I was speaking, the other day, with a manager in my employ about another employee who, while consistently demonstrating tremendous potential, has become notorious for habitually making the same mistakes over and over. What’s worse is these mistakes would typically be categorized as that of “carelessness”. This is further exacerbated by the fact that his reaction to failure has equally become habitual. The perception created by this reaction is that of a lackadaisical, nonchalant, don’t-give-a-shit attitude.
Now because I take a great interest in all of my employees and spend a lot of time with them even outside of the professional environment, I know that, in fact, this employee cares very deeply about his failings and has a deep burning desire to change… if only he knew how. I take my inability to help this employee achieve this change as a great personal failure. And then something interesting happened; a chain of thoughts occurred to me…
While speaking to this employee’s manager the topic of change came up. True change, not the usual ideology, but what it truly takes to change oneself. You always hear, “leopards don’t change their spots” or that people can try to be different and even succeed at being different, but the person can never really change who they are. Since I happen to know from personal experience that this is not true, I started to think about the change I experienced for myself and referred back to a profoundly important piece of literature that was instrumental in my own change – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was then that I was reminded of that famous quote from Aristotle.
I think few realize just how profound this statement really is. What began as philosophical theory long ago is now beginning to be proved via modern science. In fact, scientists now believe that all habits wether consciously imposed or subconsciously developed over long periods of time physically impact the brain’s structure and the way our mind works specifically as it regards thought connection and information retrieval.
This is such a powerful truth because it means we can literally choose who we want to be and one simply must do, repeatedly, the actions that are reflective of that person and once those sets of actions become habit, the change will have been successful. Easy! Right?
Well we need to remember the “Excellence” part of the equation. Excellence is born of commitment and desire combined with motivation and determination. It doesn’t come so easy. What is it that sets apart the marathon runner from the obese couch potato? What distinguishes a successful business person from an unmotivated welfare recipient? Why do few rise while many stagnate? Because to do nothing is easy. It is easier to despair; It’s easier to blame others for one’s lot in life; It’s easier to procrastinate; it’s easier to lose faith.
In my youth I once spoke to a triathlete and asked him, “how do you do it?” And he said to me, “The hardest part is putting on my running shorts.” I thought he was being sarcastic, but he was very sincere and said, “Even in the worst weather, when you’re out on the road putting miles behind you feels great. I love it. I always want to see how much further I can go. I want to push. But when you’re warm in bed and you look outside and it’s dark and the wind is whipping and the rain is pouring and it 4am, I’d rather just roll back over. But once I put my shorts on and lace up my sneakers, I know… I’m ready to finish — The hardest part is over.”