Authors: K. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
Secrets from the New Science of Expertise — Goodreads Link
This book highlighted the importance of how you practice. I have put a lot of emphasis on consistency and showing up each day, but it’s even more important to be smart about your attention. Clear objectives and ways to find the proper balance while learning, studying, and practicing help push you to actually improve.
I intend to put more effort into how I approach learning or practice. Taking a step back to look at the larger problems I face, and asking experts when possible to learn what they have seen work or not work in their experience over the longer-term.
How I Discovered It
This book is cited in The Talent Code, which I read in 2020. Malcolm Gladwell cites Anders Ericsson’s research when explaining the 10,000-hour rule, but that’s a topic cleared up in the book. Research has shown that how someone practices is more important than simply the number of hours.
Talent is not what carries people to become top performers, and in fact, it can sometimes slow us down.
Deliberate practice leads to improvement and reaching the upper levels of performance.
It requires focused effort towards a specific goal and paying attention to the process, refining and adjusting to be most effective.
Who should read / watch / listen to it
This book is great for anyone interested in learning and improving. The stories range from chess players to musicians to athletes and offer suggestions that anyone can apply.
💬 Top 3 Quotes
1) Deliberate Practice
With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis—getting out of your comfort zone—and forcing your brain or your body to adapt. But once you do this, learning is no longer just a way of fulfilling some genetic destiny; it becomes a way of taking control of your destiny and shaping your potential in ways that you choose.
2) The Plateau of Acceptable
Research has shown that, generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of “acceptable” performance and automaticity, the additional years of “practice” don’t lead to improvement. If anything, the doctor or the teacher or the driver who’s been at it for twenty years is likely to be a bit worse than the one who’s been doing it for only five...
3) Experts Are Never Bored
Expert performers get great satisfaction and pleasure from exercising their abilities, and they feel a tremendous sense of personal accomplishment from pushing themselves to develop new skills, particularly skills that are on the very edges of their fields. It is as if they are on a constantly stimulating journey where boredom is never a problem because there are always new challenges and opportunities.
🔟 Top 10 Takeaways
1) The High IQ Disadvantage
Research among children studying chess over a series of years found an inverse relationship between IQ and a player’s skill at elite levels.
The discovery really blew my mind at first. A higher IQ among elite players ended up constraining their progress. What researchers found was that the elite players with lower IQs learned to practice more, and eventually reached higher levels of play than the high-IQ players.
Stop and digest that for a moment: among these young, elite chess players, not only was a higher IQ no advantage, but it seemed to put them at a slight disadvantage. The reason, the researchers found, was that the elite players with lower IQs tended to practice more, which improved their chess game to the point that they played better than the high-IQ elite players.
It can be helpful to struggle at something early on so that the need to practice consistently becomes ingrained.
2) Recipe for Success without a Teacher
To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them.
3) Digit Memorization Techniques
Ericsson conducted research to see how many digits a person could memorize, using a student who tried and tired and eventually set a record. When challenged to improve, the student came up with more and more clever techniques to increase the length of digits he could memorize.
At one point he got stuck, so Ericsson gave him a challenge to memorize a longer string that he read a bit slower. It led to a breakthrough and the student came up with some new techniques!
Generally the solution is not “try harder” but rather “try differently.” It is a technique issue, in other words. In Steve’s case, one barrier came when he hit twenty-two digits. He was grouping them into four four-digit groups, which he used various mnemonic tricks to remember, plus a six-digit rehearsal group at the end that he would repeat over and over to himself until he could remember it by the sound of the numbers.
4) People Improve their vision thru practice
In a research environment, they had participants come in for three months and train their vision. At the end of the time, training to differentiate a small image against a low contrast background, the subjects improved to the point that they could read letters 60% smaller than they could at the start.
Their eyes did not change over the course of the study. The brains of the participants changed somehow, in essence to “de-blur” the images that they were seeing. A poignant example of mind over matter!
5) Efficient Mental Representations
Much of deliberate practice involves developing ever more efficient mental representations that you can use in whatever activity you are practicing. When Steve Faloon was training to improve his ability to remember long strings of digits, he developed increasingly sophisticated ways to encode those digits mentally—that is, he created mental representations.
What exactly is being changed in the brain with deliberate practice? The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.
6) Practice isn’t supposed to be fun
Students that showed the most progress studying and pursuing deliberate practice did not see the work as fun. Instead, they saw it as labor intensive and understood that improvement requires hard work.
Ericsson’s research did not find anyone who “just loved practice” which would mean they need less motivation than others. Hard work is truly hard!
7) On Finding Teachers
The best teacher for a student will be one who started at a similar level of proficiency and maybe even someone just a little ahead of you in their ability. This way they can still understand the challenges you are facing at your stage of learning and improvement.
The ideal teacher will guide you in what to focus on, where you are making errors, and how to recognize when you are performing well. The goal in working with a teacher is to develop the mental representations that allow you to observe your own performance and eventually provide yourself with feedback all on your own.
8) What do Elite Runners Think About?
Researchers who have studied long-distance runners have found that amateurs tend to daydream or think about more pleasant subjects to take their minds off the pain and strain of their running, while elite long-distance runners remain attuned to their bodies so that they can find the optimal pace and make adjustments to maintain the best pace throughout the whole race.
9) Improve Typing Speed in Small Training Bursts
Most people can increase their typing speed by 10-20% simply through willpower and “trying” to type faster. The problem is when relaxed, the typist will return to their typical speed.
A good teacher will get the student to focus on this faster speed for 15 – 20 minutes a day which builds up the comfort at that speed and eventually leads to faster typing at any time.
Ericsson explains that this lesson applies to all skills and practice.
It is better to spend less time training if you can sustain 100% effort than it is to train for longer periods at 70% effort. Be sure to observe when you can no longer focus effectively, and stop the training session there. The best way to build a skill is to push yourself hard and then take breaks, with particular emphasis on getting enough sleep each night.
10) For Everyone Who Dreams
One more great quote about the value of deliberate practice:
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 the saxophone, to pen “the Great American Novel.” It’s for everyone who wants to improve their poker game, their softball skills, their salesmanship, their singing. 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 right here, right now, is as good as it gets.
❇️ More Resources
🎙 Podcast Interview
Dan McLaughlin starts at the age of 30 playing golf with the goal of reaching a level high enough to qualifies for the PGA tour to compete with professional golfers. It’s a very interesting story of applying the techniques of deliberate practice to a very clear sports goal. (By a guy who never participated in sports!)
When the writer asked him why he was doing it, Dan gave an answer I really liked. He said he didn’t appreciate the attitude that only certain people can succeed in certain areas—that only those people who are logical and “good at math” can go into mathematics, that only athletic people can go into sports, that only musically gifted people can become really good at playing an instrument. This sort of thinking just gave people an excuse not to pursue things that they might otherwise really enjoy and perhaps even be good at, and he didn’t want to fall into that trap.
Physicians get worse at medicine with more experience and studies can prove it – here is a PDF link to Scholar.Harvard.Edu of the following research paper:
The Relationship Between Clinical Experience and Quality of Health Care — Niteesh K. Choudhry, Robert H. Fletcher, and Stephen B. Soumerai; Annals of Internal Medicine 142 (2005)