Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Habit of Improvement and "Natural" Ability

We recently posted on July 14 in "Luck, Smarts and Effort ..."  that "stick-to-itiveness," time on task and the habit of improvement were the real determinants of success and not natural smarts or ability.

Here's another expression of that view that I wanted to share with you from The Success Myth:

"Quick: Think of a successful person. Someone who is really good at what they do.

Now, in a word or phrase, tell me why that person has been so successful. What makes them so good?

Obviously, I can’t hear your answer.  But I’d be willing to wager that it had something to do with innate ability.

“He’s so brilliant.”

“She’s a genius.”

“He’s a natural leader.”

These are the kinds of answers people — particularly Americans — tend to give when you ask them why certain individuals have enjoyed so much success.

Pro athletes, tech whizzes, bold entrepreneurs, accomplished musicians, gifted writers: We marvel at their extraordinary aptitude, assuming they must have won the DNA lottery to be so good at what they do.

Deep down, many of us believe that the key ingredient to success is innate ability. So, naturally, we try to stick to doing the things that come easily to us, while avoiding wasting time and energy on the things that don’t.  (How many times have you heard someone say “I’m just not a math person”?  How many times have you said it?)

This would all be fine, if success really were all about innate ability.

But it isn’t. It isn’t even mostly about innate ability.

When you study achievement for a living, as I do, one of the first things you learn is that measures of “ability” (like IQ) do a shockingly poor job of predicting future success.  Intelligence, creativity, willpower, social skill aptitudes like these are not only profoundly malleable (i.e., they grow with experience and effort), but they are just one small piece of the achievement puzzle.

So, what does predict success?  Research tells us it’s using the right strategies that leads to accomplishment and achievement. Sounds simple, but strategies like being committed, recognizing temptations, planning ahead, monitoring your progress, persisting when the going gets tough, making an effort, and perhaps most important believing you can improve, can make all the difference between success and failure.

The problem with thinking that success is all about ability, is that it can lead to crippling self-doubt.  When something doesn’t come easily, we assume that we “just don’t have what it takes,” and we stop trying. We close doors, robbing ourselves of opportunities to realize our full potential.

By contrast, studies show that people who believe that their skills and abilities can grow not only succeed more, but they also enjoy their work more, cope more effectively with challenges, and experience less anxiety and depression.

So the next time you find yourself thinking, “I’m just not good at this,” remember, you’re just not good at it yet.

Heidi Grant Halvorson is Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia Business School.  She is the author of Succeed and Nine Things Successful People Do Differently."

My Take

It's always worth hearing that we can make our own success through hard work, diligence and perhaps a little luck along the way.

The three ingredients for achieving the "impossible" are (1) getting in position, (2) time on task and (3) the habit of improvement. 

Show up, work hard and get better continuously, in other words. 

The hardest part is getting started. Then strive for perfection and understand that it's really nothing more than a process of "subtraction." 

By eliminating wasted motion or effort, errors and doing things that don't make a difference to achieving our goals, we use all our time to get better at doing those things that really do make a difference to the outcome.

If you agree with this, as I do, then take the time to share this with some young people you know, and perhaps help make a difference in their lives.

I know it took a lifetime of learning for me to fully "get on board" the "if you can dream it, you can do it" train, so the sooner we can get our young friends to understand the concept the more time they'll have to enjoy it.

Stated another way, what lies within us is more important than whatever may happen to us along the way. And the best knowledge is self knowledge, so let's encourage ourselves, family and friends to get to know ourselves better each day.

Then we can work to make a better ourself should we choose to do so, which we will.

Thanks. Bob.

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