Posted by: coachingparents | April 1, 2009


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

We were born to imitate.  The primary way an infant learns is through imitation of what he experiences from others.  Imitation and repetitive practice of what we see, hear and feel are two of the most powerful natural drives we humans have for personal growth and development.  After we are able to distinguish between people and ourselves (usually about 9 months of age), it becomes very important whom we choose to imitate.   Those early habits we develop by imitation are very likely to influence the quality of our lives throughout life.

You need to be very discriminating about whom you choose to model yourself after.  Never give up your own uniqueness, rather discover it and strengthen it.  Then modify yourself through patterning your individual characteristics, skills and talents after truly great people …heroes who have made a significant positive difference in who we are as human beings…human “becomings.”

Most of us believe that becoming heroic is impossible.  We are either born with the talents, skills and abilities or we are not.  Such a belief is utter nonsense.  Helen Keller was born deaf and blind and became heroic in her contribution to the world.  Olympic champion, Wilma Rudolph, had polio as a child.  Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote his greatest symphonies.  We are all born with the talents and capacities for heroic greatness.  However, those talents and capacities need to be developed through imitation and repetitive practice.

What are some positive qualities of heroic role-models?  Here are some of the most common ones.

Outstanding people always work hard.  They practice, practice, practice.  The strengthening of any muscle requires repetitive movement, preferably against some resistance other than air or gravity.  Any talent grows strong when you work it over and over, preferably against some resistance or obstacle.  Difficulties and mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, grow and develop.  Focused persistence is characteristic of most heroes.  They usually have spent years and years of focused practice on developing their particular talent(s).

Heroes are usually intelligent…but not in every category or subject.  After walking for an hour absorbed in answering a student’s question, Albert Einstein asked the student, “When we started, did we come from that direction or this other way?”  The student pointed in the direction they had come, saying, “We came from over there.”  Einstein replied, “Good, then I know I’ve had breakfast.”  Many heroic models seem dumb by some standards of intelligence, but absolutely brilliant in others…particularly in those areas they have persistently practiced.

Heroes are willing to take calculated risks.  Like turtles, they only move ahead when they stick out their necks.  They are not governed by fear, particularly fear of what others might think, or fear of anticipated failure.  They move forward toward their desired outcome despite setbacks, and mistakes.  Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 elements before discovering which one worked to generate light without burning up.  Beethoven’s great Fifth Symphony was ridiculed when it was first played.  Did these heroes risk continuing?  Absolutely!

Heroic role-models enjoy what they do best.  They have fun.  When practicing their highly developed skill becomes no fun anymore, they move on to something new.   No matter how good they become, they are always pursuing “the better.”  As far as we know, human potential is limitless.  Therefore, there is no end to human betterment.  The better you become, the more enjoyment you experience.

University of California Professor and Psychologist, Dean Keith Simonton, Ph.D. writes, “Except for tremendous interest, enthusiasm, excitement and determination, great people are not clearly superior to those who don’t become great.”  Yes, you too can become great at anything to which you apply the above characteristics.  Choose your role-models wisely, imitate them with persistence and delight, and no doubt you will become heroic.


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on  Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and Licensed Psychologist.  He is available for coaching in any area presented in “Practical Life Coaching” (formerly “Practical Psychology”).  Initial coaching sessions are free.  Contact him:E-mail: or

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