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“You’re a Natural!” – True or Not?

As you have progressed in your professional pursuits you have heard at one point or another, “you’re a natural.” This comment is typically given when you have been seen by another doing something impressive. “You’re a natural leader,” or “You’re a natural at speaking,” or “You’re a natural artist,” or “You’re a natural teacher.” The list of “You’re a natural {insert profession or role here}” could go on and on.

Is anyone really a natural? Is there anyone who has attained mastery simply by being born? Or is it, when you are called a “natural,” that you have consistently practiced and strived to perfect your profession? In my experience in working with professionals of all walks of life, no one is born a natural anything. You may argue that athletes are natural because of their ability to run, jump, catch, throw, shove, lift, or other. True, they may have a pool of genetics that will either qualify them for or increase the likelihood that a person can attain greater physical feats; however, without practice, without learning, the person will never attain mastery nor will they be a “natural.”

When you see someone doing a skill or activity with ease, you are not witnessing natural ability. What you are witnessing is years of consecutive consistent work. What you see in a moment of impressive ability is years of conscious deliberate learning. When you see someone producing something magnificent, you are witnessing what has been practiced for years.

“What about those people who learn faster than another?” or “Those who are very young that have attained great skill or knowledge?” Again, I am not denying that genetics have some part to play in attaining mastery; however, no matter the muscle from the brain to the bicep, without working it daily, it will atrophy. Progress is not made without constant conscious exercise and everyone has the ability to be constant and consistent in a laughably small activity pointed at who they want to become.

In “Streaking: The Simple Practice of Constant Consistent Action” we studied the lives of those who attained mastery in their professional pursuits and found, no matter the role, those who were the best at what they did, did it through pursuing who they wanted to be, through doing consistently and consecutively the activities that produced the outcome. In the book we said it this way, “The people who are elite in their fields don’t possess a rare gene that allows them to be superhuman; they follow a set of laws that allow them to excel.” These laws are available to everyone who wants to become elite in their chosen life pursuit.

Anders Ericsson, in his book Peak, discusses how creativity and innovation are not born ex nihilo. Instead, it is out of consistency that breakthrough innovation is achieved. “Researchers who study how the creative geniuses in any field—science, art, music, sports and so on—come up with their innovations have found that it is always a long, slow, iterative process,” he notes. “There are no big leaps, only developments that look like big leaps to people from the outside because they haven’t seen all the little steps that comprise them. Even the famous ‘aha’ moments could not exist without a great deal of work to build an edifice that needs just one more piece to make it complete.”

Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, speaking at TED Talks Education, tells a compelling story about finding the difference between success and failure in the classroom. And guess what? Consistency was at the heart of success. In her studies, she observed that it wasn’t social smarts, good looks, or physical health that determined success. It was grit. She says, “Grit is the perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in and day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Speaking of how we develop this trait, she says, “Every day, parents and teachers ask me, ‘How do I build grit in kids? What do I do to teach kids a solid work ethic? How do I keep them motivated for the long run?’” Then, most disappointingly, at the climax of her talk, with the audience members on the edge of their chairs, she says, “The honest answer is, I don’t know.”

What we do know is that Streaking is a major component of grit. A person who has grit is a person who has employed the laws of Streaking. There is no one person that has been born with the “stick-to-it gene.” Everyone who has accomplished anything of worth or value has done it through consecutively and consistently completing laughably small activities that are aligned with who they want to be.

So, when you see someone doing something impressive and your first thought is, “They’re a natural.” I suggest you replace that thought with, “They’ve been Streaking.”

Keep Streakin’,

Jeff

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