While it may seem on the surface that only people with natural talent become the best at what they do, I would argue that natural talent alone is actually a much smaller piece to the success puzzle than you might think. In fact, in most cases in life the difference in natural talent between you and the competition is a lot less than what it might appear, and that this difference can be shrunk even smaller by overcoming two major variables that almost always hold people back. What I am talking about are the excuses people use when they struggle, and the denial defense mechanism they choose when credible people try to provide meaningful feedback to help.
Rich advice that often gets squandered
Coaches, teachers, and parents spend a lot of time providing important, meaningful feedback to kids. Sometimes, however, the feedback sent isn’t received well, and the individual instead squanders otherwise invaluable insights that can improve his or her game. This is indeed unfortunate, as the net result when people dismiss helpful information is to remain status quo — or possibly even play worse.
While it is certainly understandable why people don’t yearn to hear things about themselves they don’t like or want to hear, it is in these very moments where I have found the best and most dramatic life growth occurs.
In sports, coaches try and impart their wisdom on their players, but often this feedback is quickly dismissed by athletes who feel threatened by what they hear. On the other hand, athletes who play above what others think they are capable of often do so because they welcome and hold onto every tiny detail of what they learn, and use the advice to get better — and not as a sign that they aren’t any good.
2 big problems
From my direct client interactions I see two big problems athletes experience when improperly receiving otherwise invaluable feedback. One problem centers around being in denial, while the other is using excuses rather than seeking ways to improve.
- Denial. When we deny the truth in life we are using a defense mechanism designed to protect our ego. The process of denying reality allows us to catch our breath, divert our attention, and temporarily feel better. Unfortunately, denying reality has a negative consequence as it prevents us from using real, tangible feedback to improve our position for the future. Rather than using denial, most folks would be better off accepting the truth of situations and experiences in life, then working to employ different and better methods designed for future success.
- Excuses. Another common tactic we use is to point outward rather than inward when gauging our talents, abilities and success (or lack thereof). Again, it makes sense when we use this type of self-preservation as it allows us to lessen the blame and responsibility of our actions, and more comfortably direct the problem to someone or something else. Psychologists often refer to locus of control as a simpler way of explaining this phenomena, with the key feature being the importance of owning up to our actions and the relating consequences of our actions (as opposed to simply pointing the finger outwards).
Accept credible feedback and use the advice you receive
Sure, it’s never easy or fun to hear things about you that aren’t positive and praiseworthy, but very often credible feedback is the best tool for rapidly improving your game. Evaluate the sender — is he or she credible, and do they have your best interest at heart? Next, critically evaluate the message — instead of being defensive and personalizing the message to the sender, try to instead see what you can pick up and use that might help break a slump or help you pass up the competition. Finally, refer to the sender regularly to receive ongoing feedback to ensure you are accurately using the new information.
Don’t let denial and excuses thwart your growth and potential, especially if you are looking to gain the mental edge on the competition. It’s important to realize that trying to be the best will almost certainly come with pain, frustration, stress, and adversity, but that this is a normal part of maximizing human potential.