"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit."-Aristotle
I love this quote. It's one that sort of finds its way back into my brain every so often. Today, I thought of it again because I've been learning a lot about consistency lately.
I really need consistency. My imagination can be overactive and tricky and that combination makes for grade-A ADD. I can get an idea and thrive on the energy of it and then that curious, imaginative mind will wiggle off onto some other land and find yet another idea leaving the previous one in the dust. This pattern can go on and on and it makes it super hard to finish anything. I've often been left feeling confused and discombobulated with just a bunch of half-attempted (or not attempted at all) ideas laying around.
I'm 25 and I can honestly say that as far back as I can remember I have had this difficulty. It seems that it has framed my life thus far. Being interested in EVERYTHING is not easy. I've taken acting classes, guitar lessons, piano lessons, voice lessons, and drum lessons--which is kind of cool right? Except I've never acted in any production and I can't play a lick of any instrument because I couldn't stick with any thing. I have joined a public speaking club, a karate class, a sign-language course, multiple meditation groups, make-shift spanish classes, and I even went all the way to India to learn to become a yoga instructor. I quit them all. I have created ideas around small teams of people and dismantled them more times than I can count. And if I could make a stack of all of the papers I have written my intended (and failed) daily routine on, I know without exaggeration that it could easily begin on the bottom floor of my basement and push well through the roof. Looking back, it seems like the only thing I could "repeatedly do" was change my mind, fail, or quit.
I'm not saying that I regret any of this wishy-washyness from my past, but it's funny to look back on and quite telling of some of my potential habit patterns. Now don't get me wrong, I have finished things. For instance, even though I went to 3 colleges and changed my major 3 times, I did in fact somehow finally graduate with a degree in Speech Communications. And I also went to nursing school and got certified to be a nurse's assistant. And I trained for and completed a full marathon. And even though my ADD mind was part of the reason for its ultimate demise, I have also co-owned a genuinely functional business that actually turned a small profit. I guess I have to be fair and give myself a little credit for the few things I have had the consistency and discipline to complete.
I've always had the awareness that consistency is not only what made me feel better, but it was the key ingredient needed to get anything done. It's just the goddamned follow-through that's been the real uphill battle for me. For every one of my successes it seems like there were a thousand epic fails or more. It's exhausting to feel like you cannot hold a focus.
- Drink at bars with friends.
- Come up with ideas and do nothing with them.
- Talk about what I want to do and never do it (or do a little bit of it and quit).
I really believe humans need continuity. We need to see that each day we have to take small actions to create greater things. We need to know that even though new ideas come up, there's importance in commitment and follow through. We need to feel a sense of inner security in our decisions on a regular basis before we can generate consistent momentum, strength, and focus. And ultimately we need to pick good habits for ourselves.
Ugh. Easier said than done. I know.
Most spiritual books I have read give great importance to discipline and consistency. Discipline of the self is often considered the beginning of Samadhi (mastery of the mind). While I was in India last year, I had a unique and powerful experience with a very wise Guru in the jungle-ish area of Rishikesh. One of the most influential things he said to me was that human beings absolutely need a consistent and disciplined personal practice to be great, because without one the mind is like a monkey. There is no focus. There is no continuity. There is no centeredness. There is no excellence.
This piece of advice from the Guru (we actually called him Swamiji) reminded me of Liz Gilbert's Indonesian friend Ketut from "Eat, Pray, Love". He said to Liz that she had to keep four feet on the ground if she wanted to be happy and centered. Not two feet. Four feet. And from that point of intense grounding and discipline, we can move into a state of excellence. I think that's what Aristotle meant; discipline comes first. Discipline yourself to have great habits and you will be great.
So yeah, I've failed a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. And I know for sure that I will fail again. But maybe without all those failures, I would've never fully understood the importance of inner discipline, continuity, and focus in my life. Perhaps the primary goal for us now is to pay close attention to the things we "repeatedly do" and diligently practice creating and maintaining more positive and consistent habits. A tall order, but it seems immensely important.
What are you repeatedly doing?