Practice doesn’t always make perfect. That’s the upshot of a new study in the journal Intelligence, which found that you don’t have to work the hardest to become the best in your field. Here are the details:

Researchers at Michigan State University looked at the habits of some of the world’s finest chess players and musicians. And even though all of the top people put in countless hours of hard work – those who put in the most time weren’t always the best. In fact, practice could only account for about a-third of the difference in skill levels. 

So, what accounts for the other two-thirds? 

  • Natural talent is a big part of it.

  • But lead researcher Dr. Zach Hambrick says the size of a person’s “working memory” also plays a big role, because that part of the brain allows you to process multiple pieces of information at once, like the trajectory of a baseball you’re trying to catch, and the speed of the runner headed past you toward second base. Luckily, studies show we can increase the size of our working memory by doing things like trying to remember 52 playing cards, in order, from a randomly-shuffled deck.

Of course, the study doesn’t mean you can climb to the top level of any artistic, physical or mental endeavor, with minimal skill, and a deck of cards. But it does highlight the importance of identifying your talents. And focusing your efforts in the areas where improvement will most likely lead to more success.