The title of this post isn’t mine – and anyone reading that took UCI professor David Meyer’s course in Sociological Theory (anyone? ANYONE?) will recognize it from one of the articles we were forced to read as brand-new grad students.
[Quick aside: did you all know I had another life before fitness? That I was four years into a Ph.D.? That I made a crucial life-changing decision to become a fitness entrepreneur instead of becoming an academic indentured servant? Well, it all happened. And we can talk more about it in a later post.]
The Mundanity of Excellence (heretofore shortened as MOE so I don’t go crazy typing the title over and over) is technically an article about Olympic swimmers (weird, I know). And if you want to read it, hey, go for it. But it impacted my life in a way that I never realized, and with a permanence that few other words have – so I wanted to talk about the concept here.
MOE means basically this: more than talent, skill, aptitude, desire, motivation, or any other word we typically associate with the climb to excellence, what matters most is consistency. Boring, normal, everyday, routine consistency. And when consistency is practiced – well, consistently – over a long period of time, with the narrowest focus and with the utmost determination, excellence will be the result.
Simple enough, right?
I hear every day from clients that they “could never do what I do,” or that they “aren’t that good” at something, or that “they’re not cut out” to reach a certain goal, whether it be losing weight, running a race, cleaning up their diet, or any host of things that keep people from being their best. I tell them each and every time that what matters is that they are taking the steps to attempt their goals, and taking those steps consistently – one foot in front of the other – each day.
Think of it this way. A young athlete with all the natural talent and opportunity in the world could give it up to drugs, gangs, or other temptations and never reach their potential – while a similarly skilled person with far less natural ability but far more focus, over time, can excel above and beyond what “talent” has given them. Talent is inherent. Excellence is earned.
This leads me to the focal point of the entire MOE article, which is this (taken directly from the text, Chambliss):
“In the pursuit of excellence, maintaining mundanity is the key psychological challenge.”
In other words, until something becomes mundane to us, until it becomes completely ordinary, intrinsic, effortless, and unremarkable, we’re not ready for excellence. Until exercise becomes a normal part of living rather than an “event” or a “stressor” or a “problem,” we will not excel in that realm. Until making clean, healthy food choices is our everyday, not a “diet plan” or a “30 days to thin” or an anomaly, we have not reached excellence. Excellence is earned when the healthy choice becomes the default choice.
This concept never really hit home with me until I ran my first marathon. Training for a distance running race is nothing if not boring; you get out of bed each day, check how many miles you have to run, and pound ’em out on the pavement. For days. And weeks. And in fact months, if you’re doing it right. Every day feels kind of the same, and every day feels kind of like a checkmark on a never-ending to-do list.
But the weird thing is this – by just doing the everyday, mundane action of running the mileage, you are getting better at it. You are self-disciplining into excellence. Without doing something that might outwardly seem remarkable or noteworthy to the “outside world,” you are slowly developing excellence in your habits, mindset, and performance – and that’s a valuable thing.
Mundanity keeps me sane because it reminds me that even when I feel like I’m doing the same thing, day in and day out, I am being consistent. I am working toward excellence. And as long as I keep pushing ahead, I will get there.
What is your daily “mundane” that moves you toward excellence?