The Truth About Talent


I’ve spent most of my life arbitrarily deciding what I have talent for.  Phrases like, “My family just isn’t musical” and “I’m not a good writer” have effortlessly left my lips more times than I care to count.  If I don’t pick it up quickly, I tend to write it off as falling outside my set of natural abilities.  This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that, in general, I’m pretty adept at learning new skills…so if I’m not getting it within the first few tries, I tend to determine that it just isn’t for me.

As it turns out, I’ve been lying to myself and making excuses this whole time.

A few weeks ago, I heard a Freakonomics Radio podcast titled, “How to Become Great at Just About Anything.”  This obviously appealed to my high-achiever personality, so I was all ears.  The primary guest on the episode was the psychology professor and author, Anders Ericsson.  He’s the guy that coined the “10,000 Hour Rule”, later made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers.  In Ericsson’s new book, Peak, he unveils a new term that has simultaneously shaken me and set me on fire.  He calls it Deliberate Practice.

Deliberate Practice, as described in Ericsson’s research, is the act of consistently and intentionally practicing in ways that stretch our current capabilities.  In his work, he provides numerous examples of people achieving seemingly out-of-reach goals by simply improving the quality of their practice…and sticking with it. Ericsson outlines three critical factors:

  • Consistency of practice proves to be far more important than total volume of practice. A daily practice of only 20 minutes will likely yield quicker results than three hours of practice one or two days per week.
  • Be intentional with your practice. Have a solid plan and be sure that every session has a clear focus and purpose. Quality is so much more important than quantity.
  • You must stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone, literally and figuratively. Whether it is the range of your voice, dexterity of your fingers, or flexibility of your hamstrings, you absolutely have to ask a little more from yourself with each successive session.

Most of us have been selling ourselves short.  We are all much more capable of learning and even mastering new skills than we think…and those new skills may result in massive improvements in happiness, income, physical health, and overall quality of life. Nobody is born with the ability to run a 4-minute mile or play the saxophone.  When you see somebody that appears to perform effortlessly, you aren’t witnessing a natural gift, you’re seeing the results of deliberate practice.

Think about it.  How would it feel to finally learn to play the guitar or run a marathon or get your first muscle up? What is it that you want and just haven’t gone after?

I’ve had a couple of “goats” staring me in the face for years. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that these two areas have held me back from performing my best. One is physical, one is mental, and I’ve decided to take them both head on during the second half of 2016. Maybe you can help keep me accountable? Here they are:

  • Flexibility / Mobility – I’ve barely been able to touch my toes since I was 8 years old, and after over 20 years of running, rucking, pushups, and pullups, my body is badly out of balance and needs some serious work. If I’m ever going to perform at my best and keep up the pace into old age, I’ll need to overhaul my chassis. So from today forward, I’m committing to 20 minutes of stretching and mobility work every morning, plus two full flexibility sessions per week. By the end of the year, I hope to have complete range of motion and stability in all of my joints, and be able to touch my palms to the ground (with straight legs).
  • Writing – This one is really important to me. I’ve always been more comfortable speaking than writing. Verbally sharing thoughts, ideas, and motivation comes naturally to me, and I’m very thankful for it. However, I want to communicate with more people on a more consistent basis, and that requires writing. I’ve been working on this for a few months, but it is time to take it seriously. So I’m committing to writing on this blog at least once every week. It might not be very good, but maybe that’s the point. Either way, you can count on something every week. Feel free to share topics, as I could easily run out.

I don’t think that I’ll end up starring in Cirque du Soleil or winning a Pulitzer, but I do believe that I can make major improvements in both areas. It won’t happen overnight, but it also won’t happen by accident. What skill or goal has been sitting on your list? Maybe it is time to give it a shot.