How to become most excellent–via Aristotle

  photo by Cameron Cassan

Sometimes the whole ‘wisdom’ thing is overblown – do a search on quotes and you’ll find more deep thoughts than you can shake a stick at, but sometimes those pithy ideas really have something to say!  I ran across this quote the other day and I was struck with how much it addresses a lot of things I see people struggling with:

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

There are a few things that really stand out to me on this particular quote.

First of all, Aristotle is a pretty influential guy in the grand scheme of things…student of Plato (who was a student of Socrates), and the teacher of Alexander the Great and responsible for all sorts of big ideas in western philosophy.

But from a more practical standpoint (as it applies to business) there are a couple of really important ideas here…

“We are what we repeatedly do.” 

Not what we say we’re going to do, not what we’ve done once, but don’t do all the time, not what we dress up to look like…no it’s pretty simple:  “We are what we repeatedly do.”

So if you want to be known as a great guitar player, start being a great guitar player, doing what great guitar players do and eventually it will take care of it self.  There are no shortcuts – if you get clear on your Real Goals and start DOING the right things…putting the time in, you’ll get somewhere.

“Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

It’s a restatement of the first sentence, but I love the idea of building habits.  You may be familiar with the Four Stages of Competence (or the four stages of learning).  Basically they break down to:

  • Unconscious Incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know
  • Conscious Incompetence – you know, but you’re not good
  • Conscious Competence – you are very focused and with effort you’re good
  • Unconscious Competence – you’ve mastered a skill and don’t think about it

When I think of this model, I tend to think about learning to throw a baseball or drive a stick shift in a car.  The first time you try to do it is awkward at best…but with practice you will move up these stages to the point where you don’t even realize you’re doing something that used to be difficult for you.

The key to that mastery is to get something to the point where you make it a habit.  When you have a habit, not only do you not really think about it anywhere…it’s even stronger than that, if you are doing it wrong it will bother you…a lot.

How does this apply to your business?  If you want or need to be good at something, the only real choice you have is to go out and do it…and do it, and do it, until it becomes a habit. 

Want to be great at closing a sale with a great prospect?  Have a lot of sales meetings with great prospects and you will start getting better at closing them.  You can’t get away with just blindly repeating things, you need to make sure you’re doing the right things…you need to learn from your mistakes, but from there it’s just a matter of putting in the work.

What habits are you working on?  What do you want to be and what would you need to do to become that?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach