Habits versus Acts

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. John Alsvig
  • 39th Security Forces Squadron first sergeant
I recently had to put together a going away plaque for a departing first sergeant. 

Several years, and bases ago, we started a theme where we would pick a military or leadership quote to put on the plaque instead of the standard, "Thank you for your leadership" tag lines. The most recent quote was from Aristotle and went as follows:

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

Initially, the quote jumped out at me because of its simplicity and impact.  After getting bogged down with a few issues over the course of the next few days I kept going back to what the quote was really getting at.

Being excellent at something is not a sometime thing, it's an all the time thing. There is no on or off switch. It is not turned on when you put on your uniform and turned off when you quietly hang it up at the end of the day.  We don't do great things when we have to, we just do.  There is no good or bad time.  No comfort or cost is spared when we are called upon to be great.

Take physical training for example:  a member scores a 90.05 percent on their annual fitness assessment.  Is this excellence? What did they do throughout the year?  How many times did they get out of bed to go running or work on their core when they really didn't want to?  Did they only prepare for the test 60 days out?  Did they make excuses to skip a workout or say "I'll start next week"?  All of these examples are not part of the process to always be ready and prepared for the test.  Excellence, for some, is an annual act.

When you look at other individuals who routinely do extremely well on their test you see a few different cues.  They are physical training leaders in their squadrons. You see them leaving the gym sweaty, and a bit smelly, when most have gone home for the day.  They are the lone person jogging on a rainy day. Whether they just took their test, or are within 60 days of their next test, their routine is the same.  Excellence, for these, is a habit.

PT is just one example and a very simplified one at that.  I am not discounting those equally exceptional people that struggle with PT.  These Airmen continue to make improvements test after test, even though they may not crack the 'over 90' score yet.  Their habit is continuous improvement ... and is an excellent performance goal in its own right.

This concept of making excellence a habit applies to duty performance, career development course progression, promotion testing, personal conduct, character ... everything. Make this part of your everyday living and every decision. There is too much turbulence in the world today for us to do anything less. As brothers and sisters in arms, we blindly count on each other to be ready for greatness in our times of need.

Make excellence a habit, not an act.