words. Once that habit is established, then you can increase your word count.

But first establish the habit.

Another example:

You want to lose 10kg. Your goal is to go for a walk for half an hour every evening after dinner.

So establish the habit first.

You take your plate to the kitchen, pop it into the sink or dishwasher and go straight to the door where you put your walking shoes on and walk out to the letterbox. That’s the habit you want to establish. Just putting on your shoes as soon as you’ve finished dinner.

Does that make sense? Do you get what I’m trying to say? That you just need to get the habit ingrained into your mind and body first. So make it as easy as possible for it to become a habit.

And then, as you build these habits into your life, this quote will become true for your successes instead of your failures.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Will Durant

*Many sites on the internet have this quote attributed to Aristotle, incorrectly as it turns out. It was actually written by Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World’s Greatest Philosophers. I most certainly didn’t figure this fact out, but found it on this blog while researching the quote.

What are some of the habits that you’ve got in your life that have led to your successes… or failure?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Originally attributed to Aristotle, it's now come to light that it was actually a quote by Will Durant, who was writing about Aristotle.