Friday, January 16, 2015

Performance: A Function of Talent, Skills, Preparation, and Mindset

I am a performance video junkie.  In following people on Facebook or perusing YouTube videos, I have watched an abnormally crazy number of great performance videos related to all types of activities. What has been amazing to me about the comments (beside the incredibly inappropriate and/or negative ones) is the frequency of comments about how talented the performer is.  The second most frequent comment is how the viewer wished he/she could do that.

These comments provide great insight into the type of mental conditioning that is so pervasive and so counterproductive to success and excellence. Many people incorrectly assume that performance, success and excellence are primarily a result or function of talent (by definition, a seemingly fixed asset).  Thus, their wish is that they had been annointed somehow with the talent for that activity, sport, etc. Alas, they weren't lucky when talent was handed out.  But, what's luck got to do with it?

What they do not realize is that those so-called talented people were also simply highly invested in learning to do the activity.  Ultimately, each of those individuals spent an incredible amount of time mastering the steps involved in the achieving the result that you see:  the performance.


As Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, points out, successful people approach problems as a learning process. While invested in the result, they see it as an opportunity to learn and grow and, therefore, are not paralyzingly afraid of an imperfect result. They view their skills as capable of change, growth and improvement. Dweck identifies this as a growth mind-set.

Individuals with a fixed mind-set, on the other hand, see their talent or ability as finite (and, typically pre-determined). You're creative and artistic, or you're not. You're good in math, or you're not. You're a great player, or you're not. If you see yourself this way, Dweck says, any mistake or failure is dreadful.  But also, any attempt to learn and grow is also to be avoided.

So, if you possess a fixed mind-set, you think your future success is determined by the hardware and software package (i.e., talent or potential) that was given to you at birth.  

Dweck's work has had major implications for coaching and peak performance.  The way we talk about performance to others and ourselves, she says, tends to foster one mind-set or the other. "You're so talented," is praise from someone with a fixed mind-set and might make developing athletes, performers, and students begin to fear their performances.  This type of "feedback" is such that any failure, setback, or less than optimal performances that could suggest they aren't so good. not so talented.  This dynamic sets up the development of anxiety and aversion of the activity itself.   

"You must have worked very hard to do that well," is an example of a more effective communication of praise.  This statement is more rewarding, reinforcing and encouraging of more hard work.  It leaves room for more risk-taking and discovery.

People with a fixed mind-set are constantly judging their underlying talent, Dweck says, and think others are judging them, too. "The growth mind-set is not about universal judgment," Dweck says.

If too focused, people get caught up in their self-concept and identity.  I am good or I am bad.  I am talented or I am not.  Learning and growth takes a back seat to the protection of the self.

What Facebook and YouTube video posts don't typically provide are the images of the long hours of grueling and monotonous practice that goes into the performances that we see posted.  Of course you don't see those posted.  That would be too boring.  Nobody would sit in front of their computer, tablet, or smartphone watching that.  But that is what you need to understand, acknowledge, and praise when you comment on those videos.

If I could, I would create coaching software that allows you to see a great performance video once and then the video would become unavailable to the viewer until they had watched a follow-up video that showed them all the necessary steps to achieve the results.  After a specified number of hours of viewing the practice video, the performance video could then be viewed again.  That would be great coaching software.   

Until then, I challenge you to consider that the next time you are on Facebook or YouTube and see a video of a great performance, you comment:  "I bet that took hours and hours of practice." Now, that would be a useful comment.      


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