I’ve always believed that succumbing to the phrase “they are naturally talented” is one of the most pessimistic attitudes to explain a truly extraordinary act. The simple reality is that a person is whatever they repeatedly do on a consistent basis. Using the excuse of “natural talent” to explain how a person achieved a perfect score on a test or how they set a record on an athletic team is completely ignorant. The mastery of any field requires incessant practice, and the uncommon results of high achievers are likely the result of a tremendous amount of focus and execution in practice.
Sometimes I come across motivational material that is so powerful that I believe it is worth sharing; I was recently reading the New York Times best seller SuperFreakonomics by economists Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Here are a couple short paragraphs that explain the conclusions of the most up-to-date research on understanding talent:
K. Anders Ericson is now a professor of psychology at Florida State University, where he uses empirical research to learn what share of talent is “natural” and how the rest of it is acquired. His conclusion: the trait we commonly call “raw talent” is vastly overrated. “A lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with,” he says. “But there is a suprisinigly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it.” Or, put another way, expert performers–whether in soccer or piano playing, surgery or computer programming–are nearly always made, not born.
And yes, just as your grandmother always told you, practice does make perfect. But not just willy-nilly practice. Mastery arrives through what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice.” This entails more than simply playing a C-minor scale a hundred times or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concetrating as much on technique as outcome.
The people who become excellent at a given thing aren’t necessarily the same ones who seemed to be “gifted” at a young age. This suggest that when it comes to choosing a life path, people should do what they love–yes, your nana told you this too–because if you don’t love what you’re doing, your are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good at it. (Page 61)
There you have it, talent level is precisely the result of how much proper execution is practiced. The thing I love most about this philosophy is that it applies to any discipline, whether it is academics, arts, athletics, and beyond. In short, if you love what you are doing, your chances of succeeding are far greater. Perhaps the description of remarkable talent should be described as a “natural process” rather than “natural talent”.