Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool on Peak, Part 2

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 2. Harnessing Adaptability

The human body is incredibly adaptable. It is not just the skeletal muscles but also the heart, the lungs, the circulatory system, and more – everything that goes into physical strength and stamina. From several research studies, we are now learning that the brain has a similar degree and variety of adaptability.

Our brains also did not appear to be hardwired like a computer. We now know that the brain reroutes some of its neurons so that it tries to maximize the use of its available capacity. If we practice something enough, our brains will repurpose neurons to help with the task, even if they already have another job to do.

Our body’s desire for homeostasis can be harnessed to drive changes. If we push it hard enough and long enough, it will respond by changing the ways that make that move easier. This condition explains the importance of staying just outside our comfort zone. We need to push our bodies to keep their compensatory changes coming continually. However, if we go too far outside our comfort zone, we risk injuring ourselves and setting ourselves back.

In the brain, the greater the challenge, the greater the changes – up to a point. Recent studies have shown that learning a new skill is much more effective at triggering structural changes in the brain than simply continuing a skill that one has already learned. However, pushing our brain too hard for too long can lead to burnout and ineffective learning.

The fact that the human brain and body respond to challenges by developing new abilities underlies the effectiveness of purposeful and deliberate practice. Regular training leads to changes in the parts of the brain that are challenged by the exercise. The brain adapts to these challenges by rewiring itself in ways that increase its ability to carry out the required functions.

Ultimately, the cognitive and physical changes caused by training require upkeep. Stop training, and they start to go away. Once we stop using the new capability areas developed by eliminating the ongoing training and maintenance, the brain changes resulting from the original challenge disappear.