"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
The word talent can be intimidating for some of us. You can knock out some amazing blog posts, or play a decent game of golf, but still don’t consider yourself “talented”. Whether learning a new skill or continuing to build additional capabilities into a talent, many of us work to improve abilities at certain times in our lives and careers but need help to figure out how to reach the mastery level.
In his book The Little Book of Talent, author Daniel Coyle (who also wrote The Talent Code) shares the best tips for skill mastery from his travels around the world to various “talent hotbeds”, schools and facilities known for producing world-class performers and athletes.
The book is framed in three sections, depending on where you are in the talent growth process:
Getting Started – how to build enthusiasm and create a plan for skill building
Improving Skills – how to increase proficiency quickly
Sustaining Progress – how to build enthusiasm for skill mastery in the long term
Developing and nurturing your talent is possible—if you are willing to put in the time, effort and focus to know exactly what skills you want to build, and how best to build them.
So where do we start?
You can build talent through hard work. (Lots of it.)
"Small actions, repeated over time, transform us."
We see incredible skills in those at the top of their game, and our own abilities seem to pale by comparison. If you add it up though, those at the high end of the talent pool have gotten there through extraordinary practice – extensive repetition, focused skill building, and in many cases, with the help of an excellent coach. Coyle emphasizes that talent is not genetic, and can be learned. In the early stages of skill development, hard work might be in the form of slow repetition, or mirroring the experts. Later, as you are deepening your skill, it might be through visualization or perfecting it step by step.
The development of talent rests solely with you. You may hire a coach, or work with others as part of a group, but only you can do the work. As my trainer friend says, “You’ve got this.” Let’s talk more about how to focus your practice and develop your talent.
Build A Deep Practice And Reach the Sweet Spot
" …being willing to risk the emotional pain of making mistakes – is absolutely essential, because reaching, failing, and reaching again is the way your brain grows and forms new connections."
While repetition is part of it, the quality of your practice, and how far you push yourself, is key to talent mastery. Coyle encourages us to build a deep practice, where we reach beyond our comfort zone to push into developing stronger skills, by asking “if you tried your absolute hardest, what could you almost do?” Pushing the boundaries of your ability becomes the “sweet spot”, and it is “right on the edge of your ability, where you learn best and fastest.”
To build a deep practice where you’re continuing to reach, Coyle has a number of tactics, from breaking it down into chunks, making a game of it through exaggerating different actions or approaches, or picturing the perfect moves just before you fall asleep, because sleep “strengthens connections . . . and prepares the brain for the next session.”
How long will all of this take?
Time, Grit And Perseverance Are Key
"You will encounter challenges; you will hit snags, plateaus, and steep paths; motivation will ebb and flow... (you need) to deal with immediate obstacles while staying focused on the horizon."
Failure is part of developing a deep practice, but it can also impact your motivation. Coyle says it takes, on average, eight weeks to build a new skill, because your brain needs time to grow and incorporate the physical changes you’re making. If you get stuck, try a different perspective or approach, and be determined to stick with it.
The book is helpful for those of us who work as coaches, and is a reminder that coaching is a skill that also requires development. Coyle emphasizes connecting emotionally to the learner, being specific in your guidance, and nurturing passion in your learner by encouraging reach and lifelong learning.
I feel like my skills are always a work in progress, but as I read this book, I realized that while there are things I would like to improve, I have not committed to truly nurturing my talents with deep practice, or persevering with practice beyond my comfort zone. Failure is scary, but only you have the ability to reach your talent’s fullest potential, and embracing your practice with effort and dedication will get you there.
What’s your talent? What are you doing to reach mastery levels?