5 Habits That Help Cultivate Greatness

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Muhummad Ali

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Do your daily habits affect how successful you are in life? You bet they do. Can you change your habits and point you life in the direction of greatness? Absolutely. Here are 5 habits that will help you cultivate greatness.

Habit 1: Wake up early

I can not think of a single great person in the course of history who did not rise early to work on their art. Waking up early is one of the hardest habits you will ever attempt to develop but if you are successful you will reap tremendous benefits.

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Some successful people throughout history who have woken up early include:

  • the Dalai Lama
  • Gandhi
  • Aristotle
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • Buddha
  • Barack Obama

Waking up early and links to a clear mind
What you will notice about the majority of the people on this list is that they are pioneers in critical thinking and inventiveness. One of the main benefits of rising early is that you have an increased clarity of mind. Your faculties are sharper and you will be much more productive. Add this with the fact that by waking up early you will have more time to work on your goals and you have a pretty successful formula.

How to wake up early
So how do you wake up early? I have written entire posts on waking up early and some tips for waking up fresh but I will give you a basic overview. The main points to remember are:

  • Go to bed at the same time
    It is not so important to go to bed early. What you really need to focus on is going to bed at the same time each night. Remember, waking up early is a habit and we create habits by repetition. Let your body settle into the routine and go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Wake up at the same time
    For all the reasons above, you need to wake up at the same time. Waking up at the same time is even more important than going to bed at the same time as this is the part of the habit that you are affecting the most. Even if you cannot get to bed at your proper bed time try to still get up at the same time.
  • Make a strong vow
    If you only have some vague idea that you are going to get up early you never will. You need to sit down and figure out exactly why you are getting up early and take a personal vow to stick to that time. Only with a strong motivation will you be successful.
  • Avoid coffee, wine and chocolate at night
    These three foods are said to be the worst thing you can have before bed. Why? Because they are all stomach irritants that cause you to have a restless sleep. If your sleep is restless you will be less likely to wake up in the morning because you are way too tired.
  • Exercise in the morning or at night
    Fitter people are more able to get out of bed at the crack of dawn. And what’s more, if you exercise before bed you go to sleep quite relaxed and full of endorphins. This will send you straight into a deep sleep and you will wake feeling refreshed and alive.
  • Get out of bed as soon as you’re aware
    As soon as your awareness comes back to your mind it is really important to jump up and get out of bed straight away. If you take too long your awareness will shift towards how beautifully comfortable you are under those sheets and blankets and you will have missed your chance!
  • Recognize the opportunity
    I am a big fan of using logical arguments to improve your lifestyle. For me, waking up early is a gift not to be squandered. We only get a few short years on this planet. I for one do not want to waste them sleeping in. I just don’t see the point.

Waking up early is the first habit you should try to develop. It is one daily habit that will directly impact the quality of your life and how much you are able to achieve. If greatness is your goal – be it in sport, business, spirituality, etc. – then rising early should become your new secret weapon.

Habit 2: Eat a clean diet

Something that occurred to me a few weeks ago was how important diet seemed to be for almost every great person I could think of. All of my heroes, bar none, ate a healthy, well balanced diet. And I do not think it is a mere coincidence.

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Good food is good fuel
Food is the fuel for our body and mind. When we eat a bad diet we become sluggish, lazy and sick. Think about the last time you went and visited KFC or Burger King. How did you feel afterwards? I am betting you felt bloated, fat, tired and not much like working. Now think about the last time you ate something healthy like salad, fruit or sushi. I am betting the experience was the exact opposite.

Food is our fuel. You would never put unrefined oil in your car. You would never put sea water or some other foreign liquid in your car either. So why do it to your body? Why spend meal after meal stuffing yourself with sugars, saturated fats and overly processed food filled with preservatives and chemicals? It just doesn’t make sense. I put it to you that if you start eating good food you will start living a better life.

Some concrete examples of diet and greatness
Just to make sure you are certain on this point I wanted to give you a few concrete examples of great people who believe diet is a key to their success.

  • Buddha
    During his revolutionary lifetime the Buddha spoke many times about the importance of eating a clean diet. He gave many lists of “black” foods that corrupted the mind and body (including some meats, garlic, etc.) and often spoke of eating in moderation. For example, the Buddha once told his group of monks that a good meal should be made up of 1/3 food, 1/3 water and 1/3 empty space. Do not gorge yourself as it leaves your body feeling heavy and sluggish.
  • Gandhi
    Gandhi was known to be a strict vegetarian. He liked to experiment with “fruit only” diets and reported many wonderful benefits. In his autobiography he stated that, although he did not have the physical strength of meat eating men, he was able to work much longer hours and with greater energy and mental clarity. Towards the end of his life he almost nothing but fresh fruit.
  • Bruce Lee
    Throughout all of high school I was obsessed with Bruce Lee. I was a martial artist and, like most martial artists, I thought Bruce Lee could walk on water. One of the main things about Bruce that stuck with me over the years was the importance he placed on his diet. His wife Linda and his close friends tell many stories of how picky he was and how he would only eat very specific foods. He strongly believed the food should only be used as a fuel for the body and not for pleasuring the taste buds. And he was way ahead of his time. Bruce was an obsessive athlete and before anyone else was doing it, Bruce was eating a diet high in protein, low in saturated fats and high in fresh fruits and vegetables. He never ate processed sugar and he never drank alcohol.

What should I eat?
I do not believe that we get rid of bad habits. I believe we replace them with better habits. I do not know anyone who is habit free. Keeping this in mind, the best way to start eating a clean diet is to replace the bad habits with new healthy ones.

The main thing you need to do is cut out as much man-made food as you can. If you take a look at any highly processed food you will see that it is made up of mostly sugars, fats and preservatives. Try and replace man-made foods like pasta, bread, candy, soda, etc. with natural foods like fruit, vegetables, free range eggs, fresh milk, water, nuts, etc. You will find that your mind becomes clearer, your energy levels increase and your immune system strengthens.

A clean diet is a major habit of great people. You will never meet an Olympic athlete who eats pizza and beer everyday. Likewise, you will never meet a great yogi who fills up on heavy foods and sugary drinks. A clean diet is one habit you cannot do without. To achieve greatness you need all the energy you can get and you cannot afford to waste anytime with health problems or a food-induced afternoon fog.

Habit 3: Practice makes greatness

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Recently there was a study done where a group of scientists took a bunch of talented kids, a bunch of average kids and a bunch of below average kids and measured/followed their path to success. Some of the kids played sport, some of them did music, others were artists. The study was attempting to show that only the talented children would achieve anything above average in life. They suspected that the other two groups of children would fail and thus live a life of mediocrity.

They were wrong.

What the study showed was that success had nothing to do with potential or talent, it was all about practice. The kids who achieved the most all spent over 10,000 hours practicing their skill. It didn’t matter whether they started out as talented, average or below average – anyone who practiced for more than 10,000 hours achieved some level of expertise and greatness.

If you want to achieve greatness in your chosen field the most important habit you can develop is the discipline of practice. You need to repeat and train your skill everyday. It needs to become a daily habit, not something that you only occasionally do.

Practice vs natural ability
I am a firm believer that greatness comes from practice and not from natural ability. Sure, natural ability and good genes helps you a lot but it is not the deciding factor, practice is. Throughout history we have seen a lot of naturally talented people fizzle into mediocrity but we have never seen a great person who got there without practice. Great people always work hard. They practice a lot.

Proof that practice makes greatness
There are some great historical and modern examples of the fact that practice makes greatness. We can see them in every area of life; sport, religion, politics, business, etc.

  • Tiger Woods
    There are a lot of people out there who think that Tiger Wood’s is a natural talent. He isn’t. This guy showed potential at a young age because he started training at a young age. He has mastered the habit of daily practice. Ask any golfer on the PGA circuit and they will tell you that Tiger is out hitting balls at 4am before anyone else has even thought about waking up.
  • Michael Jordan
    The same is true of the greatest athlete of all time. Michael Jordan trained hard as kid and, like Tiger, was pushed extremely hard by his father. Again, he showed a lot of potential but it was his practice that made him who he was, not his potential.
  • Mozart
    This is a difficult one because Mozart was a child prodigy. Every now and then history produces someone so amazing that they simply defy logic. But Mozart was like the previous two in that his father recognized his talent early on and pushed him harder and harder. He had almost no rest and spent his entire childhood in front of a piano. Practice makes greatness.

There are certain things that nature decides. For example, the Olympics consistently shows us that African bred human beings run faster than European bred human beings. But, I would like to stress again that it is their practice that gets them to the world stage. Not their natural abilities. Unless, of course, your last name is Bolt!

Practice every single day
If you really want to achieve greatness you need to get into the habit of practice. You need to set aside regular time everyday to hone your skill. It needs to become so ingrained in you that you can no longer separate yourself from your skill.

Habit 4: Develop bravery


I would like to put it to you that bravery is, in fact, a habit. A habit is often defined as “something you automatically do” and I believe that all great people have developed the habit of bravery. We need to do the same.

Why do you need bravery?
Bravery is an essential quality to possess if you wish to achieve greatness. It comes in many different shapes and sizes and is often very subtle.

Take the example of a young musician who has a dream of playing on the world’s great stages. After many years of practice he/she receives an invitation to attend a prestigious music school such as Manchester in England. Now, although the musician is extremely excited, he/she is rather nervous about leaving the security and safety of home. To venture over to another country and adapt to its culture is an extremely difficult thing to do. It takes bravery.

You see, achieving greatness is often about being in the right place at the right time. It is about being able to seize opportunities and exploit those opportunities as much as you can. If you want to put yourself in the direct path of those opportunities you need to be brave.

Other types of bravery that lead to greatness
Packing up your home and heading overseas is not the only type of bravery that will get you places. There are many other kinds that are equally as important.

  • Standing up for what you believe in
    Great people often stand up for what they believe in even if it is the unpopular opinion. This is an act of bravery because you are standing against a large group and relying solely on your own principles and strength.
  • Saying “no” to being normal
    I have seen a lot of my friends who possessed the potential for greatness head down a normal path because they were not brave enough to say “no”. For example, you often see kids in high school and college give in to peer pressure and go out drinking when they would rather be studying or practicing their sport. This is a slippery slope that inevitably leads you further away from your goal. A big part of achieving greatness is having the bravery to say “no”, especially to the people you love and care about.
  • Never giving up
    The most difficult aspect of being brave is never giving up. This is the hardest type of bravery to develop but the one that pays the most dividends. Life will often tell you to throw in the towel. It will give you obstacle after obstacle until you just can’t keep going. But great people always do. They push through no matter how hard the circumstances. They are brave enough to face failure head on and keep going.

How to develop bravery
Developing bravery is very difficult to do. However, as I said before, bravery is a habit and as such it is something that gets easier to do with time. The more you do it the easier you will find it.

The main strategy is to find a pure and steady motivation for your actions. The greatest of all motivations is the one where you want to achieve greatness in order to help others. Altruism. The greatest men and women in history – Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus, Mandella, the Dalai Lama, etc. – all achieved greatness because their sole motivation was to help others. If you have a strong motivation it will be easier to be brave because you know other people are depending on you.

Bravery is a habit. With time it will become easy. Until then, work on your motivation and remind yourself that you need to be brave in order to be great.

Habit 5: Condense all blames/solutions in to one

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The most outstanding habit of the greats is that they condense all blames and all solutions into one. And that “one” is themselves. They do not rely on anyone else for their success and they do not blame anyone else for their failures. They are completely self motivated and self reliant.

The modern world of whingers
If you take a look at 99% of people in the modern (western) world you will see that they are taken by the habit of whinging. When something goes wrong at work it is the boss’ fault. When something goes wrong at home it is their partner’s fault. If your whole life goes to shit it is because your father didn’t love you enough – it is always someone elses fault.

But great people don’t behave like this. If something is wrong in their life they fix it. If they want to achieve a particular outcome they go and get it and if they fail they recognize their mistakes and move on. They certainly do not sit around and curse everyone else for causing them to fail!

There is a wonderful saying by the Indian Buddhist master Shantideva. It goes like this:

“Where would I find enough leather to cover the entire surface of the earth? But with leather soles beneath my feet, it’s as if the whole world had been covered.” – Shantideva.

What he is saying here is that people tend to blame the whole world for their problems. They want to make the whole world change to suit their needs instead of addressing the one source of the problem. Themselves. He is saying that instead of trying to cover the whole world with leather, why not just put on some shoes!

The origin of all problems
What Shantideva is saying is very wise. He is point out the fact that the origin of all problems is the mind, not the external world. It is you who decides whether something is nice or bad. It is you who decides whether you are happy or sad.

The proof of this is easy to see. Have you ever been somewhere really beautiful like the beach or somewhere really fun like the movies and just felt terrible? Everything could be going perfectly but you feel still angry, agitated and pissed off? Other times, when your mind is happy, the outside world could be rainy and terrible but you still feel good. That is proof that the origin of all problems is your mind.

Developing the habit of condensing all blames into one
All great people have the habit of self reliance. As I have already mentioned, they take it upon themselves to change their situation and they blame themselves when things go wrong. It is important that we develop those habits as well if we want to achieve great things in our lives.

Start by reminding yourself everyday that it is you and you alone who is in charge of your destiny. No one else is going to come along and rescue you or throw you an easy opportunity. If you want something, go and get it. If you don’t like something in your life, stand up and change it.

Finding balance
Once you have developed the habit of self-reliance it is important not to refuse help from other people when it comes around. There are many people out there who think that they can get by in life without help from anyone else and they hate the idea of “charity”. To be honest this is just the other extreme. At one end you have people who want others to do all the work and at the other you have people who think that can do it all. Both are equally incorrect.


Achieving greatness comes about through certain productive habits. It is not something that happens overnight. It takes hard work, effort and discipline. If you want to become great you need to start changing your ordinary habits in to great ones. And the best time to start is now. You haven’t got long.

23 thoughts on “5 Habits That Help Cultivate Greatness

  1. *great* post. i particularly like that you’ve included “habit 5” as one of the habits necessary to achieve greatness. this lesson is also important for achieveing peace (and/or happiness). it has been one of the most important life lessons for me, period. i have found that, in taking responsibility for my own suffering, i am also responsible for my own joy. mastering the mind (thought processes, mental chatter, etc.) is no easy task, but a task worth the time and energy put into it. far too many individuals are all too happy to be life’s victim, which is sad. i believe that path will only lead to regrets.

    sorry to go off on a tangent. every one of these habits is worth cultivating and will, surely, lead to greatness. not that i’ve ever been able to cultivate early rising as a personal habit… 😉

    thank you so much for all you share. love and light to you brother.

  2. Great content! I just came across your blog and actually read your posts! I wish you would post more often. It is hard to find good informative blog like yours! Thanks for the information. – Versa

  3. This is very timely for me as I’m going through a rough period and I feel like blaming everyone else! Very good list! I take note of number 2 and 5 in particular.

  4. Nice post, ughh the waking early, that’s one I’d definitely like to cultivate. First part of that is getting to bed before midnight every night. Seems nearly impossible. When I returned from Vietnam I was really jet lagged and waking up at 4am every day. I actually enjoyed it, and got a lot done, but slowly, started waking later and later. When I get up early I feel so much less rushed in the mornings, its just hard to convince yourself that when you are lying all warm in the covers and its cold out in the rest of the world 🙂


  5. hi, its an amazing post that i ever see in my life , i just want to change myself as your said…what u said was universally true.

    i am a martial art lover , since it makes me more disciplined.

    please keep posting waiting for reply…..

  6. Yeah, I’m pretty motivated, but pretty tired a lot of the time as a result 🙂 I just need to shift my clock a bit, because I am so much more productive in the early hours. The problem is I often, by the time we stop for the night, don’t actually eat until like 10pm, and 12 is just around the corner. So getting up at 4:30 is really early. But I’m going to try and start getting up at 6 and see how that goes.


  7. Brilliant! I’m in the middle of finals in my second year of law school right now, and I really needed that article. Thank you.

  8. I liked your points on waking up early and hopping out of bed as soon as awareness hits. It’s sooo painful to do. Once I’m up though, I feel “rewarded” with a couple of extra hours of the day being/feeling alive. But too many times, I’ve decided to sleep in until I’m more lucid. I feel like there must be a “secret button” that other people push to pop up out of bed.

    Can you suggest something I can tell myself that would instantly get me out of bed when I’m struggling in my head whether to get up or sleep longer? (I’m actually a happy early-morning person; it’s just getting past that initial, grueling hurdle that’s sooo hard to overcome.)

  9. Hi Marissa. Actually, I was hoping you might be able to tell ME that secret! Haha.

    I once was having lunch with an old old Buddhist Yogi in India. We had met somehow and forged a bit of a friendship. Anyway, I asked him what time he got up in the morning to start his meditation and replied, “4am”. Then I said, “How the hell do you do that?” And he replied with an answer I will never forget:

    “For some reason I have been blessed that the first thought that comes into my mind when my alarm goes off is compassion for all beings. So I get up for them. I don’t want to waste my opportunity asleep.”

    Hope that helps Marissa. Try to develop a strong motivation and you’ll be able to do anything.


  10. hi, great post! I just wanted to point out a small error though in the part were you describe the eating habits of Budda. Believe it or not, it was actually Prophet Muhammad who advised to eat but a few morsels of food if one can otherwise fill 1/3 of the stomach with food, 1/3with water and 1/3 should be left empty. It could very well be that Budda taught the same but it seems unlikely. Besides that, its an uplifting post! thnx

  11. the Dalai Lama
    Sir Isaac Newton
    Barack Obama

    The history on Obama has not yet been written.

  12. I’d be interested about the wherabouts of this quote:
    “During his revolutionary lifetime the Buddha spoke many times about the importance of eating a clean diet. He gave many lists of “black” foods that corrupted the mind and body (including some meats, garlic, etc.) and often spoke of eating in moderation. For example, the Buddha once told his group of monks that a good meal should be made up of 1/3 food, 1/3 water and 1/3 empty space. Do not gorge yourself as it leaves your body feeling heavy and sluggish.”

    For the singular curiosity that I know the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) of Islam is quoted as saying this very thing.

    Hadrat Miqdad bin Madikarib (r.a.) reported: ‘I heard Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him)say:
    “No man fills a container worse than his stomach. A few morsels that keep his back upright are sufficient for him. If he has to, then he should keep one-third for food, one-third for drink and one-third for his breathing.“’

  13. I have read many self improvement articles all my life but I keep coming back to this one again and again. Somehow this just touches a deep string in my heart. Excellent habits and I will cultivate them.


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