A few days ago I was reading Peak by Anders Ericsson. It took me a few more days to really think through the message of the book and how it applied to creating opportunities.
Like most books written by academics (like Thinking Fast and Slow, How We Decide etc.) it was packed with a ton research. Don’t get me wrong — that’s what makes these books so amazing. But it also means that it’s easy to emerge after a few hours completely fascinated but having no idea how to apply it whatsoever.
To start, Anders Ericsson is a psychologist and a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. He specializes in researching the psychological nature of expertise and human performance. He’s highly recognized by the academic community for his research and his findings.
This book was entirely enjoyable to read from the beginning to the end. There were two key takeaways that, if you stop reading right now, I’d still like you to know.
1) It’s possible to expand our potential. Literally — as in our brain changes its structure.
2) It’s can be expanded systematically and on purpose. Meaning it’s not a matter of luck or randomness.
You should be seriously excited about this. It means that — whatever you think your maximum potential is right now… that’s not it. You can push the boundaries of your potential further and further.
His research, and most of the ones he cites in his book revolve around the study of disciples like chess, gymnastics, tennis, and memory competitions. These are fields that have been evolved and studied for hundreds of years and fine-tuned to detail. In these disciplines, there’s proven techniques to train and improve students.
And what Ericsson found is that the difference between the elite and the not-so-elite is that they apply deliberate practice. Not just practice but specifically, deliberate practice. By definition, deliberate practice is highly structured practice that is engaged in with a specific goal (usually improving performance).
Say you took two kids, Billy and Jen, doing math drills. Both finish their problem sets for practice. Jen goes through the problems over and over again until she gets them all right — which is what most of us do. Billy, on the other hand, applies deliberate practice. He systematically goes through identifying which specific areas he’s struggling in. Then he fine-tunes those areas. If he’s scoring low on problem-solving, it’s because his multiplication skills are weak which are throwing off his answers. Instead of just practicing problems over and over again, Billy turns to re-learning multiplication.
Billy is bound to excel at mathematics faster and grasp concepts better because by applying deliberate practice, Billy is fine-tuning all areas of his mathematics. He’s practicing the areas that need practicing.
The entire book is filled with research like this — from grandmasters in chess to star tennis players like Serena Williams. I won’t get too into the applications of deliberate practice in academics. Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks, already does an incredible job. Instead, I’d like to see how we can apply it to our daily lives where our goals are less structured and disciplines — things like scoring a job or getting fit.
At its core, deliberate practice is simply taking the time to identify our weak areas. Then practicing those specific skill sets instead of just blindly pouring in time and effort.
For example, say you’ve set up a fitness regime to run 5 miles every day. But you never seem to be able to finish it without taking a break. Why? Are you always stopping at the 3rd mile and turning home? Try changing your route to make the 3rd mile your favourite. Run through your favourite part of the city, or put on your favourite songs. Find something to make your weakness not so weak.
Or maybe you want to do better with job interviews. Practice with a goal and find your weaknesses. Your goal could be to become so good at interviews, you can turn a casual chat into a job opportunity. Maybe you find your biggest weakness is not being able to emphasize all the great things you’ve accomplished. Instead of wasting valuable time going from interview to interview, practice that one skill. When you meet someone new, test out different ways to share your strengths and accomplishments without sounding like a narcissist.
Deliberate practice is a tool to help you build your potential. It can be applied in every area of your life, whether it’s fitness, job prospects or even simple things like learning how to cook.
So next time you’re faced with roadblocks, take a step back and approach it with the mindset of deliberate practice. Ask yourself, which areas am I really struggling with? Then fine-tune those.
Comment below with the weaknesses you’ve found and how you’ll apply deliberate practice to your goal!
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