Talent is Overrated

Talent is Overrated a book that had been recommended to me by a couple of people in the coaching world. It is an in depth look at what exactly fuels great performance in any field and challenges the myth of the “natural talent”. Time and again, when you look at story behind the performance you find that even those who were supposedly blessed with “talent” worked hard to achieve those results. After reading it I wanted to share some of the lessons I took from it with you.

The take home message from the book is that “lack of talent” is usually not the real issue. Instead, the author of the book looks at the traits shared by great performers and identifies several things that, if applied, can help anyone achieve greater performance in anything.

Average performers blame outside forces, great performers look at how they can learn and grow.

Here are a few of the things that really stood out for me:

– Deliberate Practice: Great performers all engage in a lot of “deliberate practice”. Deliberate practice is a term coined by the author to distinguish it from the mindless activities that usually define “practice” for most people. For practice to be deliberate you have to identify specific things that you are trying to work on and be mindful of how you are doing.

For example, on the trail just riding your bike is not “deliberate practice”. Going on a ride with a very specific thing you are going to work on, say leaning your bike and not your body in corners, is the start of the process. While on the trail you must be conscious of what you are practicing going into a corner, executing as best you can and then taking stock in how you did and what you can improve next time. That entire process qualifies as deliberate practice.

In the gym you should also be engaging in “deliberate practice”. You should pick specific things about an exercise that you need to improve on and spend each rep going through the “think-execute-analyze” process. This is how you improve functional movement through exercise instead of just laying fitness on top of your current dysfunctions.

– Bad performances are opportunities to grow: Average performers blame outside forces, great performers look at how they can learn and grow. In the gym this takes the form of writing off an exercise just because it is “tough” and feels “awkward”. It is also seen in people who do an exercise wrong, feel some pain and then decide the exercise is bad instead of their execution.

On the bike this is the rider who blames trail conditions or equipment for performance. While these things can play a role, the biggest factor is the rider. Only by looking at a bad ride as a chance to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses and using that info to create “deliberate practice” activities can you really hope to improve every year.

– Being a great performer is fun but the process of getting better isn’t: The fact that deliberate practice and critically analyzing performances isn’t fun came up more than once. Trying to “play” your way to great performances just doesn’t happen very often, if at all. This is the main reason great performers are so rare – most people simply are simply not willing to put off some “play” for the deliberate practice that will make them better. This is good news for those that are willing to put in the work but really puts a damper on the “just ride your bike” philosophy.

If you want to understand more about how great performances on the trail, in the gym or in business is really achieved are you should really read this book. It will help you gain a better understanding of what is truly holding you back from achieving the results you want. Your mom was right – you can do anything you want, if you are willing to put in the work needed to grow.

-James Wilson-

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  1. John K. says:

    I’d be willing to bet that most people on this website are the types who are willing to put in long hours of deliberate practice. I wonder if it’s possible to focus too much on it though – I rarely give my chance just to “ride my bike”. I’m always working on something: cornering, hip hinge, attack position, looking ahead, etc… It’s hard to turn off. But to be honest, I find deliberate practice quite enjoyable.

    I personally find it reassuring that the secret to being a good rider lies within.

    Reply • May 16 at 9:42 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      There is certainly a fine line between engaging in deliberate practice and sucking all of the fun out of it, you just have to be aware of not taking it to the other extreme. Balance between the two is the key…

      Reply • May 16 at 2:21 pm
  2. Joshua says:

    Hey James,

    I have a quick question. I definitely believe that deliberate practice is the best way to improve. However, elite athletes also seem to be able to shut that part of their brain down and run on instinct when they are in competition. Do you believe this is really the case, and how do you think that fits with the above?

    Reply • May 16 at 10:05 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      They are able to run on instinct when the pressure is on because they have honed that instinct through deliberate practice. That is one of the myths about talent – the elite athletes have spent over 10,000 on deliberate practice for their sport and by that point they have developed it to the level of instinct.

      Reply • May 16 at 2:23 pm
  3. Wacek says:

    Hi James, I’ve been practicing your advice to focus on one aspect of riding/skill per ride and I must say it did me great deal of good. One ride for braking, one for shifting weight up&down, one for looking far ahead etc. First of all I feel I get better at those skills, but most importantly that silenced that monster inside of my head telling me: you suck, you call that cornering? Why the hell did you press brake here you idiot! – since I focus on one thing only, he is just not there and that makes me way more relaxed and focused.

    I enjoy your UMTBW program and I’m quite happy with my body now. But my mind is in a poor state, that spoke in the wheel of performance is totaly loose and bent. I have serious trouble with focusing and motivation – can you recommend any mind training book/ program? There’s so much bullcrap all over. Im totaly opened for meditation but there are so little practical advices, how to breath, sit etc.

    Reply • May 18 at 2:29 pm
  4. Wacek says:

    Thanks James

    Just by mistake I came upon a documentary about Ayrton Senna, that really blown my mind, I recommend any story of that guy to everyone. Interviews with him are like listening to some guru, the way he talks about difference of knowing how to do something and actualy doing it, how he dislikes the journalist who admires him that he is especially talented in riding in wet. He just told him, that he lost some race in carting as a kid because he had no clue how to deal with wet track, so for few following months he went out driving everytime it rained. Amazing, amazing person

    Reply • May 22 at 1:23 pm

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James Wilson