“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
We are what we do.
Each of us has activities, things we do day in and day out, over and over. Our habits become part of our psyche—part of our identity.
A famous statistic from Maxwell Maltz said that it takes a minimum of 21 days of doing something to make it a habit. Subsequent research suggests that it takes more like a minimum of two months and up to eight months before an activity becomes ingrained. So, if we want an activity to become part of our lives, we know what we have to do to make it happen.
However, knowing this is easier than doing it. We have to be motivated to do something day in and day out, for that long. To get that kind of motivation, we must have a clear image of how and why those activities should be part of our lives. That means that we should be able to consistently fit them into our routines and recognize what they will contribute to our happiness, health, or fulfillment.
It is an unfortunate fact that I’m in my car for many hours every week. Does this make me an excellent driver? Not necessarily. It makes me precisely the kind of driver I am day in and day out. If I’m intentional about the way I drive and strive to be safe and efficient, then that’s the kind of driver I will be. Experience does not breed excellence.
I love the Lombardi quote above. As a baseball coach, I see kids going through the motions all the time. They yak with each other warming up, and whip the ball back and forth without much thought as to their mechanics or the purpose of the drill. For a baseball player, the need to be good at what they do is clear cut.
It is important for us to do some things well, for like doing our jobs or maintaining our homes. If we don’t, there will be consequences. We also engage in some activities, such as playing musical instruments, knowing that the better we play, the more we will enjoy them.
Does it make a difference whether or not we do everything well? It depends on how we look at it. If we do things mindfully, we can get some joy from them. If we’re mindful while we do the dishes, change the oil in our car, make the beds, fold laundry, or any of our other tasks and duties, we can develop a habit of mindfulness that will translate not only into more meaningful days but also into doing things more “perfectly.”
We all have habits which enrich our lives, but we should also think about our “bad” habits. Some habits are decidedly negative and don’t really have an upside. These might include things that damage our health, hurt people, or put people at risk. If we have habits like this, we should think about where they fit into our identities and what drives us to do them. What is the plus side?
Other habits are less black and white. Lots of things we do have both upsides and downsides and it’s up to us to figure out if the positives are worth it or how we can minimize or mitigate the negatives. If we spend a lot of time doing something, it is important to know the consequences of our actions. It can be very illuminating to identify all of our habits, how they impact our lives, and how they impact the world.
Many of us live lives in which we repeat activities, interactions, and ways of thinking. As we repeat our thoughts and actions over and over, they become habits. Some of these habits may be positive, others may be negative, but we should be aware of them all and of their nature.
What we do is who we are.
Who are you?