Journalist Daniel Coyle spent five years reporting on “talent hotbeds,” like sports training centers and music academies that produce world class performers. During the same period, he visited and wrote about neuroscience laboratories and research centers studying how brains work and how talent is developed.
In “The Little Book of Talent,” Coyle debunks the old assumption that talent is mostly genetic. The new view, he says, is that talent is determined far less by our genes and far more by our activity, “specifically, the combination of intensive practice and motivation that produces brain growth."
In this book Coyle doesn’t explain the science that underlies the fresh ideas about how people can work smarter and become expert more quickly. Rather, he simply shares 52 brief suggestions for improving your skills, including these tips:
- Buy a notebook. Coyle says that a high percentage of top performers (like Serena Williams and Eminem) keep some form of daily performance journal. He suggests that you write write down and reflect on stuff like results from today, ideas for tomorrow and goals for next week.
- Steal from experts. Coyle says that all improvement is about absorbing and applying new information, and the best source of information is top performers. When you steal from the best, observe them closely, focusing on specifics. Notice concrete facts, like the angle of a golfer’s elbow.
- Find the sweet spot. According to Coyle, “There is a place, right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest.” He calls it the “sweet spot.” In your comfort zone, you’re working, but not reaching or struggling, and at least 80 percent of your attempts are successful. But when you are in your sweet spot you experience frustration and are alert to errors. It’s as if you’re stretching hard for a nearly unreachable goal, and only 50 to 80 percent of your attempts succeed. To find your sweet spot, ask yourself what you could almost do if you tried your hardest. Go a little beyond the boundary of your current ability.
- Break moves into chunks. Our brains work best when every skill is broken down into smaller pieces. Coyle suggests that to begin “chunking,” ask yourself: What is the smallest single element of this skill that I can master? And what other chunks link to that chunk?
- Commit to brief, daily practice sessions. If your practice is intense, “small daily practice ‘snacks’ are more effective than once-a-week practice 'binges.’” Coyle explains that the reason has to do with the way our brains grow, in small increments each day.
- Notice your mistakes. Don’t avoid the facts when you fail. It’s a learning opportunity. Coyle says “People who pay deeper attention to an error learn significantly more than those who ignore it.”
- Before sleep, make a mental movie. A useful habit developed by many top performers is to visualize their idealized performance. Coyle describes this “as a way to rev the engine of your unconscious mind.”
Want to hear about issues like this? Bev and her colleagues are available to provide coaching and create training sessions, workshops and retreats. Talk to Bev if you’re looking for ways to address topics related to your work life and other challenges and transitions. Meanwhile, check out Bev's website www.ClearWaysConsulting.com.
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