Practice All You Want, But It Won't Make You Perfect

So you make your son practice the violin for two hours every day after school.  Your daughter takes tennis lessons four times a week.  And you've done the Iron Man twice but still can't run a mile faster than nine minutes.

A new study has found, alas, that you can practice all you want, but if you don't have it, you'll never be the next Nadal.   Or even the next Djokovic. "Some people are really just naturals who have the capacity to make the leap from good to great," writes David Worthington at
"The evidence is quite clear that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice," Michigan State psychology professor Zach Hambrick said in a press release.
Hambrick found, studying chess players and musicians, that rigorous practice only accounted for a third of skill level differences, while innate ability, age and intelligence helped people make the grade to great.
Worthington notes, however, that other experts disagree. One says that deliberate practice, not innate ability, makes the difference, stating that training to meet specific goals, not experience, is what makes people winners.
As someone who struggled, er, practiced, writing novels for years -- only coming close once to being published by a prestigious house -- practice, sadly, does not make perfect. While my writing has certainly improved (I've won many writing awards), I've learned that I'm much better at personal essays (like this) than trying to create characters and action.
So, give up on the practice?  "If people are given an accurate assessment of their abilities and the likelihood of achieving certain goals given those abilities, they may gravitate toward domains in which they have a realistic chance of becoming an expert through deliberate practice," Worthington quotes Hambrick.


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