Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool: Summary and Notes

peak anders ericsson

“This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.”

Rating: 9/10

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Peak: Short Summary

Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool introduces the powerful concept of deliberate practice. The authors explain why and how some people can achieve extraordinary levels of performance by practicing the right way.

The Power of Purposeful Practice

It has long been believed that a person’s potential in a given field is limited but this is not true. The human brain is very adaptable and with the right kind of training, we can take advantage of its adaptability to achieve things that we never thought possible.

“The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.”

For example:

In 1908, the world record marathon time was 2 hours, 55 minutes, and 57 seconds. In 2019, Eliud Kipchoge beat the 2 hours threshold for the first time. The improvement is due to better training techniques. In other words, humans are the same but improvement in training methods has made them better at running marathons.

Characteristics of purposeful practice:

  • Well-defined specific goals. A practice session is only seen as being successful if the goals have been attained
  • Long-term goals are broken down into smaller ones. The goals are broken down and a plan is created on how to achieve them
  • Focused. The task at hand is given full attention
  • Feedback. For purposeful practice to work, you have to review how you are doing
  • Out of one’s comfort zone. To improve, you have to push yourself to do better

Harnessing Adaptability

Evidence shows that both the structure and the function of the brain changes in response to various sorts of mental training in the same way that muscles grow as a result of physical training.

“If you practice something enough, your brain will repurpose neurons to help with the task even if they already have another job to do.”

Human bodies and brains are adaptable. The human body has a preference for stability (homeostasis) but, when challenged, stabilizes at an improved level.

For example:

When you perform exercise for a prolonged period, your body will create new muscle cells, and you will increase your lung capacity. Once your body changes, you are now at a new base level.

To take advantage of the body’s adaptability, it is important to stay just outside your comfort zone. If you push it too far, you risk injury and setting yourself up for failure.

“Regular training leads to changes in the parts of the brain that are challenged by the training. The brain adapts to these challenges by rewiring itself in ways that increase its ability to carry out the functions required by the challenges.”

If you stop training, the physical changes that you have acquired go away. The goal of deliberate practice is to not only build your potential but also to make things that were not possible a reality.

Mental Representations

The brain stores information in the form of chunks. These chunks-called mental representations-allow experts to process information more quickly.

“What sets expert performers apart from everyone else is the quality and quantity of their mental representations. Through years of practice, they develop highly complex and sophisticated representations of the various situations they are likely to encounter in their fields—such as the vast number of arrangements of chess pieces that can appear during games.”

Because mental representations can differ from skill to skill, there is no such thing as training for a general skill. You have to be specific and knowledge in one area cannot be easily transferred to another.

Mental representations aren’t just representations, they also help us to learn.

Deliberate practice: Purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there

Characteristics of deliberate practice:

  1. Develops skills that other people have already mastered. In other words, effective training has been established
  2. Takes place outside one’s comfort zone. For deliberate practice to work, you need to perform at near-maximum effort
  3. Involves well-defined and specific goals. The goal is not overall improvement but targeted improvement
  4. Is Intense. It requires full attention
  5. Depends on effective mental representations. To improve performance, you have to improve mental representations
  6. Involves feedback and modifications.  Feedback provides an avenue for improvement
  7. Creates or improves skills. It involves building or modifying previously acquired skills and working to improve them specifically

To apply the principles of deliberate practice, identify an expert and once you do, identify the things that set them apart from others.

Principles of Deliberate Practice on the Job

“One benefit of “learning while real work gets done” is that it gets people into the habit of practicing and thinking about practicing. Once they understand the importance of regular practice—and realize just how much they can improve by using it—they look for opportunities throughout the day in which normal business activities can be transformed into practice activities. Eventually, practicing becomes just a normal part of the business day.”

If you are looking for a chance to improve in your workplace, look for a skill that follows deliberate practice. Ask yourself: “Does it allow people to go outside their comfort zones and attempt hard things?”

Focus on building practical skills in place of knowledge.

Principles of Deliberate Practice in Everyday Life

To take advantage of deliberate practice in your own life, try to find a teacher. You will advance more quickly if you have someone telling you what you are doing right and where you need to improve.

A good teacher doesn’t have to be the best in the world, they only need to be accomplished. If you don’t have a teacher, create a framework that identifies the mistakes that you repeatedly make and correct them.

Another trick to mastering deliberate practice is to be fully committed to what you are doing. Eventually, things will get boring but it is the people who push through boredom who become experts in their areas.

At the same time, you have to believe that you can succeed. This belief is important in making you go all in.

Road to Extraordinary

If you practice a skill for a long time, you will start to derive pleasure from practicing it. It also becomes part of your identity.

Some skills require that you start as early as possible.

For example:

You lose flexibility as you age. If you want to reach your full potential in gymnastics or yoga, you need to start right now.

At the level where extraordinary skill is to be developed, you need to know how to improve on your own.

“That is how it always is. The creative, the restless, and the driven are not content with the status quo, and they look for ways to move forward, to do things that others have not.”

Principles of deliberate practice can be used to improve the education system. The key is to assimilate information into different unconnected pieces that build mental representations. The mental representations will provide context for problem-solving.

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