Today I want to break down this statement by Aristotle. I cam across this while reading ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer and I feel it really speaks to my life. So much so that it has been my quote of the week.
Part I: We are what we repeatedly do.
The great thing about this part of the quote is that it is a statement of unequivocal fact. Michael Jordan became a phenomenal basketball player because he practiced so much that the game just became part of him. Likewise, the cello is simply an extension of Yo-Yo Ma because of the endless hours of time put into learning and perfecting his art. In all fields, one can find similar stories that all follow a similar path. This same point that Aristotle points out so eloquently has recently been elaborated on through the 10,000 hour rule, which has been popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (a book which I highly recommend). The basic premise is that if a person reaches 10,000 hours spent performing a specific skill or activity that they will be a master at it. This equates to three hours a day over the course of ten years. The truth is in the results. Gladwell points out that the number of hours is not a magic number, and that one may become a master before reaching 10,000 hours, but that the process of constant, consistent work towards a goal will eventually reach its fruition.
One thing that this rule, and Aristotle's original statement allow for is gradual progress. The road to mastery is a long path and thusly progress will not be in large leaps, but in small steps. Every once in a while there will be a "breakthrough moment," but these are really just a culmination of many little adjustments over time fusing together to create the current product. This process of slow growth is not often embraced today, however the effects are considerably more lasting than quick fix practices.
For myself, coming to realize this slow process has been a lesson in patience. I first started my transition from baritone to tenor about two years ago. Apart from my obvious issues of distance from my teacher, the process has been very slow as in not nearly done. I have just recently come into possession of a high A and Bb, and they are still fickle at best. The process has been, for me, one that seems to move at such a pace that I do not really feel like I am progressing at all, but feedback from others and those few moments affirm that I am on the right path. Faith is a key component to this as well, for without faith that I am a singer, I would never have pursued this path this far.
Part 2: Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Using the example of Michael Jordan again, he practiced his shot so much over the years that it was second nature for him. The same goes for Tiger Woods at his peak, or Michael Phelps, or Luciano Pavarotti. This ties into my last post, but when we put the time in to make something a part of ourselves, we have no choice but for it to appear easy. If we practice with the goal of attaining the highest level possible then excellence will occur. It has no choice.
Aristotle's quote as a whole is really an if-then scenario. If we repeatedly do something to the point that it becomes a part of us, then excellence is to be expected. There is a concept in endurance sports that essentially states: If you want to be a better runner, go run. If you want to be a better swimmer, go swim. Excellence can only occur when you focus on a task. What do you want to become excellent at?