Good habits

Consider this quote by Aristotle:

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly”

Wow. If this is a true statement (and I believe it is), then a man ought to build his life around doing the very things that produce virtues (goodness, compassion, magnanimity, honesty, etc.) and competencies (skills and abilities). To me, that means recognizing the actions that will grow your virtues and competencies, and making a real commitment to perform them on a consistent basis. Take for example the following well-known proverb:

“The early bird gets the worm.”

The phrase is usually said to mean “he who rises early finds opportunities which others miss.” The meaning of “early bird” lies in “he who rises early.” An “early bird” is not so much a thing that is or is not, such as gold or copper or air, but rather a word used to describe one who performs certain actions. Though a man can never through his actions become gold or silver, he can assuredly rise earlier each morning and thus become an early bird.

Thus, what life may really be about is deciding what activities you might participate in or abstain from which will form the virtues you wish to exhibit, or build the skills you wish to have.

Harry Truman once said, “In reading the lives of great men, I’ve found that with all of them self-discipline came first.” A man is not virtuous or competent because he was born as such, but rather because he has worked at it. The type of systematic work that actually makes the difference is what takes discipline. A man might be a great admirer of music. To become a musician, however, he must work. He must study theory, analyze the music of others, and become skilled with some instrument. Simply enjoying music is not enough. Simply wishing will not suffice.  A man must perform repeated actions to achieve a desired result.

All of this comes back to your habits. If you wake up early every day and focus for a few hours on getting something really important done, you become a person who gets up early and gets things done. If you can make time every day to learn more about your craft (a few hours), then very soon, you will find yourself surpassing your peers who perhaps only learn when necessity demands. Bad habits go the same way.  If you drink often, you risk becoming a drunk.  If you shun social interaction, you might become a pariah.

To simplify Aristotle’s original quote:

“We are what we repeatedly do.”

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 24, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh Grasshopper. You listened.

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