Blog Posts

The habit of excellence

In our fast-paced, driven, and demanding work environment, the innate desire to succeed (present in many of us) can find heightened expression. Often this can manifest serious consequences for wellbeing. ‘Try harder’ becomes the self-imposed, if not externally driven, mantra.

To an extent this is reasonable and appropriate. To an extent!

However, it begs many questions. To what end are why striving? Is our ‘trying’ activity focused or outcome measured? What is meant by harder?

A provocative counter view has been offered in the book “Try softer” by therapist Aundi Kolber. She argues, using insights from therapy and neuroscience, that the ‘try harder’ motif can be counter-productive; that it runs contrary to the natural rhythms and ‘wiring’ of the human brain; that it can prioritise the tactical over the strategic response. Although written with a theological underpinning which won’t be sympathetic for everyone, her argument nonetheless is worthy of reflection.

Her argument has ancient antecedents. Perhaps one finds particular resonance today.

In my work as a coach, I very often find the ‘try harder’ motif routed in a quest for excellence expressed as a desire for perfection. Therein lies a slippery slope. I wholeheartedly endorse a desire for excellence. The issue is how, and to what extent, that can be realised.

The ancient wisdom to which I refer picks up this theme of excellence and was expressed by Aristotle thus: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Tomes could be written on the full extent of the wisdom captured in this simple phrase. But, at its heart, it suggests to me the need for a wholeness, a completeness about our endeavours. A ‘trying’ which does not require super-human efforts and endless hours of work. A quest which does not over-emphasise the intellect over the other centres of wisdom, the heart and the gut. A pattern of working which is about a pattern of living. A coherence; a fullness; an absorption of function into ontology.

Perhaps this is a mode of ‘try softer’ which we can all practice until it becomes our habit of excellence.

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