Are You a Leader? - Part 3: Habits that Develop Talent

Some people regard talent as inherited from birth. This can be a trap as people will not try to better themselves and will reason they were not born with the talent so why bother?

I admit, there are some things that come from birth, for example, I will never be tall. My NBA dreams went out the window in high school when I realized I was not going to grow anymore. Yet, height is not a talent.

People will say look at that talented marketer or so and so is really talented at finance. Were they born with those talents? No! They developed the talent through dedication, hard work, and learning. Some people pick up talents quicker than others, yet over the course of a decade the person who is more disciplined will almost always win out.

In this series, we have written on finding talent in others by being a leader and developing an ecosystem of talent around you. Now we move to the details of the habits you should add to your life, the ones you should remove, and how to develop talents in others.

These action steps are not easy. They should challenge you. To be the talented person you want to be, you must work at it daily through struggle. Do not fear the challenge, embrace it and you will be amazed at what you will do.

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Add These Habits to Your Life

Matt:

Talent comes from consistent habits. In the past researchers claimed a habit could be formed in 21-days, there is a long history of the 21-day model. Yet, more contemporary research shows it likely takes around 66-days to form a habit. At first, 66-days seems like a long time. Then when you think about it, the number is really just 2-months. Over the span of your life, 2-months is nothing! It’s half a semester, less time than summer break from school, and if you are in a fast-paced job two months is a blur.

When you know it only takes 2-months, then you must ask yourself, what talents do you want? For me, some of my favorite things are fitness, learning, and marketing.

At the end of last year (2015), I was the heaviest and unhealthiest I had been in my life. I determined I was going to get back in shape but wanted to develop a healthy lifestyle. I did not want to simply work out really hard and burn out.

I decided to form a habit.

Monday through Friday, I added a 30-minute workout to my routine. At first, it was difficult. I was tired, I didn’t want to work out, and I was really out of shape. Yet, within about 2 months, working out was a habit. I was half asleep, yet every morning I would work out. Now, in October, I am down 20 pounds from last year and feel like I am in my mid-twenties.

I built a healthy talent through discipline and consistency. How many of your friends jump on the fitness bandwagon and then jump off within weeks or a few months? They stop because they are trying too hard and are not creating a sustainable habit. The key is to focus on consistency over time. Don’t focus on becoming great at any one thing over night, take the time to be disciplined and within 6-, 12-, 18-months, and beyond your talent level will surge!

This same tactic can be used with anything you want to learn. Alejandro and I both love to read, yet again I see people do too much. People tell you to go 100 miles an hour to your goal, yet in reality, the people who simply get better daily are the ones who create sustainable habits.

Instead of consuming an entire book daily I have made it a habit to only listen to books when I am in the car alone. This means when I am driving to a client site, I am listening to a book. Then at night I read one chapter of a book. It doesn’t sound like much but by the end of the year, I have read/listened to ~40 books. Again, talent occurs through consistency over a long period of time.

One final story, I had never launched a website before 2016. In just this year, I have launched four! These are my businesses and two clients. How did I do it? Well, I had a mentor and went to the school of Google. I learned to code from w3schools.com. Now I have the basic talents of a website developer.

If you notice, the habits I mentioned to form talents have two ingredients, time and consistency. I recently was speaking with a friend who is an incredibly talented designer but doesn’t think so. I simply texted him.

Time X Consistency = Expert

He is a talented expert and you can be the same in any field if you commit to building your talents over time and through consistency.

Alejandro:

We have to start at the beginning. With an emphasis on starting.

Just like a wise man said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” I’m not sure if we can technically consider master Yoda a man, but wise he is.

In order to develop a habit, we first have to develop the habit of developing habits. I know, very meta, that’s what happens after watching a couple of Yoda YouTube videos.

There are great resources on this topic, and one that I would recommend is a book called Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean.

As Matt mentioned, 66-days is the average for developing a new habit. The first question I ask myself when working on a new habit is, “How can I make this simple?”.

Many people think making and breaking habits has a lot to do with having willpower. And it does, but not so much as people think. The key is putting yourself in a position so you don’t have to rely on your willpower.

For example, let’s say you want to develop the habit of eating healthier. The first step is to design your daily environment in a way so not eating healthy is difficult. In this case, you have to:

  • Cook or buy healthy food and have it accessible
  • Don’t have any unhealthy food at your house (sweets, bad carbs, etc.)
  • Don’t go to any event with an empty stomach

This way it will be very hard for you to not make the right choice.

You can do the same for every habit that you want to build. Think about ways that you can make it simple to follow a system that will lead you to success, without having to rely on pure willpower.

Remove These Habits from Your Life

Matt:

This is an area I am still working on :)

I have a lot of bad habits which reduce my overall talent level. The key is I recognize those and work on eliminating them. When I was a college instructor. I started teaching at 27. I was young, still a little immature, and had a habit of saying offensive things. It didn’t bother me, but I wanted to become more talented in my teaching.

After each day, I would reflect on my courses and re-play what I had said.  I would cringe at what I had said during the day. Since I wanted to elevate my talent in teaching I was more aware of what I said in class. Within months, I went from 5 offensive things to 3 . . . baby steps. Then it went down to 1 a day, and now it’s closer to 1 a week. I will never be “politically correct,” yet I want to build a talent of teaching and helping others requires the talent of being approachable.

I am not changing to be a different person, I am creating a habit to help more people which is the central goal of my life.

I could go on about habits I am working on removing from my life:

  • Complaining
  • Expecting too much in others
  • Cursing
  • Worrying
  • Focussing on the future and not the present
  • Expecting too much out of myself
  • Working too many hours

The list could go on. You know what you should eliminate from your life. 

My advice is to:

  1. Recognize those areas of your life
  2. Write down those items
  3. Tell a trusted friend/family member that you will be working on eliminating those habits
  4. Be aware of when those habits occur and remove yourself from the situations
  5. Meet routinely with the person you told and have them keep you accountable

Again, the key elements will be time and consistency. If you want to add habits to be more talented you need to be consistent over time. The exact same is true for eliminating habits. You must be consistent and think of the long-term.

Over time you can eliminate the bad habits and what emerges is a more talented you.

Alejandro:

Value creation is always thought as a process of addition. 

And many people miss opportunities to create value because they focus on what they need to do. Instead of focusing on what they should stop doing.

Eliminating bad habits will open many doors of opportunities for you. And again, it’s key you design your environment in a way that helps you achieve your goals.

One of the greatest obstacles we face as humans is fear of failure and public shaming. And that is great because we can use it to our advantage.

Matt said you should tell a trusted friend or family member about the habit you want to break. And you should also tell that friend who will give you a hard time. Who may even bully you a bit. In fact, tell as many people as you can. Post it on Facebook.

This will put you on the spot. As humans, we do more not to lose, than to win. By putting yourself in this position, you will more likely do what you said you were going to do because you don’t want to lose your reputation.

Use your fears as a motivation!

Another great system that can work for you that I’ve used is, “Temptation Bundling”. If you want to hear the full story behind it then you can listen to the Freakonomics podcast episode When Willpower Isn’t Enough.

Basically what they say is you should pair two actions. Pair something you know you should do because it’s good for you, but you don’t want to do it, with something you want to do but may not be so valuable.

For example, let’s say you want to start reading more, but it’s hard for you to start because you don’t feel like reading. You could bundle reading a chapter of the book, with eating a chocolate or anything else that you would like.

You basically reward yourself for doing the desired behavior.

How to Build Talent in Others

Matt:

Alejandro and I genuinely like helping others. We could not leave the series without a section explaining how to help build talent in others.

If you don’t know why helping others is important, just Google “stats on helping others.” You will be flooded with research explaining how helping others actually makes you feel better. For the lazy who won’t Google:

Basically, building talents in others makes you feel good and creates an ecosystem of a trusted community.

Now, how do you build talent in others? Two words: listen and challenge.

In my early twenties I was a personal trainer, in my mid twenties I was a college instructor, and now I am a business consultant. The main thing I have learned in these careers is to listen and then challenge.

It is not easy because many people will say they want to do XYZ, then you challenge them and realize they will say they want something but are unwilling to work towards the goal. I saw this with people who wanted to get in shape, attain a high GPA, or say they want to make more money in their business. In reality, they love the idea but not the action it will take.

That is okay, those people will come and go. If they will not take action, be their friend, but don’t try too hard in building talent in them.

Focus on the people who truly have a desire to get better. Listen and challenge them. If someone wants to become a talented entrepreneur, challenge them to take a month to write out their business goals and strategy. If they do so, then challenge them to start. Once they start, keep challenging them.

I am truly grateful for how Alejandro challenges me! He comes up with ideas I have never thought about and then we try them out. I do the same with others, just this past week I met a friend and challenged them to take their business to a higher-level after listening to their ideas.

The way to build talents in others is to first listen to their goals and then challenge them to action. They will be grateful for the push.

Alejandro:

The best way to help others is to help ourselves.

I know, it sounds counterintuitive.

If we become the best possible version of ourselves, we will be in the best position to help others. The more valuable we are, the more we can give. Focus on you, but with the purpose of adding value to others around you.

Everyone likes to tell other people what to do, and most of us don’t like it when others tell us what to do. Unless we asked first. 

The hardest part of helping others is knowing that you can help them and having the patience to wait for them to ask for help.

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” - Zen Proverb

First become the best student you can be, ask for advice and act on it. Get results. All walking and no talking. Let your results be your promotion and your brand.

As you start doing more and achieving more, people will start to notice. And then people will ask. At this point, you still shouldn’t tell people what to do. This is the moment to ask.

Ask them, why they want the advice? What is their goal? 

This will help you understand which is the best way to help them. And use these questions to lead them to the answer, instead of directly telling them. This way the solution will almost be “their idea”, and it will be easier for them to own it and act on it.

This process will help you understand who are the ones that actually have a strong why and will act on your advice. It can be frustrating to know  you can help people, give them advice, and then watch them stay the same. This could discourage you from doing it again. You may start thinking giving advice is useless. So save your energy.

Keep the positive mindset, keep serving and helping. And do it in an efficient and effective way. In simple steps the process would look like this:

  • Take action: Work on yourself, improve every day and let your results do the talking
  • Be patient: Don’t give advice unless it was asked for
  • Discover their Why: Ask questions and lead them to the answer

When possible, charge money for your advice. It will actually help others. Since we do more, as humans, to not lose than to win, paying a price will help us act on the advice.

Summary

It is true that “Where there is a will, there is a way”, but save your will for the ways that are worth traveling.

Be sure to design systems, and your environment, so that you can make and break habits. Use “Temptation Bundling” as a tool to do so.

This process will not be easy, but it will be worth it. And in order to be able to go through it, you have to have a strong purpose to do so.

Be constantly in action, this will not only help yourself to improve but may also motivate others to take action. Always be willing to help others if they ask for it, and are committed to take action and improve.

It is true that you can’t coach tall, but there are still Allen Iverson's and Jose Altuve’s out there in the world. Accept the challenges and enjoy overcoming the obstacles.

This is a series of articles by Alejandro I. Sanoja and Matt Avery, see our past articles here.