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Excellence is a habit

Published on: 12 February 2016

Excellence is a habit

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

I recently had an informal discussion with the senior managers of MiWay on the topic of excellence.

My questions to them were around the meaning of excellence and where they think it comes from; what does it mean to them? What is excellence and how does one become excellent or achieve excellence?

I received a number of answers, for example, that excellence is a virtue and the way to reach excellence is through hard work, or innovation, or passion. Some responses suggested that excellence is something you are born with. Others suggested it is something you can acquire. Some people believed it lies in the way you perform, in the way you do things. Of course, there is some truth in all these responses, but I was looking for something more - something specific.

Eventually one of our middle managers put up his hand and referred to the well-known Aristotle quote “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit”.

How do we form a habit? By doing something repeatedly until it becomes habit. So, yes, it starts with an act, but the act needs to be repeated over and over until we can perform it without thinking, until it becomes an integral part of who we are. Until it becomes a habit.

Unfortunately, not all habits are good habits. By repeatedly underperforming, we can easily make a habit of underperformance. By always settling for mediocrity, we can easily make mediocre performance a habit. By ‘practising the wrong golf swing’ over and over, we can make a habit of hitting poor golf shots!

There is seldom much difference between doing something the right way, and doing something the wrong way. It normally involves the same amount of energy. So, why not do it right the first time? Why not do it right every time? If you succeed in doing it right every time, you will receive a bonus: it will become habit. And once it becomes habit, it actually becomes easier because the very essence of a habit is that it requires less energy than a once-off effort.

At MiWay, we strive to do things right every time and all the time. We strive to provide excellent service every time we interact with a client. If we can succeed repeatedly, we have Aristotle’s assurance that our excellence will become a habit. And the bonus lies in the fact that it actually makes our lives easier and we can use our energy to innovate, perform better, excel! The wisdom of the philosophers of Ancient Greece remains a source of admiration!