“Most insidiously, in our own lives, we will try something new and, finding that it isn’t easy for us, conclude that we have no talent for it, and so we never pursue it.” –Geoff Colvin
There is no such thing as being gifted.
There, I said it. I know this may sound controversial, but more and more research supports this claim. The other day, my mom showed me a book she is currently reading called Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. The premise of this book is that the characteristic that separates good performers from exceptional performers isn’t necessarily talent, genius, or hard work. It is a concept called deliberate practice. The neat thing is that you can apply deliberate practice to virtually anything, including your fitness training program. I’m no motivational speaker, but this subject is very important, so bear with me if this post sounds a little Tony Robbins.
What is deliberate practice?
According to Colvin: “Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining. It is actively designed to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavy physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.” To me, the element that stood out is that it’s highly demanding mentally. This means that the barrier that separates the good from the great is often a mental one, even when it comes to physical activities such as weightlifting.
If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Take two dudes working out in a gym, for example. One jumps on the bench press, pumps out his normal three sets of ten reps, and moves on to a new random exercise while checking himself out in the mirror in between sets. The other has a focused goal in mind about what he wants to get out of his workout. Perhaps he is trying to build more density in his upper chest, so he sets the bench at an incline, performs a lower number of reps with heavier than normal weight while paying close attention to form, and then moves onto his next predetermined exercise.
Over time, the little intricacies will add up to greatness.
The difference is the mental aspect. Both dudes may appear the same to the casual observer, but I guarantee the second dude is getting a much more effective workout. And I’m not just talking about lifting. If you compare a guy who is ripped to a guy with an average build, the ripped guy is most likely no more physically gifted than the average guy. But he has probably made it a point to habitually tailor his lifestyle (diet, workouts, daily routine) to achieving an exceptional physique (or achieving another goal that is inherently accompanied by an exceptional physique, such as excelling at a sport).
Two athletes that Colvin references in his book are Jerry Rice and Tiger Woods.
One interesting point Colvin makes about Jerry Rice is that he was nothing spectacular in high school. He wasn’t recruited by a big name college. He wasn’t even a top ten NFL draft pick. Despite all this, he was arguably the greatest football player of all time. Amazingly, he spent less than 1% of the work he put in actually playing in games. What he did spend his time on were grueling off-season workouts that his trainer wouldn’t even disclose to other players who inquired for fear that they would injure themselves even trying to replicate them. Pretty much everyone around Rice attributed his success to the fact that he trained harder on his own than any other player. In other words, the effects of his deliberate practice compounded over time.
As for Tiger Woods, the guy was swinging a golf club before he could walk… or talk. His father was instrumental in making him a great player, enforcing deliberate practice habits into Tiger at a very young age. Colvin writes, “neither Tiger nor his father suggested that Tiger came into this world with a gift for golf… Asked to explain Tiger’s phenomenal success, father and son always gave the same reason: hard work.” Tiger’s success story is simple. When you take a guy who’s put in more deliberate practice before he even begins his career than many other pros will put in during their lifetime, he will probably become the world’s greatest.
What can we take away from a health and fitness standpoint?
Health and fitness are no different from anything else. The more deliberate practice you put in, the better off you will be. What I have found throughout my fitness journey is that the more mentally engaged you are in achieving your desired level of fitness, the faster you will get there. I must admit, I have been working out for about eight years now, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that I became borderline obsessed with looking lean and toned. In that time, I have made more progress than I had in the seven years before that. Like Colvin mentions, the work isn’t always enjoyable. I don’t always like eating healthy, fasting, or doing high intensity interval training, but if it were easy, then everyone would have a six pack. If you really want to see results, incorporate the elements of deliberate practice into your fitness training program and prepare for greatness.