Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Short Cuts, Quick Fixes and Natural Talent

If you've browsed the web in the last year or so -and I imagine that in reading this blog then you probably have- you'll no doubt have encountered several prevalent ads selling highly questionable panaceas to problems such as obesity and yellow teeth.

The very fact that such scam ads have successfully permeated such a great extent of the internet is shameful but it's not the subject on which I'm writing today. What I'm interested in is the source of our obsession with short cuts and cure alls when most of us know deep down that such methods will fail.

Take the web page in the screenshot to the right as an example. I've seen the ad that links to this page plastered all over the internet; in forums and in otherwise respectable blogs (often within the google adsense widget).
Now whoever is behind this "blog" claims that you will become "ripped in just 30 days" without ever going to the gym and through only taking a cheap acai berry product. This is a preposterous claim. How can anyone believe that someone can lose as much weight as is claimed on this site and pack on muscle through only eating an extract from an over hyped "super-food" berry?.. but they do.

Forget the internet, take a look at the world around you. Our entire culture has become saturated with shortcuts. Instead of eating healthily we opt for weight loss supplements or surgery, intense detox programs or fad diets. Rather than practice our skills in a new sport or pursuit, we purchase advanced equipment unsuitable for our current skill levels in an effort to boost effectiveness. You'll see people using buses to travel one or two stops and our meals have sacrificed flavour, texture and nutrition in favour of convenience.

Our tools have developed to make us increasingly passive (I just used spell check to alter a typo for which I knew the spelling), computers, machinery and modern vehicles make us intolerant of the increased time required to undertake tasks manually. Food can now be delivered straight from the supermarket and we can access all but the most elusive items online.

All of this is reflected in our expectations. We expect to see instant results and quick progress in everything we turn our hand to. I've seen many people avoid starting to learn something they find difficult, citing their "obvious lack of natural talent" as reason not to begin a difficult but fulfilling pursuit. I believe that natural talent only offers a head start or at times the differentiation between top athletes. Those of us not aiming for the Olympics can overlook the need for natural talent in favour of dedication and practice. I've seen many a gifted climber be overtaken by a more enthusiastic learner who had started at a lesser level.

Few of the quick fixes we opt for work and those that do often fail to fix the underlying problem, allowing history to repeat itself later. Someone who undergoes liposuction without altering their diet and lifestyle will find the weight pile back on.
Right now we live in a world where there are few shortcuts to a good, happy and healthy life. Our relationships cannot be perfected by five simple rules and we cannot master the violin, any sport or any subject with just one book. Our lives will be riddled with twice as much failure as success and we will work long and hard for the smallest of results. If we're aware of this from the beginning, our lives may not feel easy but at least we will tackle life's difficulties head on and with the appropriate attitude of responsibility and perseverance. If ever this changes and the world becomes a place in which one can take a magic pill to drop weight and bulk up -all within a month- we'll have lost one of the most important mechanisms for the development of the human race, our capacity to learn, to adapt, to develop.