I was looking at the book Peak Performance: Mental Training of the World's Greatest Athletes by Charles Garfield. Garfield quotes an athlete he worked with as saying, "Excellence is never limited to the playing field. Of necessity, it becomes a way of life." With the behavior of many of the successful professional athletes in this country making constant headlines, I'm not sure that I believe the generality of this statement. But I like the attitude. Or even better, I like the idea that if one makes a way of life of excellence, it will translate into success in any arena.
As I write this, I realize that I'm heading for a potential trap. What is excellence? And, importantly, how does the search for excellence relate to perfectionism--which, as we all know, can cause problems in finishing work? And I don't want to go down this path of reasoning now, however. For the moment I would like to leave the dangers of pursuing excellence aside, while giving a nod to their deserving attention at some point.
I was talking with a writer who was having trouble getting started on his project, and I was talking with him about just looking at the possibilities. Wouldn't it be great if...? Wouldn't it be great if he got his thesis done? Wouldn't it be great if felt good about the project? Wouldn't it be great if...?
It seems to me that a living a life of excellence depends heavily on having a strong sense of "wouldn't it be great if...?". If you have a vision of what it would be great to accomplish--to win recognition, fortune, fame--that is the first step toward achieving results that might be considered excellence. If you're in the habit of having such a vision in your life, it will pervade all aspects of your life, and thus you will manifest the same quality of excellence in all dimensions of your life.
The ability to imagine what you would like--the ability to day dream, basically--is of fundamental value. Charles Garfield talks about an experience in his own life of using visualization exercises to assist him to perform beyond his athletic expectations--there may have been more structure to Garfield's visualization exercises than in loose day-dreaming, but the basic process is the same.
We want to be able to go beyond "wouldn't it be great if...?" to ask what we can do to bring it about, but still, everything depends on the vision--the sense that something is what we want. But bringing the vision into reality is another thing altogether.
There is yet another benefit of the "wouldn't it be great if...?" exercise: it focuses attention on the positive possible outcomes. I talk to lots of writers who are stuck because they are thinking about the negative reaction that they might receive. The fear of rejection is great in most of us (I'd say all of us, but every now and then one meets a person who appears utterly without such fear). When we start worrying about the negative feedback, it makes it harder to do more work--it drains our energy to battle the negative visions and to move in despite of them. It may be difficult focus on the positive outcomes (for example, getting our writing accepted), but when we are focused on them, it is much easier to maintain energy and motivation.