Now, it’s possible to “focus” on, say, technique for years and never develop good skills. Such people might focus on, say, adjusting 100 people a day without visualizing where they are coming from, or getting coaching. In essence, they’ve been practicing adjusting rather than visualizing growth. It isn’t practice but effective or “perfect practice” that improves performance.
This is why it is important to combine focus with things like visualizing in order to know what to focus ON. But even the best education, opportunities, or innate skills will fail without focus. In fact, I’ve never been close to anyone with any skills at anything at all where they hadn’t spent long, grueling hours in practice.
That said, it seems obvious that if you spend 100 hours at task X, and nine other people also spend 100 hours, there will be ten different results. Doesn’t that prove the existence of innate ability?
Well, I don’t seriously say that there is NO difference in innate ability.
That would, I think, be foolish. What I will say is that the concept of “talent” isn’t useful. I usually see “talent” invoked to stop someone from even trying. “I’m not talented enough to do X” they say, instead of rolling up their sleeves.
That’s comparing yourself to others in a damned unproductive way. You should only use competition to spur yourself to greater effort, not to stop yourself from trying. If those nine other people, under the same coach or teacher, get different results, does it mean they had different innate ability? Well, probably that’s true. But what is also true is that they:
- Only apparently got the same teaching. All language is based on shared referents. The same thing said to two different people NEVER means exactly the same thing.
- People have different foundations of experience. Someone who has played tennis is going to pick up handball faster than you, even if you have the same coach, and practice the same hours.
- Skills can transfer from completely different domains. Someone who has mastered communication might recognize the deep flow state required for patient education, and slip into it more rapidly.
- People have different emotional needs. The activity might well trigger a deeper sense of connection in one person than another. They will give it different levels of commitment, will think about it at night while they sleep, while they eat, obsessively. They spend no more time in the classroom, but have spent three times as much time overall. Some cultures contain the building blocks of success in their entertainments and family interactions. For instance, one of the reasons I’m not at all certain about black “athletic superiority” is the fact that physical motion, and rhythmic motion, is far more reinforced in black than white culture. I watched black kids teaching each other to dance from the time they could walk—in ways that white kids never did. Rhythm IS coordination. And once you have coordination, you learn ANYTHING physical more easily.
- So…back to my first point. To me, the central talent, if an innate talent exists, is the ability to focus on a single thing until you have it nailed. To focus through fatigue, boredom, disappointment, pain. To keep going after others have wandered away. To obsess about it as you fall asleep. To study the chosen discipline while others are partying. To step back and focus on the question of focus itself: how to enter and sustain flow state? How to block out outside interference? How to resist the guilt-tripping and obstructionist tendencies of family, friends and community? How to develop an obsessive drive that borders on mania without tipping over?
All other knowledge, without focus, will produce mediocre results. A fine mind, split into multiple tracks when you should be bringing everything to bear on the RIGHT NOW, on the MOMENT, this little space outside of time where everything happens, is pretty useless.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Dr. Carey N. Pabouet-Sigafoose