Living by a set of good principles can make us improve ourselves and our lives a lot. Sometimes, just living by one great principle is enough to be the game changer. One of the greatest principles is captured elegantly with the following famous quote that is often attributed to Aristotle.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Will Durant (Summarizing Ideas of Aristotle)
Just as a side note, the quote was actually not written by Aristotle. It’s actually a quote written by Will Durant. The quote is in Will Durant’s book “The Story of Philosophy” where he summarized the greatest philosophers’ thoughts. The original Aristotle writing related to habits actually goes like this:
“As it is not one swallow or a fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy. …... These virtues are formed in man by his doing the right actions.”
Thanks to Will Durant, we have an amazing principle put in a very elegant way. Like every great principle, we can derive a lot of lessons and methods from this quote. Let’s now explore what we can learn from it.
Since we are not machines, it’s understandable that we don’t have the perfect discipline to do what we have planned to do, at least we don’t succeed every single time. Fortunately, there is something called habits. If you want to do something, it’s best to turn what you need to do into daily habits. For example, if you want to write a book, it’s wise to wake up and write for two hours everyday at 7:00am. Once your daily action turns into a habit (Science says it takes roughly 2 months of doing something everyday), you would hardly fail to do your daily action.
Since habits are so important, you would want most of your habits to be good ones that lead to goals that you want to achieve. Do you have any good habits that would lead you to achieve something great? Do you have bad habits only?
To succeed, the most important key is to develop good habits. Know clearly what you need to achieve. Work backward to find out what are the daily tasks you need to perform in order to reach your goals. Now, the most important part is that you want to turn your daily tasks into good habits one by one, not all at once. It’s hard enough to develop good habits. You don’t want to increase the difficulty even more by developing multiple good habits at the same time. Force yourself to do an important task roughly 60 days in a row and the task would likely become a habit. Be patient. You can do it.
Getting rid of your bad habits may even be more important than developing good ones. Living a good life is almost like replacing your bad habits with good habits.
Just like developing good habits, you need roughly 2 months of forcing yourself not doing something in order to actually get rid of the habit. It’s going to take time but it’s going to so worth it.
“Don't think that you miss one day meditating or you miss one workout that you're a total failure. ...... I think you're spending so much time beating up on yourself that you fell off the wagon, that the wagon is just leaving into the distance and you're not getting back on it. So make sure you run and catch that wagon.” - Marie Forleo
In the above quote, Marie Forleo let us know that we shouldn’t spend so much time beating ourselves up if we miss a workout or miss a morning routine. For most goals that are worth achieving, it is going to take a long time to achieve them. Missing one day means very little if you can get back up the next day and catch the wagon.
“To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” - Angela Duckworth
Angela Duckworth, writer and scientist that studies the science of grit, with the above quotes mentioned that being gritty is to be able to get back up after each failure. In her famous book “Grit”, she also talked about how “grit” is the biggest factor to success (not counting things we can’t control like luck).
Our willpower is a finite resource. We can easily run out of willpower during the day. That’s why we need to manage willpower well. How does that exactly mean? That means we should do the most important thing the first thing in the morning when we are full of willpower. That means we want to avoid getting near desserts after a long day of work if our goal is to keep in shape.
We can fight “the lack of willpower” with habits. Once our daily tasks become habits, it really takes very little willpower to do them. Learning how to use habits is a wonderful skill.
If you want to succeed, you want to do the one thing that can lead you to succeed everyday. The best chance of doing what you need to do everyday is to do that one thing the first thing in the morning. There’s no easier way.
The quote “we are what we repeatedly do” indicates that we are not what we are thinking. It’s important to be aware of that because we often blame ourselves when we come up with thoughts that are excuses for not doing our work. If you have thoughts that tell you not to work right now but you still do the work anyway, your thoughts don’t matter. Indeed, doing what you are supposed to do even when you don’t feel like it is a superpower that can lead you to achieving your goal.