The Secret of Arête.

January 20, 2014

Ancient Greeks were the first to recognize an individual's potential for greatness. In fact, they coined a term for such excellence. Arête.
In Homeric times, Arête was associated with bravery. Effectiveness. Strength. Wit. Eventually, it was applied to all of the most noble human traits. Symbolizing excellence in all of its varieties. Knowledge. Virtue. The arts. Athletics. Hunting. Scholarship. Fighting. Leadership. Friendship. Teaching. Learning. And much more.
Plato developed the origins of the tem in his "Allegory of the Cave." But it was Aristotle's "Doctrine of the Mean" in which the paradigm was fully expounded.
In its most basic sense, Arête symbolized excellence of any kind. The fulfillment of purpose. The act of living up to one's potential.
Consider the most successful individuals you know.
Innovative inventors. Insightful writers. Record-breaking athletes. Visionary business and political leaders. Mind-altering educators. Loving parents. Nobel prize winners. Olympic champions.
Each and every one, the very portrayal of Arête. And yet, they did not begin as such. In fact, each individual could have taken a different course. One involving little to no Arête, whatsoever.
Each individual is born with three possibilities. Any of which can materialize, and so determine their destinies. These possibilities are, the failure. The average. And the peak performer.
While all three types could manifest Arête into certain aspects of their lives, it is the peak performer that infuses it throughout.
Of the three, we as human beings are most likely to become the average performer. Followed by the failure. These two journeys involve the least amount of friction. The fewest difficulties.
The least likely outcome? The peak performer. It requires the most effort. And possibly, the most luck. Success in and of itself is challenging. Becoming a peak performer? The commitment to attaining such success is beyond the psychological and physical capacity of most.
Peak performers have harnessed, and infused their lives, with Arête.
A new book authored by two Yale Law School professors defines three success requirements, as determined by multiple studies considering individuals of every race, nationality and socioeconomic class. These three traits can determine, statistically, whether one will be successful or not. Article here.
The first requirement, according to the authors, is a superiority complex. A deep-seated belief in one's exceptionality. The next requirement, counter intuitively, is the opposite -- insecurity. A feeling that your accomplishments are not good enough. The third requirement? Impulse control.
Little in regards to social skills. Self esteem. Or connections.
In fact, studies show that the third generation of ultra-successful families tend to lose their grip on success. Tend to recede from the accomplishments of prior generations, falter and fail. They also tend to be the ones born with artificially transplanted egos and all the connections in the world.
So, what are they lacking?
Well, what causes Michael Rordan to become a decent high school basketball player, yet drives Michael Jordan to become the best player we've ever seen? Drives him to capture six NBA championships. Infuses him with Arête.
What single human trait drives success? Determines whether or not you possess Arête? Can determine the course of your life?
That special blend of self-control, persistence and determination. It determines how effectively you plan. How hard you work. What time you rise. And how your days unfold.
Willpower enables one to maximize innate talents. Intelligence. Strengths. Natural abilities. It navigates life's obstacles. Determines physical health. Impacts financial security. Personal and professional relationships. Mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Studies reveal that, more than intelligence, willpower is an effective predictor of academic success. A better indicator of leadership ability than charisma. More important to relationships than empathy or sensitivity.
According to the American Psychological Association, Americans report a lack of willpower as the top reason they fail to achieve goals.
The good news? Science has found that we can enhance our willpower. Develop more. Those choosing to do so will see fundamental improvements within every area of their lives.
The biggest obstacle to doing so? Ourselves.
Research psychologists note that we lack impulse control. We are driven by desires. Controlled by cravings. We spend rather than save. We watch rather than read. Sit rather than move. Loaf rather than exercise. Over-consume, as opposed to eating healthy. Think negatively, rather than positively. Covet and envy, rather than committing to hard work.
Dr. Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, and a health psychologist at Stanford University, recommends ten habits which, integrated into daily life, can enhance willpower.
1. Be positive. Since shame and embarrassment undermine willpower, consider everything in a positive light. Not looking forward to leaving your family for that business trip? Focus on the intense joy of returning.
2. Imagine your future self. Envision yourself enjoying the rewards of your hard work and self-control. Wary of that fitness regimen? Imagine yourself benefiting by more energy, a new wardrobe, a healthy and active lifestyle.
3. Exercise. This is a primary catalyst for self-control. It relieves stress. Calms the mind. And serves as a powerful anti-depressant.
4. Sleep more. Doctors report that sleep deprivation results in the inability to delay gratification. Causes us to surrender to cravings, stress and poor choices. Further, more sleep enhances the brain's ability to function at a higher level.
5. Commit. In fact, pre-commit. Pay for that gym membership. Sign up for those language lessons. Once you've committed, it increases the likelihood that you'll follow through.
6. Write down your goals. Few things better enhance your personal effectiveness than committing your goals to paper. Reviewing them regularly. This enables you to focus on ambitions. And avoid distractions.
7. Meditate. Neuroscientists have proven that meditation results in a wide array of traits conducive to willpower and self-control. This includes better attention. Focus. Impulse control. Research also shows that those who meditate more easily lose weight and fight addictions.
8. Become a morning person. Self-control is at its best in the morning. And then declines throughout the day. Have a particular challenge requiring vast reserves of willpower? Tackle it first thing.
9. Develop a support group. Studies show that good habits are contagious. As are bad ones. So, associate with people having habits similar to those you wish to emulate. And avoid those who do not.
10. Be a realist. We often make massive, over-the-top resolutions. "This year, I plan to write a novel, complete an Iron Man, and adopt a child!" Good luck. The more realistic we are, the more likely we'll achieve our objectives. Emboldening us to set bigger, more ambitious goals later on.
Perhaps the secret to Arête is willpower.
Properly harnessed, willpower to take you where you want to go. But, like all good things, it must be developed. Nurtured. Used wisely.
In life, as in investing, we learn to defer immediate gratification in order to achieve larger, more ambitious dreams.
Our Neolithic ancestors rarely came into contact with the variables that caused their pleasure centers to surge. So, when they stumbled upon fresh meat, clean water, a fruity treat, they indulged.
Today, society is replete with pleasure enhancers. Our communities are littered with them. Restaurants. Bars. Movie theaters. Netflix. Xbox. People Magazine. Shopping malls. Alcohol. Pills. Auto dealerships. HBO. NFL. ESPN. CBS. ABC. NBA. MLB. Bravo.
You could spend all of your time pursuing immediate gratification. But, your life would eventually resemble a bag of fast food. Filled with immediate satisfaction. Lacking progress and value.
By developing willpower, you provide yourself with the self-discipline required to be a better you. As Aristotle said, by becoming a better you, you achieve more, and better serve the greater good.
Go as far as your heart, mind and talents will take you. Subordinate your short-term-gratification-seeking self and become the powerful person within you. Dedicated to a higher purpose.
Your Arête will better serve your loved ones. Friends. Community.
Finally, realize that there is no book, class, guru, mentor or self-help course that can help you on this journey. You alone can achieve or prevent your dreams. Your best possible life. Your Arête.
Grasp that simple, powerful insight. And understand the insight of Mark Twain, who said that twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by that which you didn't do than by the things you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Out there are destinations exotic, unknown, and awaiting your arrival. Your epic journey awaits.

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