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Success comes from daily habits, not natural talent

Aug 21, 2011 Success, Sunday Nation

Haruki Murakami is widely regarded as one of the world’s most interesting, original writers. His novels frequently combine elements of the bizarre and the mundane, the surreal and the banal in such odd measure that the reader is left baffled, rattled, disturbed – but always interested.

Murakami has won numerous awards and accolades, and has been lauded as one of the world’s greatest living writers. So you might be forgiven for thinking this is a man blessed with unique talents and naturally bestowed skills.

Not a bit of it. In his memoir, What I Think About When I Think About Running, Murakami compares his two great passions: writing and long-distance running. He points out that both pastimes require the same disciplines: dedication and repeated practice.

This may come as a surprise to some readers, who probably imagine very creative artists produce their unusual output with some mystical flourishes of genius. But it rings true to me. As Aristotle put it centuries ago, excellence in anything is a habit, not a one-off event. We are what we repeatedly do.

Murakami tells us that running was intensely difficult when he started. But because he persisted and made it a daily habit, his body gradually adjusted to the pain. His breathing and pulse regularized, and muscles began building in the right places. The point was not how far or how fast he ran, but that he did it every day without fail.

He finds the process of writing quite similar. Of course he has a degree of latent talent in that area – few people would even contemplate a life of writing if they did not have a love of words and some skill with language in the first place. But that is not really the point. The point is to do the damn thing every day, until…you’ve got it, your pulse and breathing regularize, and muscles appear in the right places.

Murakami tells us that he does not think he has any great spring of innate writing talent. What he does have, however, is the willingness to chip away every day. “I have to pound away at a rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of my creativity. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another hole. But, as I’ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening those holes in the rock and locating new water veins. As soon as I notice one source drying up, I move on to another.”

In that little paragraph you have hidden one of the great secrets of success. Success does not come in dramatic twirls and grand flourishes; it is born of daily, determined application. Even creative success. Genius is less about ‘a-ha’ breakthrough moments, and more a willingness to persevere, to put on the shoes and get out into the cold, or to sit before the keyboard and start pounding something out.

I don’t know any better advice to give to young people wanting to achieve something significant. If you really want to do something, you also have to really want to do it every day and get better and better at it. Build your endurance, your ability, your rhythm. Then, the breakthrough moments will come more easily and regularly. The world may view you as a natural creative, but you will know that your achievements, like Murakami’s, are the child of a persistent daily rhythm.

Whether you are learning a craft, mastering a profession, running a business or just enjoying a hobby: the point is the same. Keep at it, keep learning, keep trying new things out. But first, just keep at it.

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