As soon as I turned seven, my stepfather thought it’s a good idea to take me to the wrestling team. I think it was some sort of a genetic tendency because when he was a kid, his father also took him to the wrestling team so he can, later on, prove that without hard work, talent is just an exaggerated and overrated term.
For – if memory serves me – four years, I had trained hard in the wrestling team. From seven to about eleven. We were doing relatively heavy physical preparations. At least, that’s how It seemed to me. Our coach made us wrestle with each other for four or five minutes.
But I was a bit special to my coach. And because I was special to him, he had always let me wrestle with two or three more people. They were coming in turns at me, while I had to wrestle with each one of them for four minutes straight.
For me, all this seemed like tension bands. Not as hard, but not as easy either. I was one of the best kiddos in the wrestling team at the time. My coach was preparing me for becoming a European champion.
Ultimately, I didn’t, because I gave up long before getting there. I became futile and started to miss my training classes. The more classes I missed, the weaker I became, until one day most of those I used to trip like laundered pants on the mats, started tripping me.
Despite my talent for wrestling, I failed myself. And the coach always used to say “After my son, he is next.” pointing at me with his finger. It was flattering to know that I was right behind his thirtyish-years-old son on the qualities and skills in wrestling. It gave some perspective to my future as a wrestler.
After some time, all these qualities and skills started to diminish, until one day everything disappeared. Even though I was doing quite well as a wrestler, not even a single memory of my cultivated talent was left.
Gone. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
The feeling was mildly awful. My motivation started to drop and after four years of training, I completely stopped visiting the wrestling classes. What for? I was no longer able to keep up with the rest. I had given up mentally and my dreams for becoming a champion died. No one to help me pull it off. Not even a single medal.
That’s what happens to you when you underestimate the power of hard work thinking that being genetically inclined to excel in a particular thing would be enough. Could you imagine if only I hadn’t given up? My life would’ve been a whole lot different now.
Hard Work vs Talent
This whole world and the way it operates is upside down. We are still thinking about talent when talent, as you just saw, is once you’ve reached a certain level, almost unimportant. Let me explain as this could go the wrong way. The question here is if your talent is what you need the most to succeed in a particular endeavor as oppose to working hard, and not about making talent irrelevant. Okay?
People think that excellence is only open to others, not themselves. But if someone could skillfully change the wiring of your brain to the point where you love some passionate things, whether it be chess or art or music, or even a sport, then, without a doubt, anybody reading this could be playing at almost a concert level.
For instance, if we had parents or a coach, who just devoted one to two hours a day and made us consistently do things in a way that, hopefully, didn’t feel forceful and didn’t want us to give up, our life could’ve been a different story now.
But it does not come down to only when you are a child, nor you should blame your parents for not raising you in such a way because chances are, they didn’t have such parents either.
Researchers have discovered that the elasticity of the brain is there almost till the day we die. That means, that even if you are already an adult, you can still successfully rewire your brain and become better and more skillful at a particular thing if you devote a fair amount of time for practicing. You can do that even if you lack the talent for it. Thus become better as oppose to somebody who is naturally more talented, but doesn’t put in as much work to develop it.
Maybe people just don’t want to believe in the power of practice. Maybe they are better off believing in the power of “Singing, dancing everywhere, M-hm, M-hm.” The question is why? Cause we are head-to-toe biased. And we want to avoid the potential pain that would’ve come if we made an effort, that ultimately didn’t fulfill our expectations. So we like to imagine that we didn’t waste those years no matter how hard we’ve practiced. So we end up not doing much with our lives.
Let’s be frank. We are all delusional assholes. And snapping out of the pain-avoiding delusion is the way out.
So let’s take a moment and get rid of the pain avoiding delusion. You still with me? Alright. The thing is that you can start something regardless of your age. Yes, there is a little bit of inborn gift. But it’s overestimated in its value to your life. Chances are, you can surpass hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people, with more talent than you if you:
- Purposefully practice
- Do it over the right amount of time
- Do it with the right mindset (not get rich/good quick.)
This is exactly what Matthew Syed talks about in Bounce: The myth of talent and the power of practice. The book talks about the importance of practice and the tremendous power of adaptation our brains have. There are a lot of examples throughout the book but the most amazing of all is about a Hungarian family of chess players. The father believed that, “A genius is not born, but is educated and trained.”
Certainly, hard work takes the lead when it comes down to acquiring and sharpening a new skill through taking an ongoing and sustained action. Speaking of that, this can be applied to all walks of life and not just sports like tennis, football, chess, golf, masturbation etc. In fact, when it comes down to these, talent is of pretty low importance. And although it still counts, putting in the effort puts you right up there.
Well, I don’t know about you, but for someone like me whose only talent is to sit on the goggle-box Indian style and watch the sofa while eating soup with a fork, that sounds like good news.
So the Hungarian family I told you about from the book Bounce. They had three daughters whom they started teaching as soon as they turned three. The father was a psychologist who had some crazy sort of idea that only by training in a specialist subject you can achieve outstanding results.
The parents themselves weren’t some supreme, pro athletes, or geniuses like Albert Einstein. Therefore, there wasn’t any sort of genetic tendencies that they’ve passed on to their children.
Susan, Sofia and Judit Polgár were the guinea pigs’ names from Hungary. Well, I won’t get into too much detail about it, but basically, they are a living proof that it’s possible to make exceptional achievements if a person is trained from very early age like they were.
Just for the record, all of them became top-rated female chess players in the world. If you understand a little bit of chess, Judit Polgar beats Garry Kasparov. That’s the guy who played against the supercomputer and beat it.
Let’s take Arnold Schwarzenegger. His parents made him workout before he even ate his breakfast when he was five or six years old. With this amount of training, lifting weight for him felt like driving a nail into yogurt. Again, there wasn’t any inborn gift passed on by his mom and dad, nor they were perfect. But they’ve imparted a great deal of encouragement. The results? Look at how he’s built his life. He became one of the best powerlifters in history.
This can be applied to anything in life and not only sports. Whether you want to:
- Get better in front of the camera;
- Learn a new language;
- Build more skills;
- Become sharper;
- Learn how to play a musical instrument;
- Become a better public speaker;
- Learn how to communicate with your dog in his own language;
And so on and so forth.
You can make significant progress just by dedicating time to work on it. And no, you don’t need to ring up Stephen Hawking to help you build a time machine so you can go back to the five-year-old you and start all over.
You can start right now regardless of your age. Yes, for some things such as learning a new language might be a bit hard when you are not a child anymore, but with the right amount of practice, it’s still doable due to the ability of your brain to reorganize itself, both physically and functionally, throughout the course of almost your entire life.
Techniques for keeping your mind sharp
Make sure you get out there and move.
- Take long walks and listen to audio books that inspire and motivate you
- Subscribe to the best motivational podcasts
- Buy your own books and read
- Control more of the media that you intake
- Feed your mind with cutting edge knowledge
- Find a sport / Exercise
- Seek out mentors and knowledge from the top of any subject
- Practice, man, practice.
When you think about it, it comes down to building a strong mind. How? By prioritizing, making wise choices, and executing on them. Why? Because It enables you to see things from a different perspective. It puts your wheels in motion, improves the quality of your relationships with the right people and makes you feel more confident and good about yourself.
And by the way, as long as you are willing to learn, you can apply either one of these no matter where you are in life. You don’t necessarily need to be talented in order to master a certain skill or just get better at something. In fact, most of the time people have one of these attributes, talent or hard work, not both.
So if you see someone talented who shows the willingness to work hard, take a picture with them, ask for an autograph, and wish them buena suerte as they are as rare as hen’s teeth.