Nothing like reps

I used to go to a weekly aerial silks practice in my area, which was attended by many people far more skilled than I was. One of these was a chipper high school gymnast who made fantastically quick progress on the silk, and when I once mentioned this to her, she chirped “nothing like reps!”

Aristotle expressed the same idea in a slightly less flippant way:We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

For all of my abstract talk about change and desire, I am at heart a pretty concrete kind of girl. And so I love this idea: we are what we repeatedly do, and there’s nothing like reps to build that person into the one we want to be.

My favorite thing about it is the tremendous amount of permission it seems to contain. I don’t have to define who I am by the ten worst moments of my personal history. Those unbelievable, horrible, I-can’t-even-believe-I-just-did-that moments define me less than the person I manage to be every day.

And at the same time, I don’t have to label myself a failure if each moment is not a peak experience. Thinking of myself as defined by my repeated actions puts me in a seat of power without piling on the pressure, because it helps me recall that what matters is trend.

I’m the kind of person who is tempted by the grand gesture, the huge transformation, and sometimes this is exactly what we need. But even the most complete transformation is ultimately the sum of many small ones, taken together or separately, gently steering our lives on to the courses we envision.

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