Does practice really make perfect – or is born talent the only hope?
The right sort of practice makes perfect!
On a recent chat show, world-famous musician Ed Sheeran debunked the universal assumption of natural talent when he played a recording of his less-than-impressive early work. It turns out hours on end of practice got him where he is today.
There is a general misconception that people are born with talent. From sports champions, to musicians, to business leaders – we often attribute their success to innate ability.
In recent years neuroscience has blown this notion apart. It turns out talent is within everyone’s reach – it all comes down to having a desire and following that up with ‘purposeful practice’.
Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.
– Zig Ziglar
Talent vs effort
As a teenager I fancied myself as a guitar hero. The dream faded when I got stuck in a rut playing the same tunes over and over again. While I may have been playing, I wasn’t ‘purposefully practising’. Eventually, seeing no progress, I convinced myself I just didn’t have what it takes.
It was at the age of 40 I returned to that young dream, this time armed with new knowledge and a changed mindset. I practised bite-sized chunks that were just beyond my current ability, over and over again. In addition, joining a band gave me a vision and challenged me to play beyond my perceived capabilities. My mission to become a guitar hero had succeeded!
So how does this apply to the workplace?
A key difference between someone who is average at something, and someone who is really good is the ability to break skills down into their component parts and isolate the weakest link – practising it until it is fluent.
Most of us find it difficult to do this by ourselves and this is where a good coach can hold up a mirror and help us identify those areas that need improvement.
The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.
– Vladimir Horowitz
Practise. Practise. Then practise some more!! Doing something over and over again gives our brain a chance to hardwire it so we can do it unconsciously. For example, most of us remember how awkward it was learning to drive – now we have hardwired the skill and can do it on autopilot.
Fire officers practise their safety exercises relentlessly and to perfection, hardwiring each drill so they can act without thinking in emergencies. Similarly, elite athletes expend much less energy than amateurs because their moves are hardwired. If a tennis player’s strokes are automatic, this leaves him or her free to focus on game strategy.
Most of us don’t deal with emergencies or athletic training during our normal day – but we can still improve our skills if we want.
For example a naturally shy person who hates networking might practise their introduction in a mirror or video themselves until they feel confident. This practise will embed and hardwire their introduction so it becomes second nature – thus boosting confidence. This creates a virtuous circle – the better you are, the more confident you become and the more confident you become, the better you are.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit.
Another example is perhaps Admiral Nelson whose great seamanship is held in awe. But while his fame and success are well deserved – they didn’t come down to chance.
Nelson had his men practise manoeuvres over and over again so in the heat of battle they could act automatically, leaving their brains free to focus on tactics and strategy.
Don’t practise until you get it right. Practise until you can’t get it wrong.
As a coach I frequently help clients overcome limiting beliefs to achieve ‘unobtainable’ goals, which in turn boosts self belief and self confidence.
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