Thoughts Upon Reading Anders’ Peak

You’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hour rule, right?   If you practice the right way for 10,000 hours you’ll become world class at pretty much anything.  Well, the 10,000 hour idea originated from research by Anders Ericsson (the author of Peak).  The 10,000 hour rule is also bullshit. More on that later.   Peak: How to Master Almost Anything is Anders’ attempt to write a popular account of his research into peak performance.  I’ve been waiting for a book by Anders (other than The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance) ever since reading Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated.   Which is my biggest criticism of this book: most of what Anders writes about has been discussed extensively by other authors like Colvin and Dan Coyle.  If you’ve been following the “peak performance” world for even a couple of years many of the examples and ideas will be redundant.   That’s not a major criticism – it doesn’t change the quality of the ideas and takeaways (and Anders’ own research).  When Dr. Ericsson speaks, its worth listening. A key point from Dr. Ericsson before going forward:   If you’re not improving you’re getting worse.  Why? Your body/mind is always seeking efficiencies, as you reach a certain skill threshold your body automates responses.  These are “habits” and allow us to function.   But they also mean at a certain threshold – without a deliberate attempt to improve – your skills will deteriorate. That’s why someone with 30 years driving experience is no better than someone with 10 (and often worse).  That’s why doctors with 20 years experience are no better than those with 5 (on average).   “Automated abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve.” Takeaways from Peak: If you’re not improving you’re getting worse. The most effective way to increase skill/ability is through deliberate practice. Mental representations are key (and undervalued) component of peak performance. Natural/innate talent is largely bullshit.   Mental Representations?   Before we dive into Deliberate Practice I wanted to discuss Mental Representations.   This is actually the part of the book I’m wrestling with and where it most differs from similar books on Deliberate Practice.   Mental representations are mental “habits” that let you act without thinking (and may be related to myelin).   Let’s use walking as an example: you don’t have to think about moving every piece of your body because your brain has a mental representation of what walking looks and is able to carry this out.  You do not have to consciously think about swinging your left leg forward, planting it, swinging your right leg forward, etc.   At the same time, you’re able to identify when something doesn’t feel right when you’re walking. Maybe your left ankle is sore.  This is because as you’re walking it doesn’t fit with your mental representation.   A great example is with football.  When a defensive back is covering a wide receiver on a route, the more effective his mental representation the more quickly he will be able to identify the receivers route and when the receiver is breaking in his route.  Often what we identify as “reaction speed” is actually a finely tuned mental representations at work.   Another example is tennis players.  There is an upper limit on how fast our bodies can physically react to stimuli.  But elite tennis players find a way around this problem: when receiving a serve they aren’t looking at the ball but the hips, shoulders, and arms of their opponent.  This is compared to their mental representation and it tells them where the ball is going – before it is hit!   What is Deliberate Practice?   Deliberate practice is a form of practicing that is not fun but also produces the greatest gains in performance. It is defined by: You (or a coach) have figured out specific skills/abilities for elite performance and effective training techniques (in your field) Being outside your comfort zone Having very specific, measurable goals in practice Involving feedback and modifications of practice in response to that feedback Being deliberate – that is requiring a very strong focus/concentration Involving the use of mental representations Building on previous skills to improve overall performance   An example to analyse can be found here [] from LeCharles Bentley of O-LineWorld.   In working on hip explosion LeCharles has broken down a specific skill in blocking.  The player is outside his comfort zone as he’s being pushed. It is building on previous skills and involves feedback from a coach (LeCharles). This makes sense because much of what we know about Deliberate Practice comes from the athletic (and music) world.  Significant pieces of Deliberate Practice are present in much of athletic training.   What differentiates normal athletic training from deliberate practice is the need for specific goals, an intense focus, and the use of mental representations.   The intense focus and use of mental representations are largely up to the player although must be taught by the coach/teacher. Visualisation is an important part of developing mental representations – the more accurate and thorough your visualisation the more refined your mental representation. I plan on writing an essay on visualisation and performance soon.   Having specific goals is also important.  They may not be specific to every drill but should be present for that training session.   It is not always possible to incorporate these requirements into every session, especially if you coach a team sport.  But the more you are able to find ways to incorporate deliberate practice into your training the greater gains you will see.   And these techniques apply to almost every domain: long-distance running, music, your job, relationships, etc.  That of course does not mean you want to incorporate deliberate practice into every domain.  I am a decent typist and good driver – I am satisfied and do not wish to expend the mental & psychic energy to improve in these specific areas.   10,000 Hours is WRONG   Ander is very critical of Malcolm Gladwell’s use of 10,000 hours.  Essentially, he says that Gladwell

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