"The deliberate-practice mindset offers a very different view: anyone can improve, but it requires the right approach."
How often do we discuss our own skills, or the skills of another—or lack thereof? Observations often start with statements such as “he’s so good/naturally gifted at X, I don’t know where he gets it from” or, conversely, “she is just not talented/gifted/good at X”. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise debunks these views as myths and proves beyond any doubt that, if you go about learning things in the right way, you can master anything you choose to get better at. This book is a must read if you are seeking the inspiration to have a go at developing an area you’ve always wished you were good at.
Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool have combined their interests to collaborate on this book and share their findings. For the last four decades they have studied how practice works to create new and expanded capabilities. Based on their research, they argue that anyone can improve in any area if they purposefully and deliberately practise their learning and skills.
The Big Idea
You can improve any skill if you practice deliberately
"Deliberate practice is for everyone who dreams. It’s for anyone who wants to learn how to draw, to write computer code, to juggle, to play… It’s for all those people who want to take control of their lives and create their own potential and not buy into the idea that this here, right now, is as good as it gets."
The authors note that while anyone can improve in an area they wish to focus on, there are some factors that may limit the extent of an individual’s performance. For example, physical attributes in sports. But that aside, it does not mean that we can never be good at it—we may just be limited on the world stage in comparison to others who have the right genes. They also note that some of the approaches and methodologies for deliberate practice may prove most beneficial for children. Again, this does not mean adults cannot achieve their goals as it’s possible “for adults, even older adults, to develop a wide variety of new capabilities with the right training.” This honesty is part of what makes this such an inspiring book as it tells us that what we have come to believe is incorrect, that neuroscience research is proving that our brains and body are adaptable and that we can most definitely achieve our ambitions with the right attitude and discipline through deliberate practice.
The principles of deliberate practice in everyday life involve the following steps:
- Find a good teacher
It is more effective and efficient to have a teacher providing feedback and assisting you in developing good mental representations that you can use to work from when you practice on your own. Mental representations help us visualize the success we seek, what it looks like, and how it feels when we are achieving the success. Think of athletes envisioning winning a race and how their muscles and body feel as they are competing.
- Actively engage in your learning activity
If you are relaxed and having fun that is great. However, improvements will be unlikely. Deliberate practice takes discipline and hard work to see achievements in development and growth.
- Pay attention to the detail
Improvement comes from paying attention to all the details and focusing on improving specific weaknesses. Remember to try different methods until you find one that works.
- Plateaus are likely
The major reason for people ceasing to improve is that they settle at a plateau reached when the improvements stop. The best way to move beyond a plateau, and improve further, is to challenge your brain or body in a new way. This is common for athletes and the same is true for our brains and I believe reflects the potential for adaptability we have but don’t experience when we don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
- Maintaining motivation
We are all motivated for different reasons and there are many ways to weaken our desire to quit. Creating a habit is important in maintaining our discipline, for example, setting aside a fixed time to practice that is clear of all other obligations and distractions. Plan well and look for things that might interfere with your training and minimize its impact/influence. Establishing the habit makes maintaining your motivation easier.
Choose a teacher who can stretch your current abilities
"You need a teacher or coach who assigns practice techniques designed to help you improve on very specific skills."
Deliberate practice requires building or revising existing skills by focusing on particular aspects for improvement. This requires being able to learn from those who have better skills than we do. It is also important to recognize when we have outgrown our teachers and find new ones who can further develop and build our previously acquired skills. The authors use the analogy of a staircase to represent the concept of continuous learning and the need to consistently seek others who we can learn from and who can help us continue to climb the staircase and reach our goals. And who knows, along the way we may be asked to teach others who want to learn the skills we’ve picked up along the way.
Our language shapes our beliefs in our abilities
"…the dark side of believing in innate talent … can beget a tendency to assume that some people have a talent for something and others don’t and that you can tell the difference early on…The best way to avoid this is to recognize the potential in all of us—and work to find ways to develop it."
As a coach, I often work with clients to reflect on their language and observe how it shapes their world and informs their perceptions. As leaders, colleagues, friends, and parents, we are not always aware of the impact of our words on others, nor do we always take time to consider how we might reframe our own thinking to help shape our conversations. The authors raise such an important point about how we can inspire ourselves and those we care about by believing in innate talent. What I love about the concept of deliberate practice is its underlying message that anyone has the potential to achieve peak performance—as long as they have the drive and motivation to work at developing their interest into a talent.
In Peak, Ericsson and Pool use famous individuals from a broad range of disciplines, who we generally see as naturally gifted, to confirm that excelling in any area is within reach. They have combined their knowledge and findings in neuroscience with practical case studies to provide an amazingly simple approach for anyone to follow to achieve peak performance. What do you wish you could be better at? What are you waiting for? Seize the methodology identified by Ericsson and Pool and begin to turn your wish into your reality today!