We Are What We Repeatedly Do: Idea of Aristotle Captured by Will Durant

What are we?  Are we what we think?  Are we what we do?  The below quote is probably the best answer that one can come up with:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Will Durant (often misattributed to Aristotle)


“We Are What We Repeatedly Do” Is Not Written by Aristotle

Let’s talk about a little bit of background about this brilliant quote that you can live by.  The quote is often misattributed to Aristotle, the famous ancient Greek philosopher, for whatever reason.  In reality, the quote is from the book “The Story of Philosophy”, a book that is written by Will Durant, an American philosopher.  With this quote, Will Durant was trying to express some of Aristotle’s ideas in his own words.  So yes, the quote is very much related to Aristotle.  But no, it’s not a direct quote from him.  


The Quote Is So True

Some of you may find it surprising or even disappointing that this golden quote wasn't written by the iconic philosopher Aristotle.  But the quote is so true that it doesn’t really matter whether it is misattributed or not.  In fact, the misattribution might have made this quote more popular than if it were without the misattribution, which is good in terms of wisdom spreading.  Remember that you are what you repeatedly do, so develop your habits wisely.  


Why You Are Not Your Thoughts

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” - Eckhart Tolle

The above quote from Eckhart Tolle, an impactful writer that focuses on mindfulness, let us know about three important things.  One, there are two “you’s” - the “thinker you” and the “observer you”.  Two, we are not our thoughts, because we can observe our thoughts.  Three, it’s wise to consider the “thought and emotional observer you” the actual you.  


Why You Are Not What You Do Only Once

If you did some exercise last year, and then you have never done it again since, it’s obvious that you are not a person who does exercise.  That’s obvious, right?  However, when it comes to things that are not as measurable like being a genuine person or being a good parent, we do have the tendency to lie to ourselves, whether consciously or subconsciously.  For example, we may have played with our kids last Sunday, but we haven’t given them too much attention for the last three days.  We might still think we are good parents.  The fact is that good parents don’t only show up on Sundays.  If you do something only once or once in a while, that action that you do doesn’t represent you well.  


You Are What You Consistently Do

If you write everyday, you are a writer.  You may not be a writer with a published book, but you are a writer.  With that being said, chances are that if you write everyday for years, you will get better and better.  If you do that everyday, you have a chance; if you don’t, you don’t.  


You Are Your Habits

Science tells us that if we do something daily for roughly 2 months, the thing that we do will become a habit.  Before the thing becomes our habit, it takes willpower to do it.  When it becomes a habit, it doesn’t take much.  It almost feels like doing that thing is automatic.  Eventually, most of what we do daily are our habits.  We are our habits.  


Develop Good Habits

Assuming that you want to reach excellence, you need to develop good habits.  If you want to be a writer, form the habit of writing everyday.  If you want to be healthy, form the habit of exercising, eating right, and sleeping right everyday.  We also only have 24 hours a day and we can’t do 200 things a day.  Choose the things that you want to develop into habits wisely.  There are going to be tradeoffs.  If you want to be a writer, you may have to reduce or even give up your time practicing the piano.  It’s tough, but you have to know your priority.  There’s nothing wrong with writing for 2 hours and practicing playing the piano for 2 hours daily.  You just have to ask yourselves whether these two things have the same priority to you.  


Getting Rid of Bad Habits

For some people, it’s more important to first get rid of their bad habits.  It can be tough but you have to do it if you have chosen to be excellent.  Social media is designed to be very addictive.  Basically, a social media platform is like a lottery machine.  Everytime you post something on the platform, you don’t know how many “likes” or “comments” you will get.  Some people call it “variable rewards” which means you sometimes get smaller or no rewards, sometimes you get bigger rewards, like how a lottery machine works.  It’s extremely addictive.  Be mindful and be aware of your own behavior is a first step for getting rid of your bad habits.  If you want to form the habit of spending less time with your phone when you are with your family, try to put the phone away for 15 minutes when you are at home.  Gradually increase the no-phone time to 30 minutes, and then 1 hour, and then 2 hours.  Do that everyday.  It will become a habit roughly around 2 months and you will no longer need much willpower to sustain that.  


Final Thoughts

What are we?  Will Durant said it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  What’s the one thing that you want to be.  You want to be a writer?  Write everyday.  You also need to have a healthy body and mind to support the one thing that you want to be the most.  That’s why you should also sleep well, eat well, and exercise well everyday.  These things that you do everyday will become your habits.  You are your habits.  Get rid of your bad habits and develop good habits, if you want to become the best version of yourself.  

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