Articles by Max Howard
The Habit of Excellence® Expert!

These articles are filled with ideas and inspiration to help anyone master The Habit of Excellence®. Feel free to use them as content for your own website, e-newsletter, company newsletter, magazine or newspaper. Simply copy and paste into your own document. Each article must be published as is, including the information about the author. Please send a copy of your reprint to Max Howard.


#1. Excellence is a Choice

#2. Performing at Your Best

#3. What's Your Motivation?

Excellence is a Choice

There is a story of an old Cherokee who one evening tells his grandson about a battle that rages in people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, guilt, fear, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, lies, resentment, false pride and ego.

“The other is Good. It is kindness, joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for awhile, then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

And so it is.

Even to the beating of our hearts, everything we do in our life is a choice. Everything! From careers to companions, from food to philosophy, from aspirations to actions, everything we do, say, think and feel is a choice.

In this lifelong process of constant choice there is danger. Because in every choice there lurks a dreadful beast, ready to devour us, instantly, without thought or mercy. It is the terrible Yeabut!

You know this beast, the Yeabut, for he visits all of us many, many times. Consider: you complain to a friend that you‘re gaining weight. Your friend points out that you never exercise. You respond, “Yeah, but ...” and make excuses. You bemoan your inability to land the job of your dreams. You are reminded that you declined to pursue the required education. You respond with, “Yeah, but ...” and justify your choices. Your spouse complains that you are too angry, irritable and anxious. You say, “Yeah, but ...” and rationalize your behavior. And so it goes.

Our perceived inability to make the choices which will bring us happier, better lives is based in our emotions. The external conditions of our lives (work, wealth, social status, ethnicity, nationality) are circumstantial. What we make of our circumstances is driven by our internal conditions (ambition, passion, pride, desire, attitude, faith). It isn’t that we lack knowledge, skills and talent, it is that we lack resolve, determination and confidence. And almost always it is fear that stops us. For courage, too, is a choice.

Aristotle said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habitation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."

In short, excellence is a choice! So is ambition, achievement, learning and resolve. We are what we repeatedly do. And choosing to do, to be, is an action.

We mistakenly believe that once we have the right “feeling” we’ll take the right action. But psychologists have long noted that action does not follow feeling, but rather feeling follows action. In and of itself, choosing is an action.

Those who have battled addiction, as I have, understand that we are never “cured” because we always have the seeds of our disease (and our salvation) within us -- the power to choose. We do not decline to drink because we are alcohol free but we are alcohol free because we decline to drink. And so we are always “recovering” because we are always “choosing.”

Speaking for myself, I feel most fortunate to be constantly confronted with this daily choice. Each challenge to decide is a vivid and potent reminder of the gift of choice, its purpose, its potential and its power.

Every day I must choose which wolf I feed.

Max Howard is an Emmy® Award winning actor, author and keynote speaker. Known as “The Habit of Excellence™ Expert,” he may be reached at and

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Performing at Your Best

In the theatre, a great performance begins long before the actor reaches the stage. It begins with a personal commitment to perform at his best every day, on time, every time -- no excuses.

It isn’t ego (“I’m great!”) or the need for praise and approval (“You’re great!”). It is a matter of respect: for the audience (the customer), the play (the product) and the theatre (the business).

Showing up every day committed to participating fully in our lives and in our work is deeply challenging. Performing at our B.E.S.T. is a personal commitment that only we can accept and that only we can meet.

Belief: Most of all, we must believe in who we are and what we do. The greatest barrier to happiness and success in every career and life is the challenge to believe in our purpose, our passion and our power. From childhood through old age, we are told by teachers, parents, peers and society what we don’t know, don’t understand, must do, must be and should think. Our worth is challenged, questioned and valued based on how we dress, where we live, what we drive, what titles we carry. This is false. It is only when we take personal responsibility for our own potential that we can have all that we dream to be and dare to do.

Effort: Many have observed that everybody wants to be a millionaire but very few are prepared to do the work. Whether we measure wealth in dollars or personal satisfaction, the rewards we seek depend on the effort we make. Accepting the challenge of growth and accomplishment requires earnest and continuous effort. To expect something for nothing in any undertaking is foolish and misguided, especially when the task is to perform at our personal best every day. Success happens when effort meets opportunity. As the great movie producer and founder of M-G-M Studios, Samuel Goldwyn, said, “The harder I work the luckier I get.”

Strategy: On any journey through unknown territory, we cannot reasonably expect to reach our destination without a map. How can we prepare for the trip without understanding the terrain? What direction should we take, what equipment is required, whose help will be needed? To realize our dreams and ambitions, the first thing we need to know is what we don’t know. What skills, knowledge, training and experience are required? Where do we begin? Who must we know? What are the steps, the boundaries, the resources and the processes required? Execution without preparation is wasted effort. Make a plan, make the commitment, take action!

Testing: In every undertaking, we will be tested! The life dynamics of challenge and change will impact and impede our way. The wisdom of our choices and the effectiveness of our planning will be challenged. This is a very good thing! Until humans are gifted with perfect vision into the future, we will experience the unexpected and face the unknown. Testing, like criticism, is a valuable and important tool for advancement and achievement. Accept it! Embrace it! Profit by it!

Before we make the commitment to perform at our best every day, we are wise to ask ourselves these questions:

Do I truly believe in myself, my work and my dream?

Am I willing to make the effort to compete, achieve and endure?

Do I know what I need to know to perform at my best?

Am I prepared to be tested by challenge and change?

Performing at our best is a continuous process of challenge, change and choice. It is not a destination but a journey to the full realization of our potential. The greatest value of the process is to be connected to our passion, our purpose and our power.

A long time ago, an old actor told me that every morning, as he stands at his shaving mirror preparing to face another day of challenge, change and choice, he asked himself these questions:

Am I good enough?

Is it worth it?

For those who are committed to performing at their best every day, these essential questions are worth asking and answering -- every day.

Max Howard is an Emmy® Award winning actor, author and keynote speaker. Known as “The Habit of Excellence™ Expert,” he may be reached at and

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  What's Your Motivation?

Here’s an old theatre joke. A play is is being rehearsed. The director tells an actor to enter stage right. The actor says, “What’s my motivation?” The director replies, “Your paycheck!”


Good joke, bad direction. Studies show that negative motivation (fear, pain, punishment, humiliation, anger) fails to motivate. Negative motivation may produce a short-term result but at a high price: morale, initiative, cooperation, attitude and productivity always suffer.

More recently other studies show that incentives (money, titles, privilege, promotion) fail to produce sustained positive action. And that is what motivation is all about—prompting others (or oneself) to act in a certain way to achieve a desired goal or outcome.

In their remarkable book Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work (Pearson Education, Inc, 2003), authors Rob Austin & Lee Devin clearly demonstrate that in the foreseeable future the struggle to attract and retain top talent will be the #1 challenge for all businesses worldwide. Within that context, they believe that people must be motivated to come to work not because they have a job but because they have a cause, because their work is personally meaningful.

If you think that is fanciful or foolish, think again. Psychologists have long known that, in terms of life goals, we human beings want only three things:

  • To make a contribution
  • To be recognized for our contribution
  • To be rewarded for the contribution we make

These are the three keys, the real secrets, to motivating others and ourselves.

Making a contribution. None of us wants to think that we have lived in vain, that our time on earth has meant nothing, that we didn’t count. Each of us has a deep desire to make a contribution, to leave our mark. We understand that few of us will impact the wide world or change the course of a nation. Yet, within the smaller world which is our own, we yearn to know that we mattered. If we harnessed this desire and released it into the world, through our work, our families, our schools and our communities, imagine what a tidal wave of energy, creativity, confidence and ambition we could set loose! It has been observed by more than one enlightened thinker that we do not fear our insignificance, we fear our greatness. If you would have a great organization—or a great life!—seek to create for yourself and others the opportunity to make a contribution.

Being recognized. Every human life is a solitary wonder, a unique miracle. And in some deep and vulnerable place, each of us understands that we are alone. The poet said, “We are born; we live a little; we die. All else is mystery.” And so it is. Within the context of our mortality, we crave affirmation. Equal to our powerful need to contribute, to make our mark in life, we also need to know that we are seen. We need to be affirmed. Dr. Nathaniel Brandon calls this “psychological visibility.” With it, we feel assured, confident and valued. Without it, we feel isolated, lost and alone. The universe is infinite, beyond our knowledge and comprehension. But when we are recognized, we feel complete. And we are made powerful! If you want to build effective, productive teams, organizations, families and individuals, recognize and celebrate the best in everyone.

Being Rewarded. When we are not fairly rewarded, in all the ways humans need to be, we know it and feel cheated. In every aspect of our lives, at home and at work, this creates anger, suspicion, distrust and resentment. It cripples organizations and destroys families. What is the cost of that compared to sharing? To be just and generous is simple common sense—and good business.

These three fundamental truths are not secrets at all. Implement and honor them! Seek them for yourself—and demand them for others!


Max Howard is an Emmy® Award winning actor, author and keynote speaker. Known as “The Habit of Excellence™ Expert,” he may be reached at and

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More to come!