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Why Repetition Is the Secret to Building Better Habits

Repetition is the mother of skills

“Repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism” Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Back to my old Tony Robbins tape cassettes; one of the sayings that will be stuck with me until my very last day is the old “repetition is the mother of skills”.

Because, well, it is.

Storytellers find that they have a lot to say, but not necessarily a lot of time to say it.

Despite being slightly annoying when your grandad keeps repeating the same thing again and again, repetition is essential to get my writing done, especially when taking the time to create content may feel daunting at times.

When it comes to routines, habits, and ways of shaping life around your mission, different people throughout history have experimented with different approaches.

I will be using artists and creatives as my main example, as I find that most of them can be incredibly relatable to people often engaging in the “side hustle” on a tight schedule.

Although no one consciously chooses difficult life circumstances, there are some creatives (in different industries and areas of trading) who choose to have little free time or to keep their day jobs in order to pay the bills.

When it comes to routines, I love snooping around the writer’s routines (I do believe they are the most regimented and overall fascinating).

Let’s start with a little extract stolen from a Kurt Vonnegut a letter to his wife in 1965:

“In an unmoored life like mine, sleep and hunger and work arrange themselves to suit themselves, without consulting me.

I’m just as glad they haven’t consulted me about the tiresome details. What they have worked out is this: I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare.

When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit-ups all the time and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not.”

I am not suggesting you closely monitor every part of your day, yet, Vonnegut may have been onto something.


Author Haruki Murakami, whose quote can be found at the beginning of this article, ran a small jazz club in Tokyo for several years before his career gained momentum.

Once his writing career kicked off he chose to move to a rural area and craft his own routine: waking at 4 a.m., working for five or six hours, running or swimming in the afternoon, then listening to music and reading before falling asleep at 9 p.m.

When talking repetition, I think rituals, routines and practices that do shape our habits.

Goals and visions do have something in common: repetition, routines, and questions.

Rituals and routines are something that can be supported with a few key tools — which I am definitely experimenting with.

Click here to learn how to build a thriving life using habits


How routines can lead you to success

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” — Muhammad Ali

The beauty of a routine is that it will affect people differently.

As Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings writes, though very different in practice, routine and ritual seem to be two sides of the same coin:

“While routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical. The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us.”

I studied a few examples from Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals.

On the one hand, writer Toni Morrison, for example, likes to rise at around 5 a.m to see the sunrise. For her, it’s important to wake before the light and observe the transition into the day, tapping into her writing inspiration.

On the other hand, Ann Beattie is what you’d call a night owl, working most productively between 12 a.m to 3 a.m.

Some people can be such morning people that, well, they cannot get enough.

Novelist Nicholson Baker, for example, reaps the benefit of two mornings in one day by waking up for his first writing session at 4 a.m., then going back to sleep, and rising once again around 8:30 a.m. for his second-morning streak.


Going back to basics

Athletes are another great example of repetition and rituals.

Daniel Cormier, the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and former Olympic wrestler won multiple gold medals as a wrestler. And in MMA, he has won 20 of his 22 fights in total.

What is his key to success, according to himself? Focusing on the basics.

“You don’t get to the highest levels of the sport without having the basics in order.”

There is another aspect of repetition that is truly powerful.

Each time you repeat something, you notice something different. Each time you repeat something, there’s some piece that just comes easier.

This is something athletes know very well.

As a boxer, I will repeat the same moves, again and again, just to get them in my head. Why? Because I need to be ready if a jab strikes. The same can be said about habits and repetition.

Today, we know the true extent of those words. According to research, up to 40% of our daily actions are powered by habits–the unconscious actions and routines we’ve developed over time.

As Will Durant writes in The Story of Philosophy (a quote often misattributed to Aristotle):

“We are what we repeatedly do”

What does your routine say about you, and what you want to achieve?

Learn how to manage your energy better here

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