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Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

I have read many books that help instill a growth mindset (a belief that you can improve with practice). I’ve also read many motivational books that get you fired up to work hard towards your goals. However, I haven’t read many books that give you scientific and practical tips on how to actually improve your skills. This is why I really enjoyed reading Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. In this book, you’ll learn the practical training tips that you need to get the most out of your positive mindset and motivation. And while learning the science behind improvement and expertise is the main benefit of this book, it helps improve your attitude and motivation as well!

Here are the top lessons I’ve learned from this book:

The human body and brain are extremely adaptable. Most people underestimate the amount of improvement that they can make through practice. They believe that genes and natural talent play a larger role than they actually do. As a result, they let their perceived limitations discourage them from fulfilling their true potential. The authors of this book do a great job debunking the myths about natural talent and expertise. They prove, through the science of neuroplasticity and deliberate practice, that the limits of human improvement are much higher than people assume.

99% of the time, when people believe they’ve hit a limit on how much they can improve, it is either because they lose motivation or they aren’t practicing the right way. With the right kind of practice, it is almost always possible to break through perceived limitations and keep improving.

The kind of practice that helps unlock human potential is called deliberate practice. As the authors say in this book, it is the gold standard of practice. No other form of practice has been shown to improve skills at a faster, more efficient rate. Here are the five components of deliberate practice:

1. It is informed and purposeful. In order to improve through deliberate practice, you need to know what real improvement looks like. This means you need to be informed about what real expertise looks like. By using objective measures of expertise, you can better guide your training to get you closer to your ultimate goals. One of the best ways to do this is by studying the experts in your field and emulating their skills and training methods.

2. It is outside of your comfort zone. To make real improvements, you have to practice skills at a level that is beyond your current capabilities. If all you do is practice at a level that is already easy for you, you won’t reach your full potential. Your biggest improvements come when you challenge yourself and start making mistakes. If you push yourself out of your comfort zone for long enough, your body and brain will gradually adapt, resulting in improvement. At this point, you have to keep challenging yourself at higher and higher levels to keep improving.

3. It requires your best effort and concentration. Once you properly design your practice, you need to give your best effort physically and mentally. You can’t just go through the motions and expect to improve. Your heart has to be in it to make the most out of deliberate practice.

4. It requires precise and immediate feedback. Even if you give your best effort, you won’t improve much if you keep making the same mistakes. This is why it’s important to have a coach guide you during your practice and give you the feedback you need to make corrections. This is what it means to train smart.

5. It requires a lot of repetitions. It is not enough just to do one perfect repetition under deliberate practice. To truly improve, you need to keep practicing until your skills get ingrained into your muscle memory.

If all five of these components are in place, you are successfully using deliberate practice. If you practice the right skills, at the right level, with great effort and focus, while learning from your mistakes and doing enough repetitions, you will improve!

The great thing about deliberate practice is that it is a very scientific and logical approach to improvement. Deliberate practice is about breaking skills down into small components and building them up one small step at a time. This requires critical thinking, careful planning, attention to detail, and measuring results. When you have a more scientific approach to training, you can improve at a faster, more efficient rate. Not only is this approach more efficient, but it is also very motivating, since it helps you see your progress in concrete and objective ways.

Speaking of motivation, it takes a lot of it to practice deliberately every day. This is because while deliberate practice is very effective, it’s also very difficult. Most people are not willing to tolerate the discomfort and boredom that it takes to improve. Luckily, the authors of this book provide a lot of motivational tips to help people improve their discipline and work ethic.

One of the best things I’ve learned from this book is to think of motivation as a simple equation:

Motivation = reasons to increase effort or keep going – reasons to reduce effort or quit.

When motivation is viewed this way, it can be easier to find ways to motivate yourself. All you have to do is strengthen your reasons to increase effort or weaken your reasons to reduce effort. As long as your reasons to keep going outweigh your reasons to stop, you will maintain the motivation you need to train hard.

Besides thinking deeply about your motivations, you can also improve your work ethic by improving your habits and environment. The more you improve your habits and environment, the easier training will feel. The easier training feels, the more willing you’ll be to do it.

The biggest criticism I have of this book is that it tries to overvalue the importance of deliberate practice. While deliberate practice is important, it’s not always applicable to certain fields. Like the authors say in this book, deliberate practice is most useful in fields that have very objective criteria for success and improvement, such as chess and golf. However, in reality, not every field provides clear and objective feedback for success. This book tries to argue that you can apply the principles of deliberate practice to any field (such as business or art) if you carefully design your practice and measure your success. But if you’ve read the book Range by David Epstein, you’ll know that deliberate practice isn’t always possible or beneficial in certain situations. This is because the rules and goals of certain fields are constantly changing. In these kinds of fields, you are better off developing a wide range of skills rather than specializing in one. Furthermore, putting too much importance on deliberate practice can have the negative side effect of encouraging kids to specialize in in a single sport at an early age, which I’m not a fan of. 

Regarding the deliberate practice vs range debate, I personally believe the best path is the middle path. There are obvious benefits of deliberate practice and specialization, but I’m also convinced of the importance of having a wide variety of skills and experiences. This is why I recommend incorporating the principles of both deliberate practice and range into your training regimen. If you do this, then you can gain the best of both worlds!

Overall, Peak is a great book that I highly recommend to all athletes and coaches.

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