Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool


🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Practice alone (the famed "10,000 hour rule") isn’t enough when trying to build a skill, you need to engage in a copious amount of deliberate practice to become the best in the world at something.
  2. Deliberate practice is focused, well-defined, has specific goals, gets you out of your comfort zone and involves a feedback mechanism to help you improve efficiently.
  3. Deliberate practice develops your mental representations (or "mental models") which you can then use instinctually when performing your skill - this is what separates the experts from the amateurs.

🎨 Impressions

"Peak" is by far the most useful book I've read around skill-building. Ericsson and Pool lay out tactical advice, backed by scientific research and case studies, that everyone can use to develop skills in an efficient way. If you're going to read one personal development book, it should be this one.

Yes, it maybe could have been a blog post that pulled out the tactical advice, but the research and case studies add an important layer of evidence.

How I Discovered It

Nat Eliason's book list, this book was his highest rated in the skill-building/personal development genre.

Who Should Read It?

Anyone who is keenly interested in building a skill - this is THE book to systematically becoming the best in the world at something. This book contains the recipe for skill-development.

"Tiger Mom"-esque parents should also read this book. If you want the template to create a Tiger Woods or a Mozart, this book has the game-plan you are looking for.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behavior / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • Separating Practice from Deliberate Practice: After reading this, I'm much more aware of how to ensure I am engaging in deliberate practice instead of just putting hours in.
  • How to Break Through Plateaus: The book goes into exhaustive detail around how to break through a plateau (which is inevitable) when you are building a skill. Enormously helpful, tactical advice around how to try new ways of getting past your plateau.
  • Creating Effective Feedback Loops: The main takeaway for me around deliberate practice was that you need to make sure you set up a system that is effectively providing you with feedback as you progress and learn more. Without feedback you can toil in the same spot and see no improvement no matter how many hours you put in.
  • How to Find and Learn from Experts: The book shows how to be thoughtful in the way you approach finding experts to emulate. You do not want to follow all experts. Often times when you are starting from scratch it's more useful to find and follow people that are a rung or two above you on where you want to go.
  • The Usefulness of Coaches: Practicing alone is an important part of developing a skill, but having the right coaches along the way allow you to get the all-important feedback and help you progress faster than you could if you were going it alone. Finding coaches is important - especially early on in your journey.
  • Innate "natural talent" is BS: The authors of Peak categorically reject the assertion that someone was "born" to do something. There are no exceptions in the amount of deliberate practice needed to become an expert. In fact, the "natural talent" mindset is actively hurting most people, especially when someone labels themselves as "not a natural artists" - it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • "We, unlike any other animal, can consciously change ourselves, to improve ourselves in ways we choose."
  • "This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve."
  • "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.

📒 Summary, Highlights, & Notes

Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it. We can create our own potential.

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The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.

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Purposeful practice has well-defined, specific goals.

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

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Purposeful practice is focused.

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You seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention.

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Purposeful practice involves feedback.

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you need feedback to identify exactly where and how you are falling short.

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Purposeful practice requires getting out of one’s comfort zone. This is perhaps the most important part of purposeful practice.

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This is a fundamental truth about any sort of practice: If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.

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The best way to get past any barrier is to come at it from a different direction, which is one reason it is useful to work with a teacher or coach.

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I have found it is surprisingly rare to get clear evidence in any field that a person has reached some immutable limit on performance. Instead, I’ve found that people more often just give up and stop trying to improve.

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Generally speaking, meaningful positive feedback is one of the crucial factors in maintaining motivation.

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So here we have 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.

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With deliberate practice, however, the goal is not just to reach your potential but to build it, to make things possible that were not possible before. This requires challenging homeostasis—getting out of your comfort zone—and forcing your brain or your body to adapt. But once you do this, learning is no longer just a way of fulfilling some genetic destiny; it becomes a way of taking control of your destiny and shaping your potential in ways that you choose.

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So everyone has and uses mental representations. What sets expert performers apart from everyone else is the quality and quantity of their mental representations. Through years of practice, they develop highly complex and sophisticated representations of the various situations they are likely to encounter in their fields—such as the vast number of arrangements of chess pieces that can appear during games. These representations allow them to make faster, more accurate decisions and respond more quickly and effectively in a given situation. This, more than anything else, explains the difference in performance between novices and experts.

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The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.

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We concluded that the advantage better players had in predicting future events was related to their ability to envision more possible outcomes and quickly sift through them and come up with the most promising action.

This is the same for spotting business opportunities - or knowing which path to travel for your own business

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The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations, and, as we will discuss shortly, mental representations in turn play a key role in deliberate practice.

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to write well, develop a mental representation ahead of time to guide your efforts, then monitor and evaluate your efforts and be ready to modify that representation as necessary.

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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.

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This is the basic blueprint for getting better in any pursuit: get as close to deliberate practice as you can. If you’re in a field where deliberate practice is an option, you should take that option. If not, apply the principles of deliberate practice as much as possible. In practice this often boils down to purposeful practice with a few extra steps: first, identify the expert performers, then figure out what they do that makes them so good, then come up with training techniques that allow you to do it, too.

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The lesson here is clear: be careful when identifying expert performers. Ideally you want some objective measure of performance with which to compare people’s abilities. If no such measures exist, get as close as you can.

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Thus a good rule of thumb is to seek out people who work intimately with many other professionals, such as a nurse who plays a role on several different surgery teams and can compare their performance and identify the best. Another method is to seek out the persons that professionals themselves seek out when they need help with a particularly difficult situation. Talk to the people about who they think are the best performers in their field, but be certain that you ask them what type of experience and knowledge they have to be able to judge one professional as being better than another.

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Once you’ve identified the expert performers in a field, the next step is to figure out specifically what they do that separates them from other, less accomplished people in the same field, and what training methods helped them get there.

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Lesson: Once you have identified an expert, identify what this person does differently from others that could explain the superior performance. There are likely to be many things the person does differently that have nothing to do with the superior performance, but at least it is a place to start.

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In all of this keep in mind that the idea is to inform your purposeful practice and point it in directions that will be more effective. If you find that something works, keep doing it; if it doesn’t work, stop. The better you are able to tailor your training to mirror the best performers in your field, the more effective your training is likely to be.

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And finally remember that, whenever possible, the best approach is almost always to work with a good coach or teacher.

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His message to clients starts with mindset. The first step toward enhancing performance in an organization is realizing that improvement is possible only if participants abandon business-as-usual practices. Doing so requires recognizing and rejecting three prevailing myths.

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The first is our old friend, the belief that one’s abilities are limited by one’s genetically prescribed characteristics.

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The second myth holds that if you do something for long enough, you’re bound to get better at it.

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The third myth states that all it takes to improve is effort. If you just try hard enough, you’ll get better.

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In short, this sort of training with immediate feedback—either from a mentor or even a carefully designed computer program—can be an incredibly powerful way to improve performance.

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One of the implicit themes of the Top Gun approach to training, whether it is for shooting down enemy planes or interpreting mammograms, is the emphasis on doing. The bottom line is what you are able to do, not what you know, although it is understood that you need to know certain things in order to be able to do your job.

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when referring to improving performance in a professional or business setting, the right question is, How do we improve the relevant skills? rather than, How do we teach the relevant knowledge?

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one of the main purposes of deliberate practice is to develop a set of effective mental representations that can guide your performance,

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When you’re practicing by yourself, you have to rely upon your own mental representations to monitor your performance and determine what you might be doing wrong. This is not impossible, but it is much more difficult and less efficient than having an experienced teacher watching you and providing feedback. It is particularly difficult early in the learning process, when your mental representations are still tentative and inaccurate; once you have developed a foundation of solid representations, you work from those to build new and more effective representations on your own.

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How do you find a good teacher? This process will likely entail some trial and error, but there are a few ways you can improve your chances of success. First, while a good teacher does not have to be one of the best in the world, he or she should be accomplished in the field. Generally speaking, teachers will only be able to guide you to the level that they or their previous students have attained. If you’re a flat-out beginner, any reasonably skilled teacher will do, but once you’ve been training for a few years, you’ll need a teacher who is more advanced.

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Ask about a teacher’s experience and, if possible, investigate and even talk to the teacher’s former or current students.

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The best students to talk to are those who started working with a teacher when they were at about the same level you are now, since their experience will be closest to what you yourself will get from a teacher.

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It’s particularly important to query a prospective teacher about practice exercises. No matter how many sessions a week you have with an instructor, most of your effort will be spent practicing by yourself, doing exercises that your teacher has assigned.

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Remember: one of the most important things a teacher can do is to help you develop your own mental representations so that you can monitor and correct your own performance.

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If you find yourself at a point where you are no longer improving quickly or at all, don’t be afraid to look for a new instructor.

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the importance of engaging in purposeful practice instead of mindless repetition without any clear plan for getting better.

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Remember: if your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and just having fun, you probably won’t improve.

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This is a key to getting the maximum benefit out of any sort of practice, from private or group lessons to solitary practice and even to games or competitions: whatever you are doing, focus on it.

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shorter training sessions with clearer goals are the best way to develop new skills faster. It is better to train at 100 percent effort for less time than at 70 percent effort for a longer period.

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This is purposeful practice. It does no good to do the same thing over and over again mindlessly; the purpose of the repetition is to figure out where your weaknesses are and focus on getting better in those areas, trying different methods to improve until you find something that works.

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To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them.

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When you first start learning something new, it is normal to see rapid—or at least steady—improvement, and when that improvement stops, it is natural to believe you’ve hit some sort of implacable limit. So you stop trying to move forward, and you settle down to life on that plateau. This is the major reason that people in every area stop improving.

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the best way to move beyond it is to challenge your brain or your body in a new way.

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How do you keep going? That is perhaps the biggest question that anyone engaged in purposeful or deliberate practice will eventually face.

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As a rule of thumb, I think that anyone who hopes to improve skill in a particular area should devote an hour or more each day to practice that can be done with full concentration.

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There are various ways to weaken the reasons to quit. One of the most effective is to set aside a fixed time to practice that has been cleared of all other obligations and distractions.

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limit the length of your practice sessions to about an hour. You can’t maintain intense concentration for much longer than that—and when you’re first starting out, it’s likely to be less. If you want to practice longer than an hour, go for an hour and take a break.

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if you stop believing that you can reach a goal, either because you’ve regressed or you’ve plateaued, don’t quit. Make an agreement with yourself that you will do what it takes to get back to where you were or to get beyond the plateau, and then you can quit. You probably won’t.

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One of the best ways to create and sustain social motivation is to surround yourself with people who will encourage and support and challenge you in your endeavors.

Twitter and internet friends - find your people.

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put together a group of people all interested in the same thing—or join an existing group—and use the group’s camaraderie and shared goals as extra motivation in reaching your own goals.

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This is yet another sort of motivation. A child who sees an older sibling performing an activity and getting attention and praise from a parent will naturally want to join in and garner some attention and praise as well. For some children, competition with the sibling may itself be motivating, too.

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while the adult brain may not be as adaptable in certain ways as the brain of the child or adolescent, it is still more than capable of learning and changing.

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since the adaptability of the adult brain is different from the adaptability of the young brain, learning as an adult is likely to take place through somewhat different mechanisms. But if we adults try hard enough, our brains will find a way.

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Deliberate practice takes advantage of the natural adaptability of the human brain and body to create new abilities. Most of these abilities are created with the help of detailed mental representations, which allow us to analyze and respond to situations much more effectively than we could otherwise.

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The bottom line is that every time you look closely into such a case you find that the extraordinary abilities are the product of much practice and training. Prodigies and savants don’t give us any reason to believe that some people are born with natural abilities in one field or another.

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basic principles found in deliberate practice: breaking learning down into a series of well-specified skills, designing exercises to teach each of those skills in the correct order, and using feedback to monitor progress.

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In the long run it is the ones who practice more who prevail, not the ones who had some initial advantage in intelligence or some other talent.

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while innate characteristics may influence performance among those who are just learning a new skill or ability, the degree and the effectiveness of training plays a more significant role in determining who excels among those who have worked to develop a skill.

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This is the dark side of believing in innate talent. It can beget a tendency to assume that some people have a talent for something and others don’t and that you can tell the difference early on. If you believe that, you encourage and support the “talented” ones and discourage the rest, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Deliberate practice is all about the skills. You pick up the necessary knowledge in order to develop the skills; knowledge should never be an end in itself.

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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.

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If we can show students that they have the power to develop a skill of their choice and that, while it is not easy, it has many rewards that will make it worthwhile, we make it much more likely that they will use deliberate practice to develop various skills over their lifetimes.

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We, unlike any other animal, can consciously change ourselves, to improve ourselves in ways we choose.

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In the future most people will have no choice but to continuously learn new skills, so it will be essential to train students and adults about how to learn efficiently.

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