Why Practice Triumphs Talent

Why Practice Triumphs Talent

When I was younger, I believed that some kids were born more athletic than me. The gifted kids at my school were just born lucky, and they were just better than the rest of us. My grades before high school weren't great, and I remember getting D’s in elementary school. Now, I’m in the IB program with a lot of these child prodigies, and I’m fairly athletic. My natural talent for these activities doesn't seem good, but I practiced and got better.

I think we all know what talent is. It’s the thing that people are born that make them really good at things. It’s life’s gift to the lucky few. Some have it and others don’t. It’s like the feudal system, or 1890's American society.

Reading Talent Is Overrated opened my eyes on this theory. I love self help, so this book just added to my collection of loveable books. It offers a lot of experiments that disprove the theory of talent.

The core statement of the book is that deliberate practice beats talent. Deliberate practice being very different from casual practice. The author gives several examples of world class stars and discusses how they rose to the top. As in, world class performers attain their status due to hard hours of practice.

For example, the book uses an experiment from 1999 as in example. Researchers from New England created a study to search for talent. The researchers observed 257 young people whom had been introduced to the study of music. They classified these students into groups of various abilities. They talked to their parents about their history in the art. Then, the habits of the top performers and low level performers were organized.

The results of the experiment were interesting. Talent did not seem to help their skills. The top performers had one early trait that allowed them to beat the children. They could repeat a tune at the age of 18 months, while the average was 24 months. This was the only defining characteristic between the two. Music is complex, and the results from the experiment show a small different in the two. This ability isn’t large enough to make them the next Mozart in a couple of years. It gets more interesting.

So how did they become so good? At the age of 12, the top performers practiced, on average, 2 hours per day. This is a large difference from the lowest performers who practiced 15 minutes a day. This is where talent seems to be irrelevant. The students that practice more become better than the one’s that don’t. The talent, or ability to learn more easily, doesn’t seem to be working for the so called, “naturals”. They still have to practice for hours.

The Problem With Talent

The idea of talent being the defining factor of one’s abilities causes problems. If I believed that someone people were just born being smart, that would have heavily influenced my decision to do IB. With this mindset, we lose a lot of opportunities in life. The person who wants to be President will not run because they believe that it wasn’t meant for them. The person who wants to learn dancing will not because they believe that it’s something your born with.

There are more experiments that correlate with this idea. The author states that talent doesn’t exist, and if it does, it probably plays a small role in the formation of world class athletes. Their abilities came from large amounts of practice at a young age. The real reason for their ability is derived from their experiences as a child. The good chess player was given a chess set when he was younger and his parents made him practice for years. This boy can now win chess tournaments in China due to all the practiced he was exposed to as a child.

Passion and motivation are the big parts of becoming good at something. As mentioned below, deliberate practice is not fun. The person’s love of the activity must be real and deep. If they are doing it for other people, and they don’t like the activity, then they will eventually give it up or be miserable.

Following this theory, the same method could be applied to other areas. Everyone starts off bad at an activity that they do. Their motivation depends on whether they will succeed. We can dive further into this mechanism. Our abilities can be increased through deliberate practice.

What Is Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice differs from regular practice because it increases performance for the future. General practice is typically inefficient because it doesn’t work on the skills that we are bad at.

A good example is learning how to get stronger. Let’s say you want to curl 30 pound dumbbells, so you practice with 25lbs. Each rep with 25lbs is pushing your boundaries and you barely get 5 repetitions the first day. As you repeat this action, it gets easier and easier. That’s deliberate practice because you are pushing your comfort zone and feeling pain. An example of general practice is while you waiting in lines, you curl the bottle of water your holding for awhile. The 5lb water doesn’t stress or hurt you. After that experience, you would be no closer to curling the 30 pound dumbbells, but you probably had a interesting time.

Deliberate practice consists of pushing yourself out of your boundaries. Several tenants for the practice was detailed in the book. I think they’re fairly explanatory, so I won’t go into detail like the book does.

1.) It’s specifically designed to improve performance

2.) It can be repeated a lot

3.) Feedback on results is continuously available

4.) It’s highly demanding mentally

5.)It isn’t much fun

I have issues with this one because there’s a lot of evidence against it. The author phrases this badly for the chapter because if this is true, then the NFL players would be miserable. They actually love practicing the sport, probably due to flow.

A better way to describe this is, deliberate practice isn’t much fun for people who don’t have passion for the activity. Someone who doesn’t care about the activity might hate the idea of working out and eating everyday. Dwayne Johnson loves it. For him, pleasure outweighs the pain.

This is because deliberate practice relies on leaving your comfort zone. If your learning how to skate, that includes falling on your butt. Having a love of the activity makes it more bearable, and even enjoyable.

Go Out And Start Practicing

You can’t use your absence of talent as an excuse to not practice something. Find that thing you like to do and start practicing it. Whether it’s learning to dance, play chess, learn a language, or learning a martial art.


Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

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