Can You Train Yourself to Be Talented?

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By Tanja Taljaard

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Discover whether your Potential is determined at Birth

Many believe that our natural talent and intelligence is fixed, and that little can be done to remedy this. This ‘either you have it or you don’t’ belief, popularised in the late 1800’s by Francis Galton and his contemporaries, argued that your “innate” intelligence and talent was something you were endowed with, predetermined by your genes. Regardless of the work you put in, you’d never be able to break past these predetermined boundaries. He also coined the term “nature vs. nurture”.

Neuroplasticity is the umbrella term for our brains’ incredible ability to adapt and evolve at any age. Science has proved that the brain isn’t “fixed”, but our mindset may very well be.

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Is intelligence innate?

Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset

Dr Carol Dweck researches the idea that we can grow our brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems. She calls it the Growth Mindset. Dr Dweck believes that intelligence is a process. Her research with both adults and children over the past 20 years has shown that “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life … Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

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Intelligence is a process

She explains that we are all able to develop another mindset, called the growth mindset, which is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.

Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience. Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

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People often believe that creativity is a natural talent that cannot be taught

Is creativity a talent?

When it comes to creativity, people often believe that it is a natural talent that cannot be taught. Dr Edward de Bono, regarded as an expert in the field of creativity, states:

This misconception is actually very convenient because it relieves everybody of the need to do anything about fostering creativity. If it is only available as a natural talent then there is no point in seeking to do anything about creativity.

Another misconception about creativity is that you have to be an artist to be creative. The basic definition of creative is the ability or power to create, having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas. There are many creative people who are not artists. And an artists’ general skill of creativity can be applied in many other fields.

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You don’t have to be an artist to be creative

It’s certainly true that some people have a very active imagination, are naturally curious and are always trying to change things. It’s also true that these qualities can be developed through practice and training.

If a number of people run a race, someone will come in first and someone second and someone last. This is determined by natural running ability. Ability can be altered by coaching, training, and fitness regimens. If everyone who ran in this first race is now given a set of roller blades and is taught how to use them, then everyone will go farther in the same amount of time. Someone will still come first and someone last, but not necessarily the same person as before. It is the same with creativity. If we do nothing about it, then we can only depend on natural talent. But if we develop formal techniques and offer training in these techniques, then everyone will be much more creative than before. Some people will still be more creative than others, as with any acquired skill.

Talent vs. Training

Continued improvement in any field – music, art, sport, mathematics or business – is not so much about the amount of time that you invest but rather the quality of that time.

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Continued improvement is not so much about the amount of time that you invest but rather the quality of that time

Psychologist Anders Ericsson researched the development of expertise, and defined deliberate practice as engagement in highly structured activities that are created specifically to improve performance in a domain through immediate feedback, that require a high level of concentration, and that are not inherently enjoyable.

Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, describes the term as follows:

Deliberate practice is a specific and unique kind of activity, neither work nor play. It’s characterized by several elements that together form a powerful whole.

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Deliberate practice is a specific and unique kind of activity

These are some of the characteristics of deliberate practice:

  • It needs to be aimed specifically at improving in areas that need improvement. A mentor or teacher who understands your weaknesses can design the activity.
  • Informative feedback is immediate.
  • In order for the activity or task to be correctly understood it takes into account your current knowledge and skill level
  • It can be repeated a lot. Repetition alone is not enough, but when focusing on a particular skill-set with a clear outcome, high repetition is necessary.
  • Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally. Due to the mental exhaustion that accompanies it, 3 to 5 hours a day seems to be the most we can sustain.
  • Deliberate practice is not always fun. Repeatedly improving on areas that you’re not good at as well as mental exhaustion will make it challenging.
  • Self-regulation and self-observation is needed – having an awareness and understanding of your thought processes.

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Deliberate practice is aimed specifically at improving in areas that need improvement

Colvin states:

What all of us can achieve… is far greater than most of us can imagine. It isn’t just theory or wishful thinking… The first step is thinking in new ways.

A new way of thinking could be beginning to understand the fixed and growth mindsets. As Carol Dweck says:

You will see exactly how one thing leads to another—how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.

Opening up to achievements and ability as a matter of development instead of innate ability can instil within us the wonder of what is possible.

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