By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Anders Ericsson, the author of this book, “Peak: How to Master Anything” was the first one to come up with the idea that if you want to be proficient with any skill you need to practice that skill for 10,000 hours.  The Beatles and Bill Gates reached their level of expertise in singing and programming respectively because they have at least logged in 10,000 hours of doing their stuff.  But the author after doing more research, was surprised to find out that these 10,000 work hours is not something guaranteed to work for everybody.  In his study he encountered medical doctors for example, who have been practicing their profession for 20 years and yet are not better in skill than doctors who have been practicing only 5 years.  He found out that those veteran doctors have made the decision to settle on an “acceptable performance” and so became stagnant with their skills.

The author (along with his co-author, Robert Pool) say, if you and I want constant improvement in any skill, we have to apply the principles of deliberate practice by adding S.P.I.C.E.

Specific Performance Target

If you have vague performance targets like ‘get better’ or ‘succeed,’ you’re simply wasting your time. To improve performance, you need specific performance goals.  If you are trying to improve your memory of remembering 8 digits for example, your next goal should be 9 digits.

“Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement.” – Anders Ericsson

Periods of Intense Undistracted Focus

You can give yourself an encouraging pep talk (“You got this!”) before concentrating intently on memorizing numbers and then for 1 hour or more sessions all that you do is hitting those targets.

“Deliberate practice is deliberate, that is, it requires a person’s full attention and conscious actions. You seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention. It isn’t enough to simply follow a teacher’s or coach’s directions.” – Anders Ericsson

Immediate Feedback

Skilled performers always make a mental representation of what they should do, or often called “visualizing” when they are about to practice or do an actual performance.  In order to verify if a mental representation is effective or not compared to your actual performance or practice, you’ll need to receive accurate and immediate feedback. The quicker the feedback, the faster you’ll improve your mental representation.

“Without feedback— either from yourself or from outside observers— you cannot figure out what you need to improve on or how close you are to achieving your goals.” – Anders Ericsson

Cycling between Comfort and Discomfort

Approach skill development the same way you’d approach bodybuilding: a period of discomfort (lift weights slightly heavier than what you can currently lift) followed by a period of ease and comfort (recovery phase) to grow new muscles and lift larger weights next week. Improvement only comes from a willingness to push yourself beyond your comfort zone followed by a willingness to fully rest and recover (expert performers sleep on average 8.5 hours/night).

“Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus, it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.” – Anders Ericsson

Expert Coaching

Expert coaches provide effective mental representations to jump start your progress.

Expert coaching also heightens each aspect of the deliberate practice method by:

  • Ensuring you know the path to excellence and providing intermediate goals along the way.
  • Using social pressure to hold you accountable and raise the intensity of practice.
  • Providing accurate and immediate feedback because they know exactly what to look for.
  • Pushing you harder than you want, but not pushing you too far.

“Deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or coach who is familiar with the abilities of expert

performers and with how those abilities can best be developed.” – Anders Ericsson