Photo: SunriseOn7 via flickr
At the recent 99% Behance conference on creativity, writer and author Jonah Lehrer — who just published Imagine: How Creativity Works — spoke about what really makes successful people outliers.He said the single character trait that separates geniuses from the rest is grit.
“Grit is often the single-most predictor of success,” he told a sold-out crowd of creative professionals from around the world. The theme of the conference was the Thomas Edison quote, “Genius is 1% Inspiration, and 99% Perspiration.”
Lehrer explained: “Grit is not just about stubborn persistence. It’s also about choosing the right goal in the first place. The unfortunate reality is that it’s not all going to happen. How can we make sure all our struggle and sacrifice will be worth it? Make sure it passes the underwear test.”
He took from a speech he made last year, which was republished in Wired magazine:
One of the most deep seated features of the human mind is that it quickly takes things for granted, becoming numb to the predictable perceptions and pleasures of the world. Just think of your underwear. Do you feel it? Are you conscious of it? Of course not. That’s because you’ve adapted to the feel of underwear, habituated to the touch of cotton on your bum.
And this isn’t just about underwear. Psychological adaptation also explains why the first bite of chocolate cake is better than the second, and the second is better than the third. It explains why the first time you use that new iPhone you’re pretty excited, but before long it will just be another thing in your pocket. And then, a few weeks after that, you’ll start complaining that your phone (your phone!) can only hold 10,000 songs or that it downloads streaming videos from Netflix so slowly. The delight has vanished, replaced by the usual dissatisfaction. This is because our brain is designed to be ungrateful, every pleasure a fleeting thing.
What does this have to do with grit and long-term goals? Well, the only dreams worth pursuing are those that pass the underwear test. These are the pursuits that don’t bore us, even after we put in 10,000 hours of practice.
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