We Become What We Practice

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

Have you noticed this yet? That the more you do something, the more you are it? Although we are certainly more than what we do, we do indeed become what we practice.

Photo Credit: RLJ Photography NYC via Compfight cc

To be sure, we are more than the mere sum of our actions. There’s something incredibly intangible about being human. That we large, animate pieces of meat can not only conjure ideas but transmit them to each other.

But let’s not for a second delude ourselves into thinking our actions don’t matter, that discipline and devotion aren’t essential to the formation of character and value systems. They are.

What it takes to leave a legacy

The more you do, the more you become. And the more you dream, the more you build castles in the sky.

So what do you want to be known for?

If you want to do meaningful work in this life — to be someone who makes an impact, who leaves a legacy and is remembered for greatness — then you’d better start acting like it. Now.

I mean it.

We regret what we fail to practice

There’s nothing noble about an unlived life you thought of living. There’s nothing romantic about audacious, unrealized dreams. Nothing honorable about sacrifices made begrudgingly for a life you end up resenting.

If you want to be something, why not begin by doing it? If you long to be a writer, then write. If an actor, then act. And if a runner, run.

This is what determines all great endeavors — not just another interesting idea to talk about a coffee shop, but the decision to act, to move. One small step after another.

That’s what a habit is all about.

What are you practicing? And what does that say about what you’re becoming? Share in the comments.

75 thoughts on “We Become What We Practice

  1. I love that quote from Aristotle. It’s comforting because it helps you realise that if you’re not ‘excellent’ yet, then work on your habits. It makes the incredible feel doable.

    I am a writer. Therefore I practice writing. But if I am a writer just by writing, what does that ‘say about what I’m becoming’? A better writer? A published author? I suppose this is where dreams and goals come in.

    1. Good point, Jessica. I recall Anne Lamott once saying on Twitter (in response to someone saying she wrote but wasn’t a writer): If you write, you’re a writer. That doesn’t make you a good one, though. So go get better (my paraphrase).

  2. Currently I am practicing building a tribe of people who want to turn their ideas into reality. Im practicing the act of systemising the process so i am more consistent with what I need to do.
    Also I am practicing the skills necessary to being a great coach. Every day I am practicing something and this ensures I am constant improving and never stopping.

    Aaron Morton

  3. I know I’ve said it here before but the biggest impact/legacy I can leave behind is one of faith for my son. That’s what my mom left me and it’s still shaping me today. There is something so powerful about learning from someone else that life is more than just the here and now. There is a hope we can cling to that is so much bigger and more beautiful than our little world. If my son understands that truth, because I’ve lived it out…then I’ve succeeded.

  4. Right now my biggest challenge in daily practice is eating a little healthier and exercising several times a week. Fitness and health is more of a mental game than anything else. One thing that is so interesting about trying to healthier is how that single issue is tied into just about everything else in life. If you can be disciplined with exercise and eating, you can be successful with just about any other discipline.

  5. I am practicing gratitude for what I have and patience for what I do not. Being grateful and grace-full helps me be open to opportunities for writing and sharing I otherwise would not see.

    Thanks for this very thought provoking post, Jeff!

  6. I read your blog regularly. It’s amazing how often your words resonate with my spirit/mood/attitude of the day. This morning I shared your inspirational urging with my sons. It is always helpful for them to multi-source wisdom. We are studying the foundations of freedom, focusing last night on the prodigious honor and genius of Robert E. Lee. Your philosophy echoes the courage of his actions. The determination to commit all energy, putting self aside, is not popular or usual, but it is most noble. Ironically, it is also the most self-fulfilling, at the end of the day.

  7. I really want to be known for someone who writes INCREDIBLY personal development that draws from life experiences that I’ve actually gone through. I really hope that this makes me an individual that is constantly improving through self-reflection because when I write, I am forced to reflect upon myself.

      1. It definitely is a mix between both. That’s why I look at it as an opportunity for me to grow. It’s sort of like a very imperfect, nearly paradoxical engine. These experiences make me sit down to write and the writing inspires more memories and experiences for me to relive through. Oh god, that was a terrible explanation. It sounded so much better in my head!

  8. Great post Jeff. I’m a new Tribe Writers member and I’m loving it. I’m practicing and my new mindset and muscle memory is really paying off. Thanks for your inspiring encouragement.

  9. Nice and motivating post, Jeff. I am practicing photography, writing and speaking. These are three things I love doing and the more I do them, the better I become. I have noticed starting is a lot more rewarding than dreaming. I still dream, but now I am starting to act on them.

  10. Amen to those awesome words of truth in action, Jeff Goins!

    For me, I am ever-more committed to becoming, God’s eyes, a good woman of the 21st century.

    Thx for asking. 🙂

  11. I love the timing of this post 🙂 I’ve been setting 30-day challenges for myself, and today is day one of my next 30 days, and I’ve decided to write for 15 minutes first thing in the morning. Not necessarily for my blog, although I will do that too, but just to practice writing. I’m not a writer if I don’t write; I can’t become a better writer if i don’t practice 🙂

  12. I am practicing writing and using my writing for change. In the past few months I have actually posted some of my writing in various public places and received very positive feedback. I have always been a dreamer, waiting for the writer to show up. She has, but only because I have called her to the table and told her to write! I am working on getting my writing blog off the ground, but I would be very honored if you would visit the current post on my really awful play blog and check out the young man who is working to impact this world in a very profound way. Thank You, Jeff!

  13. I heard someone say that practice doesn’t make perfect, it only makes permanent. I’m working to pay attention to practice the things I want to grow. I too am practicing writing. I appreciate seeing the folks here talking about what works and is helpful.

  14. I also love the timing of this post. I signed up to take an edX class on the ancient Greek hero. After a few weeks of inventing flimsy reasons to procrastinate, I decided to get started last night. The first reading passage was from the Iliad when the mother of Achilles tells him his two choices. He can fight at Troy, lose his life, but obtain epic glory. Or he can return home and life a life of relative safety and longevity but glory, of course, will then be off the table. And I thought “ha, ha here’s a great question for my own life”. Will I chose to follow the calling to live my life like it matters, take meaningful action in the present, and create something of lasting value? Or will I chose to take a path of safety, boredom, and low-grade, background unhappiness? The answer to that question can be found in every action that I choose to take or not take in every present moment. Thanks for the motivating reminder.

  15. Jeff, reading your blog and posts are very thought provoking and really inspire me to do more. You have brought me to my tears few times. It’s taking me a while for the passion was almost strangle, the good news is that it’s still alive. Working on my assignments as a new member of tribe writer. I’ll be posting soon some of my work and it will be awesome to get some feedback:)

  16. I wasn’t going to comment on this post because frankly it made me a little unsettled. To take a hard look at what I really am practicing means admitting that I’m no where near who I want to become. I continuously practice a strong start only to fizzle and get frustrated that there aren’t immediate outcomes.
    I’m bookmarking this post as a reminder that this half-assed practice isn’t getting me anywhere and it’s actually setting me up to be resentful in the future. Thank you, Jeff.

  17. I know I’m a writer. I have been since I was a kid. But you know what I’m practicing now? Being a businessperson. Being a wife. Both just happened in the last six months. Balancing the two is only easy when he’s not having a day off! Thank you for this post.

  18. I’m practicing being a writer! I read how you used to get up really early and stay up to work on your writing when you had a day job. Last night I told myself that I was going to bypass resistance and fear and finish an article I was writing for an online magazine. I’m not going to become a paid writer and help people if I don’t start practicing the discipline of writing! Thanks for this! It’s good encouragement!

  19. Thanks for your note. I share your advice. Here is a section from my book Messengers in Denim It will also be in my new book which will be coming out this summer Tools for Effective Parenting.
    This discourse begins after I had finished a health evaluation of a High School senior:

    As we finished I said, “Eric, you seem to be an outstanding
    young man. I’d be proud to have a son like you.”

    He thanked me and I asked him one of my pet questions. “Tell
    me, Eric, how would you like to have a son like you?”

    “Like I am? Or, like I pretend to be?” he asked.

    “Is there a difference?”

    “Yes,” he replied. “I sometimes get down and negative, but I
    try to be happy, optimistic, and positive because I know if you try, you will become the man you pretend
    to be.”

    “Become the man you pretend to be,” I echoed. “What an
    outstanding concept. And as I think about it, it really is what happens, isn’t

    “One of my friends says, ‘Fake it until you make it,’ but I
    like the way I said it better. It sounds more optimistic. Don’t you agree?” he

    “You will become the man you pretend to be.” I sure do. How did you come up with this …
    can I call it a philosophy?”

    “I guess it is a philosophy, isn’t it?” he answered. “I’ve
    never called it that. I just think of it as a way to become a better person. It
    started when I was in a school play in the seventh grade. I found out the more
    I acted like the character in the play, the more I became him. I wanted to be a
    good basketball player, too, so I thought, why not act like a good basketball
    player? So I did. Then Coach noticed I had more confidence, and he started to
    play me more, and that’s how it started. Then in youth group we always talked
    about becoming better, and I thought if it works for basketball it should work
    for other stuff, too. I don’t want to
    brag, and I’m not as good a person as I should be, but I keep on trying.”

    “Well, Eric, I think you’re doing super!” I said. “Your
    philosophy is so great I want to tell other kids about it. Is that okay with

    “What do you mean?” he asked.

    “Well, I see a lot of kids who have problems to overcome or
    who need to make some changes in their lives, and I think it may be helpful to
    tell them what you said about becoming the man you pretend to be. I wouldn’t
    tell them it’s your motto unless you want me to. What do you think?”

    “Do it if you think it will help someone,” Eric replied. “I
    know it helps my day go better.”

    Eric and I talked a bit more about his motto: how it relates
    to improving one’s life and how it might help the transition from childhood to
    adulthood. Soon, his mom was back in the exam room and I told her how
    privileged I felt to be able to see and care for Eric. I asked him to discuss
    his philosophy with her on the way home.

    Eric had a great senior basketball season and went on to
    play NCAA Division II college ball; I went on using his wisdom with my other

    The Power of the

    Eric’s idea is not new, nor is it rare. It’s just that I had
    never heard it expressed like that before. There’s an old song from the late
    1950s, “Pretend,” whose lyrics suggest, “Pretend you’re happy when you’re
    blue.” The songwriter knew that by pretending, you could become what you want
    to be.

    In C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, the devil (Screwtape)
    says, “All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pre-tending to be.”[i] Screwtape was a lead devil teaching his devil
    nephew how to gain control of a man. He was, of course, talking about bad
    habits, but the same can surely be said about developing good habits.

    Recently I attended a Boy Scout Honor Court where a friend’s
    son was being honored as a new Eagle Scout. There I was reminded that Boy
    Scouts are “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient,
    Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.” I wondered if they really are all these
    things, or are they becoming all these things by pretending? Aren’t they just
    rehearsing for the future?

    Many might call the Scouts egotistical for confessing such
    virtues, thinking they are just daydreaming or lying to themselves; but
    professional motivators and coaches call that “visualizing success.”
    Visualizing success causes the brain to believe we are already successful; and
    this subconscious belief gives us the confidence we need to be comfortable with
    success. It removes the fear of failure. As we continue to visualize the future
    and our place in it, our brain gives us positive feedback that prepares us for
    victory. In short, envision the future, plan for it, execute the plan, and
    enjoy the success.

    [i] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
    (New York: Harper Col-lins, 1942, renewed 1996): 50.

    Sorry for the long length, but i thought you and your readers would like it! Thanks,

  20. This blog hit home for me. For the past several years, my main areas of practice have been sleeping and starting things without finishing. I don’t want to continue to live in this fashion. I made a commitment at the New Year to work on goals in 6 areas. I’ve allowed my practice for these improvements to dwindle away or be interrupted by life problems. I am officially reminded to focus on my goals and limit my attention to things with no discernable benefit, like excessive sleeping.

  21. This is why I think it is important for writers to realize what kind of books they are reading. I didn’t try to produce an old-fashioned writing voice, but after reading primarily British Classics, I couldn’t really get it out of my system. Now I’m immersing myself more with modern fiction in hopes that while maintaining my old style, I can mingle it with modern language. Turns out if you read Pride Prejudice fifteen times you might start to see Jane Austen’s influence in your writing. Who knew?

  22. Thanks for this Jeff. I practice my writing by blogging regularly, I practice speaking by speaking at conferences and I practice making a difference by helping people chase their dreams!

  23. This is a great one Jeff! Love that opening quote by Aristotle.
    Smart guy 🙂
    I’ve been practicing writing – blogging, staying curious, learning. Been working and learning marriage through my own marriage and coaching/mentoring others.

    Right now, am practicing being at His feet 🙂 I am a Martha at heart and once in while He has to take the wind out of my sails in order to get me to stay at His feet and learn new directions 🙂 Thanks for this reminder today.

  24. Hey Jeff, I don’t mean to be rude, but why don’t you ever change your “writing format” here on your blog (e.g. same kind of titles, same kind of questions by the end, etc)?

    Is there a reason for that? Just wondering. I think it would be nice to read a diferent format every once in a while.

    Anyway, nice article, thanks.

  25. I practice writing, music, teaching, and sharing. Right now my emphasis is on writing. My second book, “At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy” will be at Amazon by May 1. And I”m not stopping yet. A few of my upcoming blog posts get into topics such as “practice over perfection” and “writing a legacy statement.” That’s practice, too.

  26. It’s all part of presencing: Create the future from the present. Joseph Jaworsky wrote about the effects of it when they meet with voicing your intent. You can create predictable miracles. Thanks, Jeff!

  27. Thank you for this Jeff. You tend to always write what I am thinking about. Currently, I am practicing writing, but also practicing creating my art. That is not being afraid to create. Not being afraid about what others may think or if they even care about what my message and world view are. It’s always fun practicing and thanks for creating a course where I can practice.

  28. A few of my upcoming blog posts get into topics such as “practice over
    perfection” and “writing a legacy statement.” That’s practice, too.

  29. nicee one jeff. I am practicing/training for my first ever triathlon and I have started to practice writing so that I would be able to write my own novel in due time.

  30. I am practicing being a writer and also an Artist. I used to let my fear of failure hold me back, but I have been taking Art Classes and finishing every painting and have even sold 1.

  31. I didn’t try to produce an old-fashioned writing voice, but after reading primarily British Classics, I couldn’t really get it out of my system

  32. As a natural-born spender, I started “practicing” the art of being a better steward of my money in my late 20s. Changing a core element of who you are is a long but rewarding journey. As I say on EscapingDodge.com “Just like a marriage or partnership, a solid relationship with money requires effort and commitment. Good relationships don’t happen accidentally; they are intentionally forged over time.”

  33. For a very long time I felt like I was trapped in someone else’s life and felt helpless to change my situation because I was afraid. Afraid to change the status quo, afraid to say I’d made a mistake, afraid of the reaction of other people, until I found it difficult to get out of bed somedays. I wish I could say I had a sudden epiphany and figured everything out in a flash of brilliance, but, I did not. I changed my life in very small steps, so if I made a misstep I didn’t plunge off a cliff. I joined a gym, I raced d a sprint triathlon, I bought a laptop, I started writing…Now I am training for my first Ironman, getting ready to re-release my first novel and have four more books in varies stages of editing that will be unleashed on the world in due time. It was just finding that few seconds of courage to take that first small step that made all the difference.

  34. I see one of your other articles that can be read along with this one. As a person practices, do not be afraid to fail. In fact expect to fail along the way, or the practice is just limping along. I am in a writer’s group at church and we practice writing. I do not want to stay in the practice stage for all of my writings, so I ask for critiques. Everyone, hopefully wants to improve in their choice of activity, which means, practice (practice, practice). 🙂

  35. I’ve developed the habit of trying to be/do everything. I draw every day, I write every day, I try developing game graphics constantly … so I practice refusing to commit, and I have indeed noticed that I’m getting very good at it…and not really very good at anything I do. I need to focus on what it is I want to be…

  36. Currently I am practicing writing, songwriting, and guitar/singing. I am also back in school for Web design. I have yet to take an actual HTML course, but I am taking a basic design class that is changing my view on things and teaching me tons about the editing process. Since Quitter conf I have really explored a lot of things, but keep coming back to music and songwriting. I don’t know exactly what direction it is all headed yet, but moving forward instead of sitting and thinking forever has really transformed things for me. Thanks for your work Jeff. Many times your blog spurs me on when I start to feel discouraged or doubt what I am doing. Your story and the resources you share are extremely helpful and inspirational.

  37. I agree completely. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that I want to be more serious with my writing. In the past I have thought of “becoming a writer” as an unrealistic dream, but the more I realise how much I love writing, the more I want to pursue it as a career. I will keep practicing! I really enjoyed reading this post, great writing! I just stumbled across your website and got stuck here. You seem to be a real source of inspiration 🙂

  38. “We regret what we fail to practice.” Ouch! This is something I’ve been discovering a lot in the past 6 months. What I’ve been practicing lately is mostly focusing on self-leadership issues. Personal health, daily quiet time with God, intensional family time, etc. I’m noticing that the better I can effectively lead myself, the better others will follow my leadership simply by observing my example. I have not ‘arrived’ yet, but I’m a much better leader now than I have been over the past 22 years in ministry. Thanks for the question, Jeff.

  39. When 2013 came, I pledged to write at least one blog post per week. At first, I was not able to catch up. However, recently, I started posting not just one blog per week but one blog post each day. Thanks to a writing coach who told me I can turn my novelette into a novel and the poetry challenge that I joined, I had a way to blog not just my poetry but share my stories as well. Since I also suffered from chicken pox in the beginning of April, I found writing and poeming as ways to combat the sadness of isolation, the itch and the burn from the rashes, and the thought of having ugly scars all over me. I also reread “I Am A Writer” and somehow I am reminded of who I am and what I claimed when I followed the 15-day great writer’s challenge last year. I am a writer and I just need to write. With what I’ve been starting to practice, I am on my way to become the writer who I wanna be. Thanks so much, Jeff! You helped me a lot! 🙂

  40. I’m practicing a talk for a speaking engagement this weekend. Speaking publicly is NOT my thing. But I am practicing, practicing, practicing, practicing in the hopes that it becomes easier and slightly less terrifying.

  41. Right now I’m working on becoming a freelance blogger.

    This means I’ve been working on my writing on a (mostly) daily basis. As I build up a portfolio of work in my blog, I feel more comfortable saying that I’m a writer and blogger.

    The way I see it, if you want to be something (writer, runner, blogger) then all you need to do is habitually do it. Eventually you’ll have enough “evidence” to undoubtedly say that you are whatever it is you happen to do.

    I no longer think that you must have some kind of credentials to claim a certain role in life, rather you must have the personal experience of the act itself.

  42. Thanks for the motivation. I am currently working on developing a daily writing routine and also of exercising my body on a regular basis.

  43. Im practicing being a better me, the ultimate version . A better fencer, a better writter, an inspiration.

  44. I didn’t try to produce an old-fashioned writing voice, but after
    reading primarily British Classics, I couldn’t really get it out of my

  45. I have begun reading your blogs since last couple of days. I found them very interesting, informative and above all, inspiring. I’ll keep them reading whenever I find slots of time and I hope U will continue to write blogs. Thanks working for a good cause.

  46. I thought my ultimate goal was to be an awesome Pastor (tongue in cheek). Now I am not sure. I love to write. Maybe my two passions will intersect and something will go from there. 😀

  47. Great life lesson, Jeff!

    When my wife was working as a choreographer, she would constantly push dancers in rehearsal because her view was, “You will perform it like you rehearse it.” And it was always the people that were the weak link in rehearsal that were the weak link in performance.

    Right now, I’m in danger of becoming a great solitaire player. You’ve motivated me to get going on some more worthwhile pursuits (writing being one of them).

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