Peak … no human is limited … says a new book on the science and practice of peak performance

May 25, 2016

“In short, the human body is incredibily adaptive …
There might be limits, but there is no indications we have reached them yet.”

“Peak” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool is one of the most interesting books both on the science and on the actual methods and training for peak performance.

“The reason that most people don’t possess these extraordinary physical capabilities isn’t because they don’t have the capacity for them, but because they’re satisfied to live in the comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it. They live in the world of “good enough.” The same thing is true for all the mental activities we engage in.”

In summary

  • Innate talent might be part of the performance equation, but most of the variance comes from training
  • How willing people are to train might be, at least in part, governed by our genes
  • The best training is focused, get instant feedback, and works around plateaus

Naive Practice: The Wrong Way Of Training

Naive practice looks like this:

  • “Just do it”
  • Not knowing whether or not you’re doing it correctly
  • Not having a specific goal

Many people believe that the more you do something, the more you learn.

And they train with simple repetition.

The truth is that simply repeating something won’t make you better, and if you repeating the same actions and behavior in “automation mode” (ie.: driving) without working on your weaknesses and without operating at the edge of your abilities, then chances are that you actually get worse over time.

So the person who’s been driving for 20 years or baking the same pie for 5 years is not getting better at riving or baking pies unless they switch gears and challenge themselves.

Purposeful Practice: A Step Forward

Purposeful practice is a step forward and goes in the right direction.
Purposeful practice:

  • Has specific, well-defined goals (or you have no way to get feedback and measure success)

For example: “play the piece through, at the proper speed, without mistakes, 3 times in a row”.

  • Get feedback to work on your weaknesses
  • Leverages coaches and trainers for the feedback
  • Breaks tasks into smaller pieces

Says the author: “purposeful practice is all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a long term goal”.

  • Goes outside of your comfort zone

Getting out of your comfort zone means trying to do something that you couldn’t do before. If it’s easy, you keep going. If you can’t, finding ways around it is one of the hallmarks of purposeful practice.

  • Attacks plateaus by trying different approaches
  • Gives full attention to the task at hand
  • Monitors the progress

To keep improving with purposeful practice you need motivation. Purposeful practice is much harder than naive training or playing for fun of course, and it can be the case that you will not enjoy it.

Indeed as soon as we feel like “we’re good enough” and we slow down, we move out of purposeful practice and we will likely not improve any further, no matter how often you keep playing or “training”.

Deliberate Practice: The Gold Standard Of Training

Deliberate practice is what makes the champions and what we think are geniuses.

The elements of deliberate practice are:

  1. Find a good teacher
    1. A good teacher is not necessarily someone who’s good at the craft
    2. Find a teacher who’s good for your level of skills
    3. He must help you develop your own mental representations so you can feedback yourself
    4. He must give you exercises you can practice at home
  2. Don’t be afraid of changing teacher when you’re too good for him or when he’s not helping anymore
  3. Operate at your outermost level of skills
  4. Define specific goals
  5. Be fully present and attentive in your trainings
  6. Train at home: the best training is lone training
  7. Work on your weaknesses and mistakes with constant feedback
  8. Choose a developed field, otherwise, you must pave the way to peak performance

Fields With No Codified Training

If you are engaged in pursuits with no clear experts and no well-developed training methods, then do the following:

  1. Find out the best performers
  2. Reverse-engineers what makes them top performers
  3. Most of all, find out what type of training they engage in
  4. Copy what they and train as they do. Then seek to improve upon it

If you can’t find a teacher you can always focus on the “3 Fs”:

  • Focus
  • Feedback
  • Fix it

Try to break your work down into smaller components that you can analyze and repeat. Then determine your weaknesses and train to eliminate them.