How To Make Learning Difficult: The Curse Of Talent

28 Mar 2017

How To Make Learning Difficult: The Curse Of Talent

Teaching a skill isn’t easy

Have you ever tried to teach or coach someone a skill that you think is easy but discovered they had difficulty learning it? If so you may be possessed by (cue spooky music) the Curse of Talent!

Curse of Talent multi taking woman

How can you be cursed because you’re talented?

When you’re good at something, you’ve usually practised it countless times. Each time you’ve practised the neural pathway was strengthened, and you became increasingly fluent.

Eventually, it becomes challenging to remember how you learnt the skill. So if you then need to teach others what you know, you may teach them what you THINK you do, and not what you actually do.

The steps of learning

When you’re learning new things, you become aware of and try to remember, each key point and step along the way. As you practice or repeat it many times, you make mistakes. Every error provides you with feedback. Feedback drives you to make the necessary adjustments, so you become proficient. Forgetting the mistakes you made, makes you susceptible to the curse of talent.

Proficiency strengthens neural pathways in the brain

Learning and practising something thoroughly creates and reinforces a new neural pathway. Over time, and with familiarity, what was once perhaps a thoughtful, complex or exhaustive process becomes straightforward and easy — thought-less. You become proficient or fluent. And, depending upon the task, able to perform it more quickly.

Driving a vehicle is an example

Driving is a complex skill involving precise visual and motor coordination (no pun intended!) Once mastered (i.e. repeated on numerous occasions) it becomes mostly unconscious. At this point, driving is no longer a new skill and seems comfortable and natural.

As a proficient, experienced driver, you no longer consciously think about when to signal, change gears, speed up or brake. All you’re doing consciously is focusing on the direction you’re headed (and sometimes even that is automatic!) At this level of competency, you’re too busy eating your lunch and listening to the radio. You’ve probably forgotten the numerous elements involved in the process of driving.

Now, you think it’s easy

You think it’s easy because you’re unconsciously talented. So if someone asks you to give them driving lessons, you might agree, without giving it much thought.

But once you start to teach someone the skill you do easily and unconsciously, the process is no longer readily available to you. The skill of driving has mostly become unconscious and automatic.

At this point, it’s almost inevitable that if you try and teach someone to drive without some conscious and serious thinking, you’re quite likely to:

  • Miss out key information that will make a huge difference to the learner’s success.
  • Teach what you think you do.
  • Unintentionally teach your trainee any bad habits you might have. Not you specifically — because you probably don’t have any — but others 😜.
  • Add in unnecessary steps.
  • Miss out critical steps.
  • Use jargon, without explaining what it means.
  • Give them too much information so they become overwhelmed.
  • Forget about all the mistakes you made, and get annoyed when your trainee makes the same ones.

The outcome is likely to be annoyance and frustration for you, and confusion, discouragement and nervousness for your learner!


So how do you get past this curse of talent and successfully teach what you know?

Here are eight key points to remember when you’re teaching someone a skill you can already do well.

1. What’s the aim, goal or result of what you’re teaching?

The answer to this question will provide an overview and direction for both you and your trainee.

2. Analyse exactly what you do, action by action.

This analysis is a useful exercise to do before you even start the teaching process with a trainee.

3. What are the key points or components needed to be successful at this skill?

(Using driving as an example, key points might include moving off, changing gears, slowing down, etc.)

4. What are the individual steps necessary to achieve each key point?

Break down each key point into manageable pieces or steps. For instance, the individual steps for changing gears might be; increase (or decrease speed), engage the clutch, change gear.

5. What beliefs and values enable you to be good at what you do?

Would your values and beliefs be useful for your trainee to adopt? For example, one driver might believe it’s important to be courteous to other drivers. Another driver might believe that every other driver on the road is a complete moron! Your beliefs and values dictate your behaviour both in how you carry out the skill, as well as in how you teach it. Your trainee will, therefore, pick up your beliefs and values by what you do or how you behave. So it’s worthwhile identifying what your values and beliefs are, and whether they’re the kind that will help a trainee be successful.

6. Use language that anyone can understand

When you’re learning something new, there’s a lot to take in. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with information. Make things a little easier for your trainee by using plain language wherever possible, or explaining what you mean immediately you need to use a jargon word.

7. Remember what it was like when you were learning

Remembering your struggles will help you feel more compassionate towards your trainee. Make it OK for them to make mistakes. This is a way for them to gain feedback. They’ll relax and assimilate the information more quickly. Once again you’ll avoid the curse of talent.

8. Give positive reinforcement

Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels


Praise every effort and small success. Small successes build confidence and the motivation to keep going.

If you remember these eight keys, you won’t develop the Curse of Talent that blocks so so many excellent and skilful people from passing on their knowledge. And that means that others will be able to learn easily and replicate your skill level successfully.

You might also like: Why Practice is Essential to True Learning