Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool on Peak, Part 1

In their book, Peak: secrets from the new science of expertise, Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool share their research findings and recommendations to help us achieve expert-level performance in whatever we would like to do.

These are some of my favorite recommendations from reading the book.

Chapter 1. The Power of Purposeful Practice

“The most effective and most powerful types of practice in any fieldwork by harnessing the adaptability of the human body and brain to create, step by step, the ability to do things that were previously not possible.”

If we wish to develop a truly effective training method for anything, that method will need to consider what works and what doesn’t in driving changes in the body and brain.

For many skills, once we have reached a “generally acceptable” or satisfactory level and automated our performance, we have stopped improving. “Naïve practice” is essentially doing something repeatedly and expecting the repetition alone to improve our performance. To break through the plateau and reach a higher level of performance, we will need to engage in “purposeful practice.”

“Purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal.”

  • Purposeful practice is focused. We seldom improve much without giving the task our full attention.
  • Purposeful practice involves feedback. We need feedback to identify exactly where we are falling short. Without feedback, we have difficulty determining what we need to improve or how close we are to achieving our goals.
  • Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone. We will never improve if we never push ourselves beyond our comfort zone.

Getting out of our comfort zone means trying to do something we could not do before. Generally, the solution is not “try harder” but rather “try differently.” We need to pay attention to our practice techniques. The best way to overcome any barrier is to come from a different direction.

Although it is generally possible to improve to a certain degree with focused practice and to stay out of our comfort zone, more is needed. There are other equally important aspects to practicing and training ourselves to reach a higher level of performance.