Pulse March / April 2016 | Page 65

matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula…The thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience.” These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice. P: What are some of the factors that contribute to greatness? S: It starts and ends with perseverance, with the understanding that you have to keep pushing yourself beyond your current capability. In your practice and training, you work over and over to get better at something you can’t quite do, and once you get there, you extend your ambition further, working to get good and something that’s even further out of your reach. You treat failure as an opportunity to build skills you don’t have, as opposed to a flashing message that says, “Sorry, you can’t ever do this.” P: Can you identify factors that could prevent us from reaching our true genetic potential? S: Very few of us come close to our theoretical potential in any domain, because doing so involves a lifetime of focus, sacrifice and perseverance. And that’s fine. Living an extreme life dedicated to being the very best is not necessarily a life that it is healthy for most of us to lead. But it’s important to understand that a lot of this has to do with personal choice, not genetic limitation. There are genetic limitations, of course, but they are far fewer than we typically accept. P: For leaders who do not tolerate mediocrity, what can they do to identify and tap someone else’s full potential? S: You start with expecting excellence, setting the bar high. You also encourage risk-taking, and make people comfortable with failure as part of the process. If people are afraid to fail, they’ll never take the necessary risks. So you need to reward ambition and perseverance. P: Can you give examples of famous individuals who you believe exemplify the idea that geniuses can be made? S: Let’s start with possibly the most famous example of innate ability: Mozart. If you look closely at his life, very closely (as I do in my book), it’s actually a story about having extraordinary resources, an extraordinary teacher (his father), very early exposure, enormous ambition, and a work ethic that pushed him from doing very ordinary work to extraordinary work over many years’ time. Interestingly, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s early childhood resembled Mozart’s in some powerful ways. Another amazing thing to realize is that, using the modern teaching principles of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, many thousands of very young violinists can now play as well as Mozart did when he was young. P: For those who have yet to discover their true talents and abilities, what advice can you give to guide them toward the path of genius? S: With all due respect, it’s not about “discovering” your true talent or hidden abilities. It’s about finding what you most want to be great at, what you want to spend your entire life working at, and then deciding that you are never, ever, ever going to stop trying to become better at that. It’s about choosing a domain, and a lifetime of practice and process, that will be fulfilling to you along the way. And, guess what? It’s also okay to change your mind and go in a different direction, or to decide that you simply don’t want to do what it takes to become truly great. It’s okay to decide you’re going to not be the greatest tennis player but instead be the greatest friend. n WANT A LIST of scientific research and studies that support the claim of epigenetics? Click here to access a collection of scientific books and articles, compiled by Shenk. March/April 2016 ■ PULSE 63