James Mulholland

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Book Notes: Peak

Last updated: 2021-06-23

One of the best books I've read and with one of the largest impacts on how I go to day to day work. Essential for anyone looking to get better at anything.

Hierarchy of practice

  • Naive Practice := Trying things until base competency is reached, followed by plateau
  • Purposeful Practice := Well defined practice with specific goals e.g. "play the piece three times in a row without a mistake"
  • Deliberate Practice := The gold standard. Only applicable to well-established, well-defined fields such as music, maths, ballet.

Characteristics of Purposeful Practice

  • Breaks long-term goals into short-term ones e.g. "5 strokes off of golf handicap" → "increase number of drives in the fairway" → "reduce tendency to hook"
  • Relies upon tight feedback loops Must be outside of your comfort zone (although you mostly accomplish this through technique modification, not trying harder)

Characteristics of Deliberate Practice

  • Works in fields where:
    1. There is objective feedback
    2. Competition: gives incentive to improve
    3. Well established
    4. Clear training techniques which have been developed
  • Specific focus needs to be given on weak points. The fundamentals must be hit
  • There must be very clear, incremental goals with clear criteria for success
  • Deliberate practice differs from other forms of purposeful practice:
    1. Needs a well developed field. Experts in the field need to be very different from beginners
    2. You need teachers who can assign effective practice measures
    3. Deliberate practice is informed; deliberate practice is purposeful practice which knows where I is going.
  • Painful. Even the best violinists rate practice time as painful.
  • You probably don't have deliberate practice, but you can try and get as close as you can
  • Feedback often occurs in the form of self-monitoring which requires effective mental-representations. This is a positive, self-reinforcing cycle: better representations give better self feedback which gives better performance which gives better mental representations....

Staying Motivated

  • Maximise positive reasons e.g. external positive feedback from peers
  • Minimise negative reasons e.g. accept that deliberate practice is hard, set up regular schedules, stay on top of health, build up the practice muscle
  • Getting better is intrinsically motivating and fun.
  • Belief is important, not just that you can be good but the best.
  • Pick groups with very high levels of motivation and similar goals.
  • Breaking long-term goals down into short-term ones is more motivating.

Deliberate Practice at Work

  • Focus on one specific skill e.g. if giving a presentation then focus on fewer 'umms' only.
  • Seek specific, timely feedback wherever possible.

Teachers

  • It is very hard to find a good teacher who does not have a certain aptitude in doing.
  • They must also be great teachers, not just doers
  • Be careful of biases. Skip personality and fun: look for progress
  • You may need to switch teachers at various levels when you plateau.
  • Keep moving forward!

How to practice without a teacher

  • Manufacture your own exercises that emulate dedicated practice. Be creative!
  • FFF: Focus, feedback, fix it
  • Study the work of the excellent and then try to replicate, focusing on where you came short e.g. Chess players study great games, Benjamin Franklin tried to recreate great writing from the spectator.

Misc

  • ‘Fulfilling your potential’ implies a limit to potential. This is not the case. There is no limit to how much deliberate/purposeful practice can improve your skills. If done right, you can improve forever.
  • Increasing one skill may come at the cost of others. Cause of this is unknown
  • Nothing is a good replacement for focused time alone, working on your weaknesses.
  • Always be at 100%. If below this, you need more rest
  • Set skills as goals, not knowledge
  • You will get stuck at various points. It is very rare to reach immutable peaks. Instead, these points of getting stuck are an opportunity to mix things up and look for different techniques If you plateau, you can make practice harder to expose weaknesses e.g. type faster to expose which keys you are slowest at typing.