“The most important thing is passion and commitment to psychology because that’s what keeps me going even when all the stress starts to build up. Following that would be the time management and organisation side of things. So that means keeping on top of things, not leaving things to the last minute and “trying” to keep laziness to a minimum. Being able to understand the material in a deep and meaningful way is also crucial for assessments and final exams. And above all, there has to be a desire to succeed.
This was what Betty Luu, top student at University of Sydney and receiver of the Frank Albert Prize in Psychology and Lithgow Scholarship No. VI replied when asked for her secrets to success.
In this article, I use her answer to explore the secrets that geniuses know.
1. “Passion and Commitment”
In the early 1900s, B.F. Skinner worked on a behavioural theory which subscribed to the concept that humans are motivated by positive reinforcement (rewards).
This was how his experiment went:
- The rat was placed in a box
- Over the course of a few days, food was occasionally delivered through an automatic dispenser
- Before long, the rat approached the food tray as soon as the sound of the dispenser was heard, clearly anticipating the arrival of more food
- Researchers raised a small lever on the wall of the box and when the rat touched it, the food dispenser provided a snack
- After the first self-induced meal, the rat repeatedly touched the lever in order to get more food
- To the hungry rodent, the sound of the dispenser became a reinforcer when it was first associated with feedings
- After a while, researchers stopped providing food when the lever was pressed
- Soon after that, the rat stopped touching the lever
The results of this experiment tells us that as long as rewards exist, we will be compelled to take the necessary actions to obtain those rewards. But when the rewards are no longer available, we will stop taking those actions. For the rat, food is the reward. For us, it’s the tangible measure of achievement. Straight As. A perfect GPA. A scholarship.
However, later on in the mid 19oos, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Harry Harlow conducted another experiment. He gave puzzles to the rhesus monkeys in his primate laboratory and noticed a curious effect: when he rewarded the monkeys for solving the puzzle, they became slower at the task.
Twenty years later, Edward Deci, then a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, tested this effect in humans, and found a similar result: the presence of cash made them worse at solving creative puzzles. He then dedicated his subsequent three decades to come up with the self-determination theory (SDT).
SDT proposes linking human motivation with intrinsic psychological needs, such as having a sense of competence, independence and being able to relate with the external environment. The extent to which people are able to satisfy their basic psychological needs as they pursue and attain their valued outcomes, determines how motivated they are.
This means that no matter how attractive a particular reward may appear, this reward must click with the psychological need of the person in order for him/her to even want this reward.
Hence, it is not the rewards that motivate, although it’s easy to associate them as the motivating factor. Instead, it’s a person’s level of passion, discipline and commitment towards fulfilling their psychological needs that keeps them going.
So let me ask you. What are your psychological needs?
2. “Understand the material in a deep and meaningful way”
Singapore’s education system is renowned for its rote learning. The most common way to prepare for an exam is to memorise. Memorise definitions, model answers, and formulas. Then regurgitate them word-for-word, symbol-for-symbol.
However, this method, also known as “studying dead books” (dir. translation from Mandarin) often fails to enrich the minds of students. Once the exam paper is over, everyone would have forgotten a large portion of what they had learnt. Where is the joy of learning in this?
Read this article again, if you haven’t already. And stare hard at point #2. It’s all about being curious!
Here are some tips to train your mind’s ability to think clearly and understand more easily:
Reading stimulates your mind and strengthens your analytical thinking skills as you conceptualise words on the pages . It expands your knowledge and vocabulary. It disciplines you to concentrate and be focused.
Sleeping gives our body time to rest and repair, putting us in a positive mood after a good night’s rest. On the other hand, sleep deprivation hinders our ability to analyse and perform critical thinking. It is also unlikely that we can retain much information at the expense of being sleep-deprived.
- Feed yourself
According to Renew Bariatrics, these are the best foods for your brain: beets, sage, grass-fed beef, sardines, eggs, oats, lentils, ground flaxseeds and walnuts. Now you know what to snack on.
3. “Desire to Succeed”
This desire is not merely the willingness to go forward with all your energy, but the resilience to keep going when you are tired, when opportunities close their doors on you, and when people don’t believe in you.
Have you read this story about Albert Einstein before?
Albert Einstein didn’t speak until three years of age and it took him several more years before he could speak fluently. He couldn’t read until he was seven and elementary school was a struggle for him. He took forever to answer a question, even silently mouthing the words to himself before slowly speaking them out loud. Many people suspected that he was retarded, and his school teachers thought of him as a rebellious student. In fact, many people believed Einstein would never succeed at anything.
Einstein didn’t give up on his higher education, but continued to face difficulties at every turn. He applied to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology but failed the entrance exam and had to take it a second time. Subsequently, the school rejected his doctoral dissertation and called it irrelevant and fanciful.
After he graduated from college, he got a job as a clerk in a patent office. He said that he liked the job because it was mostly mindless and allowed him free time to study and research scientific theories. He was very absent-minded at work; he often forgot simple things and even misplaced a payroll check because he used it as a bookmark in his research.
Regardless of his setbacks and rejection, he continued working on his theories. In fact, it was not until after one of Einstein’s first theories, the theory of relativity, was published that the scientific community and the world truly recognized his great talents. However, even then many scientists throughout the world ridiculed him and attacked his theories calling them worthless and useless, and even going as far as saying that Einstein didn’t have a logical mind.
In true Einstein fashion he went on to become a professor at the University in Zürich and later, a professor of theoretical physics at Prague, eventually winning the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921.
How about Michael Jordan?
Michael Jordan was rejected from his university’s basketball team because he was too short. On the day he found out he did not make it, he went home disappointed, ashamed, and he wept. His mother came to his side and gave him an important advice that changed his life forever. In an interview, Michael recalled, “She said that the best thing I could do is to prove to the coach that he had made a mistake. And, leaving my disappointment behind, I started to improve my performance”.
He reluctantly rejoined the junior university team squadron, but changed his training intensity. The university basketball team’s sport instructor, Ruby Sutton, was the first to notice that change: “Usually I arrive at school between 07.00 am and 07.30 am. Michael was there before me. Each time I came in and opened the door, I heard the sound of ball bouncing, in autumn, in winter, in summer. Almost every morning I had to ask him to leave the court”.
Michael quickly made himself a favourite player in the university junior team. His speed and skill were no match for his team mates. He spurred them on, demanding from his team mates the same intensity he expected from himself, and persuading the coach to urge the team to work harder. Yet, at the end of the day, the coach-assistant said that Michael was “A resentful loser that keeps insisting everyone to play as hard as he does”. Michael’s good intentions were repaid with doubt and accusation.
At the beginning of the first year, Michael’s height increased by 10 cm. his large hands gave him the advantage of catching and holding ball better and he was able to do slam dunks. His coach was delighted with Michael’s height and everyone just couldn’t ignore his talent any longer. When he eventually joined the university team, he confessed: “You can achieve incomparable level of skill through incomparable spirit and commitment”.
Behind his competence and spirit lies the secret to always appreciate failure and take advantage of it for a better future. Through the following years Michael continued to motivate himself by reflecting on his failure: “Whenever I achieve some success but feel so tired, I often think to give up and leave everything. But then I close my eyes and see again that list that didn’t include my name. Usually by doing that my spirit is revived”.
You guessed it – there really are no special tips or secrets that the genius community keep to themselves.
As Thomas Edison says: Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
It is, however, important to understand that passion and commitment works hand in hand, understanding takes an active and intentional effort to acquire, and your desire to succeed is measured not only by how eager you are to advance, but how resilient you are not to give up when times get tough.
If all else fails, slot some paper into picture frames. You might be the next artist of the century!