Why You Should Believe in Hard Work Over Genes

hard work

“People ask why I train so much and work so hard. Well the answer is simple: I will not allow somebody with twice the genetics and half the determination be better than me.”


Are you more a product of nature or nurture?

This has been a big question ever since the birth of psychology, and most research today shows that who “you” are is influenced by both nature (genes and biology) as well as nurture (habits and environment).

However, when it comes toward achieving your goals, it may be better to focus more on the “hard work” part rather than the “genes” part.

The simple truth is you can’t change your genes. So if you think you are nothing but a product of your genes, than what you’re really saying is, “I don’t have any choice or control over my life.”

But by focusing more on hard work, you put some of the power back in your hands. You accept that you do have some choice over where you end up in life – and that’s hugely important for success and happiness.

A recent study published in Biological Psychology confirms the advantage of focusing more on hard work vs. genes.

In one experiment, participants who performed a task were either praised for their intelligence (“You’re so smart!”) or for their effort (“You worked really hard!”). But as the task got more difficult, individuals in the first group did much worse after their mistakes than the group who was praised for their effort.

This is because when we focus on the importance of hard work, we’re more likely to try to learn from our mistakes, and thereby correct them.

But if we believe our mistakes are due to our innate abilities (or lack thereof), then there isn’t much of a motivation to correct your mistakes. Instead, you see them as “just part of who I am.”

In a follow-up experiment, researchers had participants read 2 different articles before performing a computer task. What they discovered was:

  • “The group that read intelligence was primarily genetic paid more attention to their responses, as if they were more concerned with their performance. This extra attention, however, did not relate to performance on trials after errors, suggesting a disconnect between brain and behavior.”
  • “In contrast, those who had read that intelligence was due to a challenging environment showed a more efficient brain response after they made a mistake, possibly because they believed they could do better on the next trial. The more attention these participants paid to mistakes, the faster their responses were on the next trial.”

If we believe our intelligence, personality, and skills are fixed entities (ie, they are only determined by our genes), then we’re not going to see a point in working hard or trying to improve ourselves.

But plenty of research shows how a “growth mindset” is better than a “fixed mindset.” One study published in Psychological Science even found how this translates at a neurological level.

When you make a mistake, your brain sends out two signals. The first signal is when you realize you’ve messed up – researchers jokingly call this the “Oh crap” response. The second signal is when you’re trying to correct yourself so that the mistake doesn’t happen again.

The study found that not only do people who adopt a “growth mindset” bounce back easier from mistakes, but their brains also send out a much stronger second signal. This second signal essentially tells us, “I see that I’ve made a mistake, so I should pay more attention next time.”

While genes determine a lot of your overall potential, hard work determines how much of that potential you will fulfill. And no matter where you start in life, it’s ultimately up to you to make the most of what you have.

At the end of the day, it’s probably better to overestimate your abilities and try your very best, rather than underestimate your abilities and undoubtedly sell yourself short.

If you believe in hard work, then you believe you have some power over where you end up in life. And that life isn’t completely predetermined by forces outside of your control.

This attitude can literally change how your brain responds to life’s problems and obstacles. It’s often the difference between “giving up” and “trying again.”

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