Excellence as Art
“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’s comments speak to a specific question of the human experiment that asks, how does a person/group of people become excellent in what they do? A mountainous pile of literature exists that is devoted to answering the question of how to become “excellent “. Most material on the subject of excellence is comprised of 10-step manuals and “how-to” treatises that promise an improvement in your performance OR YOUR MONEY BACK!
In an effort to simplify the equation I want to carve out a leaner, more condensed version of what it could look like to inhabit excellence. In an attempt to avoid the formulaic rigidity of our 21st century obsession with efficient solutions let’s see if we can attack this important question of excellence using Aristotle as our guide.
Excellence as Art
I find it intriguing that Aristotle tells us “excellence is an art (to be) won”. The ideas of discipline, training, and habituation generally evoke sentiments of boredom, dullness, and monotony. However if we take Aristotle at his word and believe that excellence is an “art (to be) won” we must recognize that a pursuit of excellence requires an incredible amount of imagination and creativity.
Sports provide a valuable platform that requires ‘excellent’ athletes to use creativity and imagination in how they design training regiments that shape their bodies and hone their skills. If done well, these artistic expressions of discipline will cultivate virtuous habits. In somewhat paradoxical terms, the un-virtuous athlete is the uncreative athlete, because the journey of excellence necessitates uncommon amounts of inventiveness, originality, and ingenuity.
Put simply, creativity is born out of virtuous habits. The person (or athlete) that allows themselves to be influenced by the lottery of shifting emotions becomes enslaved to whatever feeling they have at a particular time. It is only when we dedicate ourselves to the beautiful ritual of habituation that we are free to become innovators.
Put another way, Art is a commitment to craftsmanship that must be wisely cultivated in the crucible of virtuous habit. It is only after you pledge yourself to developing virtuous habits that your creativity within you craft can be unleashed! According to Aristotle the attainment of excellence is most certainly a battle that can be WON or LOST. Which side will you choose to be on?