The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”
Successful leaders know the power of habit. They have learned to move beyond self-discipline by creating habits that align with their goals and dreams. A positive habit will serve that leader well for years to come, while a negative habit can become an oppressive master.
Bad habits develop rather easily like overeating, smoking, or watching too much TV. While repetition of the activity contributes to forming a habit, it is the positive feelings we garner while doing it that makes a habit so addictive. Smokers report how it relaxes them so it’s easy to see why stopping becomes such a struggle. Or just try convincing yourself that cutting back on fatty foods is important while enjoying the taste of French fries.
Developing a good habit can be challenging, even for someone with lots of discipline. I successfully established a daily “aerobic walking” habit by adopting several key strategies.
- A focus on the end result. I imagined how good I would feel about myself in six months. That created some incentive to keep going.
- Considering the consequences of not following through. Would I want to be out of shape and unable to complete basic household chores as I aged?
- Imagining how difficult it would be to follow through. Inclement weather would be the perfect excuse to stay in bed. It would be dark for many of my early morning walks. Each of these challenges became a reason to keep going.
Most leaders will need accountability partners who are aware of the habit they hope to develop. I told family and friends about my plans and encouraged them to ask how I was doing. I have played a similar coaching role with clients who wish to develop their own new habits.
Albert E.N. Gray, a nationally known writer and speaker on insurance subjects, discovered one other significant key to developing habits that will impact your future as a leader. His studies showed that successful individuals “form the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do.”
Perhaps that is what Aristotle had in mind. When leaders act in the right ways, and do the difficult things that others won’t, they achieve the excellence they seek.
Habits become their servants instead of their masters.