Excellence is a Habit

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

I had the pleasure of watching the Academy Award winning British historical film The King’s Speech the other day and I’ve been meditating on its many valuable lessons ever since. The basic story told is that of Prince Albert, Duke of York’s ascension to the throne following the death of his father, King George V and the abdication of his older brother. Prince Albert (later King George VI) developed a stammer in his youth and ended up working with an unconventional Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue. After a series of unexpected yet oddly intriguing techniques, Lionel helped him to give his first radio address as King and to lead his people confidently through war.

At a certain point in the movie, the King made his closest advisors aware of his therapist and several among them sought to have the Lionel replaced when they discovered that he had no formal training and was not licensed. The King defended his choice, the two remained lifelong friends and according to the movie Lionel was with the King through every speech he gave during the war.

A good many remarkable people have suffered the derision of mediocre minds throughout history. I am always amazed when otherwise intelligent people allow ego and the belief that the title makes a man or a profession to stand in the way of someone like Lionel Logue’s expression of excellence. Apparently, thinking unconventionally has its risks.

My attention is piqued whenever the old guard in any given area of human function bands together to discredit someone in their midst who dares to think outside of the box, to express excellence in a new and previously unimaginable way. It happens in companies. It happens in families. This tendency is rife in the scientific and medical communities. It is not logical, neither it is rational, but it is ubiquitous.

Nicolaus Copernicus, Linus Pauling, Nikola Tesla, Nelson Mandela and many others throughout the history of mankind suffered such a fate. Their excellent thinking and actions vexed those heavily invested in the dominant paradigms, especially when it was revealed that there might be a better way to do things than what had become “normal” in any given period of time.

Why settle for mediocrity when excellence is always within reach? Excellence, in its rightful place, is a prevailing attitude that permeates every aspect of living. Some people allow their lives to become a great cauldron in which excellence is mixed with mediocrity, but excellence can and should permeate everything you do. If you are not there yet, remember that excellence is nothing more than a habit.

Habits take time to develop, but once they are set they require much less attention and effort. I’ve watched people develop a habit of orderliness, for instance, and it is clearly painful at first, like when a new muscle is exercised after a long period of disuse, but over time the new habit sets in and disorder is no longer an option. You become what you do consistently. If you take specific steps to be organized in every area of your life, you eventually earn the right to say “I am organized” – a statement of identity backed by the evidence of your living.

Excellence is an habit available to anyone regardless of race, color, creed or level of educational attainment. Let no man tell you that you cannot be excellent in all that you do, for that is but the voice of a mediocre person fearing that he will be exposed for what he isn’t and excusing himself from what he could be.

6 thoughts on “Excellence is a Habit

  1. Pingback: Excellence is a Habit « Anamcgary's Blog

  2. Colin

    I’ve noticed that the habit of excellence is not one to rest on its laurels. To be truly excellent at something, one must often go through a continual process of improvement. There is always a next step, and that is an important thing to learn for those wanting excellence in many areas of their lives.


  3. jaymorrow

    Bravo! I loved the movie as well and was struck by the seemingly ego driven personalities that were striving to control the situation by character assassination.
    New success in an area that is thought to be well traversed is always open to speculation. Speculation is fine as long as it is driven by excellence not derision.


  4. Kolya

    This was an excellent movie and I enjoyed your point about excellence being a habit that can be developed to become a part of everything we do.


  5. Brad

    Great movie and story about King George VI.
    And wonderful points about excellence.

    I was once told that “habits are easy to get into but hard to break, so watch your influences and be sure to develop the right habits from the start.” Good sound advice.


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