Extreme Athletes Challenge What We Think We Know About Success

Many successful athletes are challenging our conclusions about the path to mastery. Consider the following examples:


One conclusion provided by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s study, the Talent Project, is that encouragement and support in childhood produces extraordinary skills. However, many of the athletes involved in action and adventure sports did not have this kind of support.

Skill Quantification

Psychologist Anders Ericsson’s study of expertise found that what truly distinguished musicians’ skill level was hours of practice. Quality of practice and a creative approach to technique building also matter.

Delayed Gratification

Psychologist Walter Mischel performed a study: children involved could eat a marshmallow instantly, or receive two if they waited. Those who demonstrated self-restraint scored higher on their SATs. Action and adventure athletes are very impulsive.

These studies contradict the experiences of the best action and adventure athletes, because these activities are intrinsically motivating and trigger 'flow' states of consciousness.

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