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Dr. Magryta: Regarding those myths

Myths: What is more necessary, raw talent or practice? Can we do anything? Placebo effects?

With a new year upon us, I thought that it would be fun to dispel a few myths as they relate to humans.

“Bounce” is a book written by Matthew Syed about the myth of Talent Over Practice. It has long been thought that humans are successful primarily because of talent, and only secondarily because of work ethic and practice. Syed’s analysis flips this idea on its head as the science shows quite a different story.

When studied, the most talented people in a given field, even child prodigies, practice and rehearse at a much higher rate than their less successful peers. Syed uses the example of young concert violinists and found that the best were only so because of significantly more hours of practice. There were no exceptions to this rule when the entire group was analyzed. The best practiced on average twice as much.

I have spoken many times about Carol Dweck and the praising of effort in order to achieve a growth mindset over a fixed static type. This is critical to knowing that you can achieve, regardless of how difficult the task is. A growth mindset coupled with a work ethic of 10,000 hours is the only true route to the pinnacle of any endeavor. There are simply no shortcuts.

Myth: We believe that we can do anything.

Do we really believe that? What causes us to jump into a tough job or new path — intrinsic desire or an association path?

Humans are often motivated to be great by random events that trigger an innate desire to succeed, because someone who shares similar traits has already succeeded or proven it can be done where previously not thought possible. The Elon Musks of the world are rare, in that they are the intrinsic ceiling breakers. They believe that they can and will do anything. Most of us are not capable of doing this without a visual road map to follow.

The visual of someone breaking the “glass ceiling” allows others to believe they too can follow that trail just blazed. Think of the first person with a spinal cord injury who decides he or she can play basketball from a wheelchair. After that first event occurs, the next 100 people become strongly motivated to achieve the same goal.

In his book, Syed noted that when children were tasked with increasingly difficult math problems, the children who had a matching birthday to the successful person worked 60 percent harder on the task. Wow!

Myth: The world does not slow down for an expert

When you repeat a task over and over again, a part of your brain involved in that task begins to do it without your consciousness. This is the flow state. You can instinctively perform the task at an insanely high quality and leave your conscious mind available for other nuanced changes in the event.

Syed gives the example of a British table tennis star who was believed to have the fastest reaction time on the tour. When the scientists studied his reaction time, it was actually one of the slowest.

It turns out that because he was so well practiced in the art of play, that his mind was spending its time focusing on changes in the other persons delivery of the ball instead of focusing on his racket position or his return. This split-second difference allowed subtle changes to occur that made it appear to be a faster reaction time. What actually was happening was the opposite. The world slowed down for him, as he did not need to focus his conscious mind on a well oiled route.

Myth: Placebo effect is not true

Over and over again, I hear physicians say that the placebo effect is a problem for medication use and study. It messes with the effectiveness of a given therapy.

We should shun such beliefs. This is ridiculous on every level. The placebo effect is probably one of the most powerful tools in a provider’s tool kit. When you tell someone that they can and will heal based on a given therapy, their success rate will improve.

The nocebo effect is equally powerful. If I tell you that you are going to get sick soon from a given exposure, the odds are greatly enhanced that this will happen.

I have spoken often of the power of the mind to heal and move us to a better place.

What are some goals and ideas to teach your kids and also disavow them of bad ideas?

1) Never praise talent!

2) Always notice and praise hard work and desire.

3) Find your passion and encourage everyone you know to find theirs.

4) Practice often.

5) Believe in your ability to grow with work.

Live in a growth mindset,

Dr. M

Dr. Chris Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at newsletter@salisburypediatrics.com

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