Fast Friday with Aristotle

Posted January 13, 2012 in Latest News & Insights

So… it’s January 13th. Have you broken all of your New Year’s resolutions yet?  Maybe it’s time to start some new rituals instead.  Recently I was lucky enough to be able to part of a dynamic leadership project for next gen leaders that went far beyond traditional classroom training.  It’s been a great learning experience for me, particularly around the power of rituals to actually get those “resolutions” to stick.  One of the presenters used a quote from Aristotle that I’m inspired to share:

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

Malcolm Gladwell and Geoff Colvin both wrote bestselling books (Outliers and Talent is Overrated, respectively) based on the idea of hours of practice trumps talent, and certainly the idea of practice making perfect isn’t new.  But, it’s the discipline to actually do the practice that’s the killer for most of us hence all those broken New Year’s Eve resolutions.

According to research, 95% of what we do is automatic.  Think about that for a minute.

That means only 5% of what we do is driven by conscious choice.  So, if we want to make new habits stick, we need to build positive and highly specific rituals (behaviours) that become automatic overtime.

For years, I’ve known I need to dedicate more time to exercise, but I’ve never done much about it.  Two years ago I decided to join a local Pilates studio with small, highly focused classes.  I go every Monday evening…automatically.  In September, I decided to add one more focused exercise activity and asked a friend to join me at our club for a Saturday morning walk on the treadmill.  We meet every Saturday thanks in large part to peer pressure.  My goal for this year is to add in one more activity to bring me up to 3 things a week.  I’ll keep you posted.

Back in the fall, some of you may remember that I decided to turn off my Blackberry over the weekends to force me to have true downtime.  Although I’ve stopped fully turning it off, I have adopted the ritual of not fixating on it and definitely noticed a big difference over the Christmas holidays when I truly disconnected.  My current goal is to limit my distractions.  I’m creating a ritual around setting up “no email” times during my day so that I can be more efficient with my work (I’m on one now so that I can finish my blog post).  My plan is to work solidly for 20 minute segments and then check email.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

The key to creating a new ritual that will eventually become a habit is to get very, very specific.  Think about when are you going to do this, where, with who, how often and why it’s important to you in the first place.  And don’t try to take on too much.  Enlist others to help you and above all, focus on starting something new vs. trying to “stop” something.  You can apply the practice of creating rituals to your personal or professional life; to goals you want to attain or to behaviours you want to instill.  Before you know it, you may find that your ritual of leaving work at 5 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday has become an automatic habit.  Nice!

Happy leading!


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  1. Meredith Low says:

    Hi Glain, apparently there’s something in the zeitgeist – I was just writing about this kind of thing (improving decision-making in part by making decisions more automatic) in my blog, thought you’d find it interesting… http://themezzaninegroup.com/blog/2012/01/making-better-decisions-about-making-decisions/

    I really like your thoughts here about just routinizing habits through a schedule – I think you’re absolutely right that it’s all about specificity.

    Cheers, Meredith Low (The Mezzanine Group)