Are You Too Comfortable?

In The Talent Code, a book I recently reviewed, I mentioned an idea regarding training facilities. Daniel Coyle discovered that many training facilities in talent hotbeds, areas that produced an unusual number of people with world-class talent, tend to be run-down, shabby, and nearly dilapidated. He said that if all of the training grounds of all the talent hotbeds he visited were magically assembled into a single mega-hotbed facility it would "…resemble a shantytown. Its buildings would be makeshift, corrugated-roofed affairs, its walls paint-bald, its fields weedy and uneven."

What Coyle uncovered, according to John Bargh, a psychologist at Yale University, is what's called the Scrooge Principle. It states that "our unconscious mind is a stingy banker of energy reserves, keeping its wealth locked in a vault. Direct pleas to open the vault don't work; Scrooge can't be fooled that easily. But when he's hit with the right combination of primal cues-- when he's visited by a series of primal-cue ghosts, you might say-- the tumblers click, the vault of energy flies open, and suddenly it's Christmas Day." Training in a gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility does not provide any of the primal cues needed to trick our subconscious into unlocking that energy vault. Bargh says, "If we're in a nice, easy, pleasant environment, we naturally shut off effort. Why work? But if people get the signal that it's rough, they get motivated now. A nice, well-kept tennis academy gives them the luxury future right now-- of course they'd be demotivated. They can't help it."

How can you make your environment more conducive to unlocking your energy vault? What can you learn from the Scrooge Principle?

  1. Create adversity for yourself: The best talent hotbeds are not extremely pleasant places to be-- by design. The mind is cued to work harder. What can you do to make your own working environment a little less luxurious? If you're a writer, is it possible to shut off the Internet and only access it for a short time each day? Since moving to my Internet-less apartment I have seen my creativity and production sky-rocket. Try working without the air-conditioning for a week or use a couple blankets to keep warm instead of your heater. It may seem silly or counter-intuitive but making your environment less comfortable might be a great first step toward developing your own talent.

  2. Use the simplest tools available: Youth baseball in the Dominican Republic does not have the fancy equipment or specialized training tools that many elite baseball teams have in the United States. In the Dominican, athletes use the simplest equipment. I remember when I played a couple exhibition games against a youth hockey team from Russia. They were all using wooden sticks (everybody on my team was using expensive composite sticks), and old equipment. My teammates and I thought we would dominate this team. We quickly discovered that top of the line equipment was not needed to be a good hockey player and we were soundly beat several times. In your own work, what is the simplest tool that you can use and still be productive? If you're a writer, try writing with a piece of paper and a pen for awhile. Try running without your iPod or even shoes. Use the simplest tools available.

  3. Focus on your core competency: At the Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow, a club that produced more top-twenty-ranked women than the entire United States did from 2005-2007, students spend hours practicing without tennis balls. They call it imitatsiya and it develops the core competency of every tennis player: their swing. If you are a writer, write. If you are a runner, run. If you are a painter, paint. It can be easy to get caught up in the related yet not essential tasks that your work creates. If I'm not careful I find myself spending my time researching for an article much longer than is truly necessary. Formatting my writing is important; but, not nearly as important as actually writing. Connecting with other bloggers via Twitter may be mildly productive, but it's not writing. Reading about running may be inspirational, but it's not going to make you suddenly able to run a marathon. Mastering the component parts of your activity (grammar if you're a writer, perfect stride if you're a runner, technique if you're a painter) is what will make you improve just like the tennis players practicing their swing without balls. What distractions can you eliminate from your working environment?

The tagline of this website is "Live consciously." However, your subconscious is an extremely powerful component of your mind. Learn to setup your own working environment like some of the greatest talent hotbeds in the world; the run-down baseball fields of the Dominican Republic or the dilapidated shack of the Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow. Send yourself the primal cues that you haven't made it yet, you aren't living the high life, you aren't a master of all you do, and you will be closer to the world-class talent that you desire.