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Peak by Anders Ericsson - Book Notes, Summary, Review

Peak by Anders Ericsson - Book Notes, Summary, Review - Cover Image

Published: February 05, 2021

Reading Time: 11 min


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Reading Peak was an extremely motivational experience for me. The idea that everyone can improve with deliberate practice no matter how old you are is a really great message.

By focusing on deliberate practice to build up your mental models you can grow far beyond a level that is simply “good enough”.

I really enjoyed reading this book and would highly recommend it to others.

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Who Should Read This Book?

I would recommend this book to anyone with a growth mindset.

That is, anyone who is looking to always improve themselves, even past the point of what they initially thought possible.

There is something very freeing about the idea that there are no real limits to the things you can learn or do once you can apply deliberate practice to that thing.

In a slightly more direct way, this book contains lots of references and anecdotes that would be particularly interesting to musicians, chess players, or people into sports.

If you’ve recently started learning to play the piano for instance and feel stuck with your limited abilities, reading this book will provide you with the motivation and the toolset to push past your limits.

How This Book Changed Me

I found this book very interesting and motivating to read. I highly enjoyed it.

The concept of purposeful or deliberate practice really interested me, even if I’m not particularly into sports and I’m not a classically training musician or anything!

Even with that in mind, I still found some great nuggets of ideas that resonated with me and that I would like to apply to my life as I continue to learn new things and develop new skills.

As I write this, I am just about to start learning to Crochet for the first time.

This is something I never thought I would do, but given the situation we find ourselves in with a global pandemic, new hobbies are a fun and useful distraction.

Anyway, I am going to try to apply the concepts of deliberate practice as I learn how to Crochet.

I’m not sure if learning to Crochet is something the author intended for using deliberate practice with but I’m adapting what I’ve learned to help me to learn more effectively so we’ll see how that goes.

My Top 3 Quotes That Resonated With Me

“Purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation.” - Peak by Anders Ericsson p42

“It’s like a staircase that you climb as you build it. Each step of your ascent puts you in a position to build the next step. Then you build that step, and you’re in a position to build the next one. … As you push yourself to do something new—to develop a new skill or sharpen an old one—you are also expanding and sharpening your mental representations, which will, in turn, make it possible for you to do more than you could before.” - Peak by Anders Ericsson p105

“Anyone can improve, but it requires the right approach. If you are not improving, it’s not because you lack innate talent; it’s because you’re not practicing the right way.” - Peak by Anders Ericsson p145

Book Notes

Introduction: The Gift

  • The brain is very adaptable throughout your lifetime and can grow and rewire itself rather than stay stagnant.
  • This means that even as adults we can develop new skills.

“Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it” p16

  • the most effective approach to learning or developing a new skill is through deliberate practice.
  • This concept of deliberate practice is at the heart of what this book covers.

1 The Power Of Purposeful Practice

  • As we learn new skills or abilities, like coding or crochet, for example, we generally reach a point of acceptable performance. We are good enough at that thing and it’s difficult or we don’t feel like we need to progress beyond that point to improve further.
  • We tend to follow the cycle of learning a new thing, getting some instruction either online or through a coach, practice until we are at an acceptable level, then we plateau.
  • Over time if we don’t further improve our skills or abilities, they can deteriorate due to a lack of practice or a desire to improve past our plateau.
  • This concept is referred to as “naïve practice” i.e. simply repeating something in the hopes that we will get better at it.
  • Purposeful practice on the other hand requires more thought and specificity.
    • It requires your full attention (deliberate practice)
    • It also involves regular feedback to help us to pinpoint our weaknesses and overcome them. Feedback is one of the best ways to improve at something. It also provides you with much-needed motivation to continue on your journey.
    • You need to step outside of your comfort zone to improve. You need to try different things to see what works and adapt what you’re doing based on that.
      • If you get stuck or hit a wall, look for a different technique or system to try to push you past your limits.
      • “purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation.” p42

2 Harnessing Adaptability

  • There is a growing body of evidence that suggests your brain behaves like your muscles do when you exercise.
    • When you are running, for instance, your muscles break down and build back up to become stronger over time.
    • A similar process is true for your brain as well in that its structure can change in response to mental training.
  • The hippocampus is a seahorse-shaped part of your brain that is responsible for memory development and spatial awareness i.e. remembering where things are in a space.
    • London taxi drivers have a particularly well-developed hippocampus to allow them to memorize and recall the detailed streets of London at a moment’s notice.
  • Homeostasis is the way in which humans, or any system, acts to maintain its stability.
    • For example. when you are running and become too hot, your body releases sweat to cool you down. This is an example of homeostasis in action. Of course, there are a lot of other things going on in your body during exercise as well.
    • The point is, if the physical exercise isn’t too tough, there will be very little change in our body.
    • On the other hand, if you run at a fast pace for a prolonged time, longer than you normally would, this pushes your body beyond the point of homeostasis. Your body responds by adapting to that new normal or comfort zone so it can reestablish homeostasis.
    • Simply put, if we push hard enough for long enough we can get better.
    • However, to keep this up you consistently need to push yourself to improve. Otherwise, things will deteriorate and return to where they started.
  • It is true that younger brains are more adaptable. It’s often said that young people have minds like sponges.

3 Mental Representations

  • meaning aids memory. If we understand the meaning behind something we are more likely to remember it.
  • A mental representation or mental model is a structure in our minds that we create to understand how something works or behaves.
    • This can be something concrete like how a doorbell works, or it can be abstract like how a distributed system works.
  • A lot of deliberate practice involves developing your mental representations to help you when you’re engaged in an activity that you’re practicing.
  • These mental representations can live in our long-term memory and help us to quickly respond in certain situations almost automatically.
  • The more accurate or well developed your mental models are, the faster and better you will be able to respond to a situation.
    • This is where a novice differs from an expert.
    • A novice will have poorly defined mental models due to a lack of practice and knowledge in an area.
    • An expert on the other hand has had much more practice and has therefore been able to develop more robust and effective mental models.
    • Over time, the expert has been able to evaluate their performance and when needed, update their mental models to make them more effective.
  • The more you practice and study, the better developed your mental models become and the better you become at learning new things.

4 The Gold Standard

  • deliberate practice requires a well-established field e.g. musical performance, chess, etc.
    • This allows you to develop skills that others have already figured out to do and for which there are effective training techniques that have been established.
  • it also requires a teacher that can give you tasks that will help you to improve your performance.
    • you must push yourself outside of your comfort zone to improve.
  • Continuous feedback is needed to improve
  • You need to dedicate your full attention to deliberate practice
  • You need to practice to develop better mental models that will help you to improve
  • Identify those that are top of their field or discipline, figure out why they are the best, and learn from them
  • If you find a technique or an approach that works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t work or if you plateau, find another approach instead.
  • Malcolm Gladwell coined the term “the ten thousand hour rule” which states that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become a master of something.

5 Principles Of Deliberate Practice On The Job

“Anyone can improve, but it requires the right approach. If you are not improving, it’s not because you lack innate talent; it’s because you’re not practicing the right way.” p145

  • Training should focus on practice rather than learning or knowing.
  • Skills-based learning as opposed to a traditional knowledge-based approach to learning.

6 Principles Of Deliberate Practice In Everyday Life

  • Find a good teacher that can help you progress
  • A teacher will help you to develop your mental representations so you can review your own performance
  • To develop new skills at a faster pace, consider shorter training session with clear objectives. This allows for maximum concentration and focus which gives you the best chance to improve.
  • Don’t just fall into the trap of mindless repetition of a task without any improvement. Try to figure out where your weakness is and try different methods to improve until something sticks.
  • Keep in mind the three Fs:
    • Focus – break a skill down into simple components
    • Feedback – do these repeatedly and understand where your weaknesses are
    • Fix it – come up with a plan to fix or overcome your weaknesses

“When you quit something that you had initially wanted to do, it’s because the reasons to stop eventually came to outweigh the reasons to continue. Thus, to maintain your motivation you can either strengthen the reasons to keep going or weaken the reasons to quit. Successful motivation efforts generally include both.” p195

  • Consider joining a mastermind group to inspire and motivate you to reach your goals.

9 Where Do We Go From Here?

“You don’t build mental representations by thinking about something; you build them by trying to do something, failing, revising, and trying again, over and over. When you’re done, not only have you developed an effective mental representation for the skill you were developing, but you have also absorbed a great deal of information connected with that skill. When preparing a lesson plan, determining what a student should.” p280

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