Thanks to the research of leading psychologist, neurologist and educators we now have a much better understanding of which positive character strengths contribute most to achievement and succes across all areas of life. By developing a growth mindset and adjusting the way you think about talent, you can actually develop the habits and practice methods that increase skill acquistion and lead to success in sports, school, music, etc.
Let’s begin by looking at some of the most influential people of today and their contributions to the way we think, learn, practice and behave.
Create a Growth Mindset
Stanford psychologist, Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading researchers in the fields of personality and developmental psychology. She is world renown for her work in the areas of achievement and success. Her research has shown that how one thinks about how abilities and talents form can have powerful ramifications on motivation, grades and achievement. According to Dr. Dweck, “When students and educators have a growth mindset, they understand that intelligence can be developed. Students focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are. They work hard to learn more and get smarter”. They learn and develop skill through effort and using the best strategies.
As a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, researcher Angela Duckworth, Ph.D. has focused on the role of character strengths such as effort, determination and self-control. Her research has shown that the positive character strengths she calls “grit” are a better predictor of achievement than IQ. Duckworth defines grit as, “persistence and passion for long-term goals”. Her work has been incorportated into the highly successful charter KIPP Schools and is used by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Players and students that display grittiness along with a growth mindset are more successful in reaching their goals because they are willing to work longer and harder to develop new skills.
Grow More Myelin
In his book, The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle writes about revolutionary new discoveries in neuroscience that are unlocking the secrets to how we develop skills and talent. Each time we begin to learn a new skill we’re making vital connections in the brain. Learning new skills slowly and precisely is important to building the right circuitry. Myelin is insulation that grows in response to electrical activity and wraps around the nerve fibers to help send faster and stronger signals to muscles or other parts of the brain. When a person practices with intensity and concentration they are actually growing more myelin. Coyle calls this type of practice, which is characterized by reaching just beyond your current skill level, deep practice. Deep practice has been shown to increase the speed of learning new skills by as much as ten times faster. Deep practice requires effort, determination and concentration.
Build Skills through Deliberate Practice
Psychologist, K. Anders Ericsson, has spent the better part of three decades looking at expert performance and he and his colleques have found that talent comes from a certain kind of practice done over a very long period of time. He calls this special type of practice Deliberate Practice, which consist of well defined activities with an appropriate level of difficulty, informative feedback with opportunities for repitition and correction of errors. World-class performs acquire skill through approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Their research seems to debunk the Talent Myth and points instead to good old fashion hard work, determination and concentrated practice.
Further Reading on Developing Talent
- Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle
- The Little Book of Talent, by Daniel Coyle
- Mindset, by Carol S. Dweck
- Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Road to Excellence, edited by K. Anders Ericsson
- How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough
- The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
- Willpower, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney