Peak: How to Master Almost Anything – Anders Ericsson

Here are my comments on the book:

How do you master almost anything? Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University who is internationally recognized as a researcher in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance, states that it takes years of something called deliberate practice. To master anything, rather than practicing and just ‘going through the motions’ you need to practice with the intention of getting better at what you’re doing. In addition to deliberate practice, you need direct feedback to ensure that what you’re doing is correct. Here are some of the points to the book:


1. To become a master of anything, it takes a lot of practice. Not just any practice though, deliberate practice. You’ll consistently hear or see in the media of those who are successful and their lavish lifestyles but rarely do you hear or see the media address how much practice and effort they’ve put in to get to where they are. According to Ericsson, you can become a master of anything as long as you put in the time to deliberately practice it as he has studied and seen various examples of those who have gone from nothing to master. But while the abilities are extraordinary, there is no mystery at all about how these people developed them. They practiced. A lot. The world-record time in the marathon wasn’t cut by 30 percent over the course of a century because people were being born with a greater talent for running long distances. Nor did the second half of the twentieth century see some sudden surge in the births of people with a gift for playing Chopin or Rachmaninoff or for memorizing tens of thousands of random digits. What the second half of the twentieth century did see was a steady increase in the amount of time that people in different areas devoted to training, combined with a growing sophistication of training techniques. This was true in a huge number of fields, particularly highly competitive fields such as musical performance and dance, individual and team sports, and chess and other competitive games. This increase in the amount and sophistication of practice resulted in a steady improvement in the abilities of the performers in these various fields—an improvement that was not always obvious from year to year but that is dramatic when viewed over the course of several decades.


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2. The number of years of experience that one has doesn’t necessarily translate into better performance. In fact those with more experience can actually perform worse than those with less experience. After a certain amount of time spent in a specific field, one can become complacent and the drive to improve or practice diminishes in most cases. I once read this statement somewhere else where the author said that most people think they have x number of years of experience. But rather than x number of years of experience, all they really have is 1 year of experience repeated x number of years. But there is one very important thing to understand here: once you have reached this satisfactory skill level and automated your performance—your driving, your tennis playing, your baking of pies—you have stopped improving. People often misunderstand this because they assume that the continued driving or tennis playing or pie baking is a form of practice and that if they keep doing it they are bound to get better at it, slowly perhaps, but better nonetheless. They assume that someone who has been driving for twenty years must be a better driver than someone who has been driving for five, that a doctor who has been practicing medicine for twenty years must be a better doctor than one who has been practicing for five, that a teacher who has been teaching for twenty years must be better than one who has been teaching for five. But no. 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, and the reason is that these automated abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve.He later states, This similarity between doctors and recreational tennis players was shown in 2005 when a group of researchers at Harvard Medical School published an extensive review of research looking at how the quality of care that doctors provide changes over time. If years of practice make physicians better, then the quality of care they give should increase as they amass more experience. But just the opposite was true. In almost every one of the five dozen studies included in the review, doctors’ performance grew worse over time or, at best, stayed about the same. The older doctors knew less and did worse in terms of providing appropriate care than doctors with far fewer years of experience, and researchers concluded that it was likely the older doctors’ patients fared worse because of it. Only two of sixty-two studies had found doctors to have gotten better with experience. Another study of decision-making accuracy in more than ten thousand clinicians found that additional professional experience had only a very small benefit.


3. How do you effectively practice deliberately? First master the basics and fundamentals or something specific before trying to get good at something else. After you reach a certain level at something, set a higher goal for yourself to achieve. After you achieve that goal, set a new higher goal to achieve. When you become a master at something, its basically the accumulation of mastering various goals you’ve set for yourself. Purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal. If you’re a weekend golfer and you want to decrease your handicap by five strokes, that’s fine for an overall purpose, but it is not a well-defined, specific goal that can be used effectively for your practice. Break it down and make a plan: What exactly do you need to do to slice five strokes off your handicap? One goal might be to increase the number of drives landing in the fairway. That’s a reasonably specific goal, but you need to break it down even more: What exactly will you do to increase the number of successful drives? You will need to figure out why so many of your drives are not landing in the fairway and address that by, for instance, working to reduce your tendency to hook the ball. How do you do that? An instructor can give you advice on how to change your swing motion in specific ways. And so on. The key thing is to take that general goal—get better—and turn it into something specific that you can work on with a realistic expectation of improvement.


By Ryan Timothy Lee


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My rating:
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Check out the book here:

Amazon US
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