Does Attitude Count more than Ability?

Last week I received an email announcing the relaunch of Success magazine. As the email was unsolicited – and technically spam – it didn’t seem a particularly auspicious way to relaunch a magazine! But it did lead me to dig out my old copy of Success, which I purchased in Chicago on my only visit (to date) to the USA – in February 1982.

Its a long story as to why I was in Chicago in winter, and I’m not really sure why my magazine has survived 26 years (and that I could find it!). Ironically 1982 was the least successful year of my life as I spent most of it unemployed and lacking confidence in myself. I had yet to learn that reading self development material isn’t enough – you have to take action..

Reading any old publication gives a fascinating insight into how far some things have changed. There is a feature on a new form of dancing called “aerobics”, an advert using John DeLorean to promote a brand of whiskey and the cover feature/main interview is Johnny Carson (“shy and introverted as a youngster”). The other big interview is Brent Musburger, who I gather is still around today.

In many other respects, the magazine is remarkably undated. There are Nightingale-Conant promotions, Zig Ziglar adverts and even in 1982 “As a man thinketh” was a Success Classic! But in particular all the articles contained advice that is still relevant in 2008.

The names Tai Babilonia, Bruce Jenner and Julius Erving may not mean much today, and even in 1982 they had passed their peaks. But all three reached the top of their sports (ice dancing, decathlon, basketball), despite being “mediocre” when starting out. What set them apart was their mental attitude rather than any physical gifts.

OK, Erving (Dr J with the Philadelphia 76ers’) was tall. But as he put it:-

“When I first started playing basketball , I wasn’t well coordinated. I couldn’t control the ball with one hand, so I used a two-handed over-the-head shot. And I didn’t really have a good touch.”

Jenner said:-

“I really wouldn’t consider myself a ‘natural athlete’. I played a lot of different sports at different sports in high school, but I was never that good at anything. I certainly was no standout.”

What helped all three is when they found their sport they became “hooked”. They enjoyed playing – and as importantly practicing – so much that they were prepared to spend many hours over many years learning to be good.

“My parents never pushed me,” said Babilonia “it was something I wanted to do, and it came from the heart. I had to drag them out of bed each morning at four o’clock. I’d practice skating from five to eight, then go to school, then come back to the rink around three in the afternoon and stay until sevenish”

The article argued that the natural athlete is just a myth, that basically its the way we use our genes rather than being genetically programmed to perform well at certain sports. Its interesting that in my recent post Self Confident Men, Shy and Flamboyant, I mentioned that Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mount Everest, started life “lacking coordination and with a deep sense of inferiority”

And in the post before, Do you Suffer from Gluckschmerz I did remark that Arnold Schwarzenegger has exactly the same number of muscles as you or me! All three athletes – plus Hillary and Arnie – demonstrated strong psychological characteristics:- strong motivation, a positive attitude, a good self concept, the use of imagery and mental rehearsal, anticipation, concentration, persistence, and lots of practice.

All these psychological characteristics are things you can learn and develop. I’ve never enjoyed any sport enough to dedicate many hours of practice. But these principles, with the possible exception of anticipation, are what you need to succeed in any walk of life. You can add to the list (goal setting) and use different words that mean similar things (self esteem rather than self concept) – but these are all “pillar” concepts of self development.

Over the years I think we have muddied the waters by adding more models and “success systems”. As I have argued before, Do you Believe in Fairies, Irrational Thinking, I personally disagree with anything that claims we can influence externally – especially when we have so much to gain if we concentrate our efforts on improving ourselves internally. I just wish I had started working at it 26 years ago!

Robert @ reason4smile January 16, 2008 at 9:38 am

Hi David,

I’m reading DNA of Success right now, I just read first 2 chapters and I find it very very good!
What I find as the secret of success according to the author is the Core Desire and Conquering Force!

Core Desire is talking about what you want in life, not for the sake of making others happy or our own insecurity, but really to make difference in our life and others. Conquering Force is talking about our persistence, striving against any obstacles we find in life.

I believe these are the key to success! Attitude or desire is only the beginning, you need to make action, even if it’s step by step! Keep moving forward and achieve the skill you need.

Great article!

Robert @ reason4smile’s last blog post..Why some people want to taste coffin

Cindy January 16, 2008 at 4:03 pm

I think in some instances, natural ability provides a starting point for individuals, but it is by no means, the reason people become successful. It’s the Rabbit and the Hare story. Ability doesn’t win the race–resolve, perseverance and desire from within are the elements of success. A person with a positive attitude always looks for the answers and is willing to work through the challenges to succeed. I agree that attitude is more important than ability!

Never the Same River Twice January 16, 2008 at 4:08 pm

I remember watching a documentary about Lance Armstrong that described him pre-cancer as “gifted, but unambitious.” It wasn’t until his illness helped him focus that he became a great cyclist.

I guess the lesson from all of that is that talent certainly doesn’t hurt, but it is not sufficient for success.

Never the Same River Twice’s last blog post..What Wife Swap Can Teach You About Personal Change

Ricardo January 18, 2008 at 1:46 am


I found your Blog through Blogrush. Your title caught my attention.

I do believe in having a good attitude. Our abilities are basically tools we could use to transform our world. However, I believe our attitudes will determine how and whether we will use those abilities.

Thanks for this post. Appreciated it.


Footholds For Favorable Outcomes

Anne at Self-Publishing Children's Books January 24, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I was doing a search that involved Zig Ziglar which returned this post in the search results. I really liked it, particularly your comments about why you had a magazine that was 26 years old. But my favorite line was: I had yet to learn that reading self development material isn’t enough – you have to take action. Ain’t that the truth!!

Anne at Self-Publishing Children’s Bookss last blog post..Inverse Paranoia — How it Works

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