We all want to be top of our game. We want to achieve things. To be known as an expert in whatever your “thing” is. It doesn’t matter what you want to do, or who you want to hold you in high esteem; it’s something most of us want. However, you may have fallen into the trap of assuming that your potential is predetermined at birth. That there are things that people can either do or not do.
Whilst a lot of the examples that are used are about musical expertise (as they believe it’s the simplest to measure), they also draw on athletes, chess players, memory experts, and even taxi drivers. They weave a wonderful story, with neuropsychology, to provide us with the beliefs and the tools to develop ourselves in any way we see fit.
So, if you are looking to improve your performance, in anything, pay attention now!
The top things that you need to learn from Peak are:
1. An old brain can learn new tricks
In the early 1990s, it was discovered that the brain is adaptable and can learn new things. As technology has developed, the ability to measure the way the brain structures change in the areas associated with new information has been viewed. There are multiple examples of this in this book, that opposes the well-known phrase “you can’t teach old dog new tricks.” The Black Cab taxi drivers, who show that their posterior hippocampus (associated to memory and spatial awareness) grew when they learned the “knowledge” and those learning to read braille had an increase in the areas of the brain associated to an increased sensitivity of their three “reading” fingers, plus the parts of the brain that “light” up, as the same when sighted people read.
The brain is still massively undiscovered, but it has been shown to grow, change and develop dependent on the parts that are needed; much like a physical muscle, it develops with continued use.
2. We all need to build a picture of what we know.
We don’t know what we don’t know. EVERYTHING you are doing now, everything you know now, at one point we didn’t know. Just think about learning to read, learning to walk; all automatic to us now. We have progressed to where we are through a repetitive experience, as well as developing what we understand of what reading and walking was. This is known as a mental representation, So, let’s use an example.
I say, “think of dog”. What do you imagine? Everyone one of us will have experienced a variety of dog breeds; our personal experience will influence what we imagine. YET, we are all correct.
As we expand our experience, meet different dogs, learn about the difference in size, breed, and temperament, we build that idea. However, if we hadn’t met a dog before, then we would need it described to us. Four legs, furry, a long tail; we would hold that idea until we met a real dog (then may find that out image may not be like the reality of dog) Every experience of a dog will build on what we know as a dog.
This works with any experience and information we have. We use what we know to build a picture, then, hold that image to compare against what we experience. Then we use that to work out if things are progressing the way we want. Our mental representations hold what we learn and then helps us add to this information.
Everyone starts from a place of naivety and lack of knowledge; THAT IS NORMAL; not a sign that you can’t do something.
Often you hear that there is no shortcut to success, you need to work hard, put in the hours and (cough) hustle. However, just doing something repeatedly doesn’t bring expertise or peak performance. This comes when you PAY attention, observe and learn from your mistakes. You act and adjust on critique and make mistakes. When you go outside of your comfort zone, either physically or mentally and provide a challenge. This is what is called Deliberate Practice and was the common denominator across all of the “extraordinary” examples in the book.4. Change what you think of as an expert.
I’ve used the 10,000 hours example A LOT. It is something that has been taught to me and I proudly totted up MY 10K hours to show my expert status! Peak shows that it’s not as simple as just “doing” something for that amount of time. When reviewing the high performers, the ones that became experts tended to have a guide, used deliberate practice and hit their “peak” after about ten years. So, whilst the 10,000 hours may have taken place. It wasn’t that alone. So, remove the assumption that “time served” is enough for expertise.
Ideally, you will be looking for a mentor or coach to reach your peak; someone that could feedback and teach best practice. Often, someone who has achieved what you want to do and are further along in their journey than you. This is why, over time, who you need to work with may change, as you progress. However, sometimes what you want to do, or be, doesn’t have a “teacher”; don’t worry, you can create your own! Ericsson and Pool recommend finding a way of independently measuring success in the field you aspiring to peak in; develop a success criterion to judge yourself against and create opportunities for feedback.
When reviewing the innovators and prodigies that are previously cited as proof of genetics, they found that many of these had the conditions that supported their expertise; musicians with deliberate practise, living in an environment that focused and supported their skills, a role model further on in their skills development and an element of parental interference. This wasn’t just in musicians, but in chess and sports too! So, chuck that thought of not being “born that way” straight in the bin.
Clara Wilcox is a straight-talking, practical and experienced coach helping clients navigate the tricky waters of returning to work, career changes and professional development. The Balance Collective is a social enterprise focused on improving the lives of parents, by working together to build inner confidence and promote a healthy work/life balance.