Parenting expert and father to six girls Dr Justin Coulson takes a look at excellence, and how we can all help foster our best.
Pause and think, for just a moment, of the most excellent person you have ever met…
What made them so “excellent”?
Is it possible to create an inventory of their attributes; the characteristics of excellence they embody?
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
So… let’s try and really focus in on this excellent person. I know they’re not perfect. No one is. But what are the repeated, seemingly automatic and habitual behaviours – ways of being – this most excellent person demonstrates (especially when they are not on show).
When we think of the word “deviant”, or someone who deviates, we usually think of someone who causes trouble; someone who moves away from the ‘norm’ in a negative way. But deviants can come in positive forms as well. A positive deviant moves positively away from the norm to make things better. They differ from the accepted standard in ways that elevate our souls, inspire our thinking, and enhance our lives.
As I have contemplated the idea of a positive deviant, someone completely excellent, a few people I’m fortunate enough to know come to mind. While they vary significantly in their personalities and areas of expertise, the characteristics of excellence they embody inspire me. And they have one particular quality in common.
The most excellent people I know are consistent.
This article is about consistency as an attribute of excellence.
110 years ago (1911), Great Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott found himself in a race against Norway’s Roald Amundsen to be the first humans to reach the South Pole. Antarctica has the highest elevation of any continent on the planet, with the South Pole itself over 2800m above sea level. It’s the coldest, driest, highest, and generally most uncomfortable and unforgiving place in the world.
Scott and Amundsen’s teams battled horrendous conditions, meagre rations, and health challenges in their three-month-trek across the never-ending white. To survive, let alone win, would be a miracle.
Jim Collins, in his book “Great by Choice”, compares the two teams’ strategies. The Brit went hard out on clear days and stayed put on days where there were brutal blizzards. Amundsen’s Nordic team set a different strategy: they would hike a maximum of 20 miles per day regardless of the conditions. On bad days, they would do what they could. But they would always progress.
Because of the different strategies, the teams had completely different experiences. By hitting it hard on the good days, Scott depleted his team. This could be dangerous in the Antarctic. Amundsen’s consistency (and restraint) stopped at 20 miles, even when the going was good. His plan was to stick to the schedule and minimise risk.
Amundsen reached the Pole first. He also returned to base camp on the day he had estimated. In their 99 days of trekking, they covered a staggering 3000 kms.
Scott not only missed his target for being the first, but his team tragically lost their lives on the way home – just 15 kms from a supply depot with rations and a chance at recovery.
The most excellent people I know are consistent. They are consistent in their interpersonal approach to people (always kind). They are consistent in their search for knowledge (always learning). They are consistent in their humility (always open to understanding others’ experiences). They are consistent in their leadership, their fairness. They are consistent in their chosen discipline. They are consistent in their attitude towards life (always positive).
When viewed in isolation, no specific activity looks particularly impressive. Going to the gym for boot camp, staying off processed rubbish foods, being kind to the staff, family, or strangers, reading to the kids at night, having integrity concerning faith practices… anyone can do this stuff ad hoc. We can all do this from time to time.
Excellent people do this all the time. They allow these activities to become a pattern, a habit, their disciplined routine. They make a decision to march 20 miles every day, no matter what the weather, no matter how tired they are, no matter how everyone is feeling. They simply do it, consistently. Their excellence becomes a habit, and thus they become excellent.
What’s your 20-mile march? What legacy are you building?
My question for you is this: What’s your 20-mile march? What legacy are you building?
Are you going to have a great attitude every day? After all, attitude is EVERYTHING.
Are you going to be kind? Are you going to get fit, go to bed on time, quit Netflix, be more patient with your children, be a better leader to your team, stop yelling, be more mindful, get that diet started?
Remember, dieting for a day won’t change your life.
Success in the big stuff demands dependable and consistent commitment to the little things. Start your 20-mile march today… and keep on marching every single day.