“You will become clever through your mistakes.” – German proverb
“Excepting fools, men do not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work.” – Charles Darwin
“A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Brooks Adams
Skill is a cellular insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals.
The more time and energy you put into the right kind of practice – the longer you stay in the deep-learning zone, firing the right signals through your circuits – the more skill you get.
[TWO LISTS OF WORDS: Column A, words are complete. Column B, they are missing an obvious letter, but super-easy to figure out.]
You will remember three times as many more of the words in column B, the ones that contained fragments.
It’s as if, in those few seconds, your memory skills suddenly sharpened.
When you encountered the words with blank spaces, something both imperceptible and profound happened. You stopped. You stumbled ever so briefly, then figured it out. You experienced a microsecond of struggle, and that microsecond made all the difference. You didn’t practice harder when you looked at column B. You practiced deeper.
Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter.
Experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them.
Group A studied the paper for four sessions.
Group B studied only once but was tested three times.
A week later both groups were tested, and Group B scored 50 percent higher than Group A.
They’d studied one-fourth as much yet learned far more.
Capture failure and turn it into skill.
The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities.
[The flight simulator] permitted pilots to practice more deeply, to stop, struggle, make errors, and learn from them.
During a few hours in a flight simulator, a pilot could take off and land a dozen times on instruments. He could dive, stall, and recover, spending hours inhabiting the sweet spot at the edge of his capabilities in ways he could never risk in an actual plane.
Brazilian soccer is different from the rest of the world’s because Brazil employs the sporting equivalent of a flight simulator. Futsal compresses soccer’s essential skills into a small box; it places players inside the deep practice zone, making and correcting errors, constantly generating solutions to vivid problems.
We’ll define talent in its strictest sense: the possession of repeatable skills that don’t depend on physical size.
The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.
The best way to build a good circuit is to fire it, attend to mistakes, then fire it again, over and over.
This requires immense energy and time. If you don’t love it, you’ll never work hard enough to be great.
The more we develop a skill circuit, the less we’re aware that we’re using it. We’re built to make skills automatic, to stash them in our unconscious mind. This process is called automaticity.
The more the nerve fires, the more myelin wraps around it. The more myelin wraps around it, the faster the signals travel, increasing velocities up to one hundred times over signals sent through an uninsulated fiber.
Struggle is not optional – it’s neurologically required!
In order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit sub optimally.
You must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes.
You must slowly teach your circuit.
You must also keep firing that circuit – i.e., practicing – in order to keep myelin functioning properly.
Deep practice is assisted by the attainment of a primal state, one where we are attentive, hungry, and focused, even desperate.
How the human cardiovascular system actually works: that we can improve it by targeting our aerobic or anaerobic systems, that we can strengthen our heart and muscles by pushing ourselves to operate at the outer edges of our ability – lifting a slightly heavier weight, or trying to run a slightly farther distance.
Expertise is the result of around ten thousand hours of committed practice.
Ericsson called this process “deliberate practice” and defined it as
– working on technique
– seeking constant critical feedback
– focusing ruthlessly on shoring up weaknesses.
Some have an innate, obsessive desire to improve – what psychologist Ellen Winner calls “the rage to master.” But these sorts of self-driven deep practicers are rare and are blazingly self-evident.
The great Renaissance artists had one thing in common: they all spent thousands of hours inside a deep-practice hothouse, firing and optimizing circuits, correcting errors, competing, and improving skills.
Breast-fed babies have higher IQs because the fatty acids in breast milk are the building blocks of myelin. This is why the FDA recently approved the addition of omega-3 fatty acids to infant formula, and also why eating fish, which is rich in fatty acids, has been linked to lowered risk of memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. (Bartzokis takes DHA fatty acids daily.)
Thinking that talent comes from genes and environment is like thinking that cookies come from sugar, flour, and butter.
Whatever circuits are fired most, and most urgently, are the ones where the installers will go.
Skill circuits that are fired often will receive more broadband.
Skills that are fired less often, with less urgency, will receive less broadband.
Chess masters are not seeing individual chess pieces but recognizing patterns.
Where novices see a scattered alphabet of individual pieces, masters group those “letters” into the chess equivalent of words, sentences, and paragraphs.
Skill consists of identifying important elements and grouping them into a meaningful framework: chunking.
In the talent hotbeds I visited, the chunking takes place in three dimensions.
1. they look at the task as a whole – as one big chunk, the megacircuit.
2. they divide it into its smallest possible chunks.
3. they play with time, slowing the action down, then speeding it up, to learn its inner architecture.
Absorb a picture of the skill until you can imagine yourself doing it.
Meadowmount music school founder: Ivan Galamian.
In seven weeks, most students will learn a year’s worth of material, an increase of about 500 percent in learning speed.
Teachers take the idea of chunking to its extreme:
Students scissor each measure of their sheet music into horizontal strips, which are stuffed into envelopes and pulled out in random order.
They go on to break those strips into smaller fragments by altering rhythms.
If a passerby can recognize the song being played, it’s not being practiced correctly.
Is it possible to judge ability solely by the way people describe the way they practice?
Researchers Zimmerman and Kitsantas gathered volleyball players, and asked them how they approached the serve: their goals, planning, strategy choices, self-monitoring, and adaptation – twelve measures in all.
Using the answers, they predicted the players’ relative skill levels, then had the players execute their serve to test the accuracy of their predictions.
Ninety percent of the variation in skill could be accounted for by the players’ answers.
Experts practice differently and far more strategically. When they fail, they don’t blame it on luck or themselves. They have a strategy they can fix.
Causing skill to evaporate: just stop a skilled person from systematically firing his or her circuit for a mere thirty days.
There seems to be a universal limit for how much deep practice human beings can do in a day.
Ericsson’s research shows that most world-class experts – including pianists, chess players, novelists, and athletes – practice between three and five hours a day, no matter what skill they pursue.
A course called “How to Practice,” taught by Skye Carman.
The point is to get a balance point where you can sense the errors when they come.
To avoid the mistakes, first you have to feel them immediately.
the sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp.
Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking out a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.
Pick a target. Reach for it. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach. Return to step one.
To get good, it’s helpful to be willing, or even enthusiastic, about being bad.
Other hotbeds follow the same pattern: a breakthrough success is followed by a massive bloom of talent.
After Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, 17 others did, too. The 17 runners had received a clear signal – you can do this too.
The moments that lead us to say, “That is who I want to be.”
Tests compared new musicians who saw themselves as in it for the long term, versus just trying it.
With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent.
The long-term-commitment group, with a mere twenty minutes of weekly practice, progressed faster than the short-termers who practiced for an hour and a half.
When long-term commitment combined with high levels of practice, skills skyrocketed.
It’s all about their perception of self. At some point very early on they had a crystallizing experience that brings the idea to the fore, that says, I am a musician. That idea is like a snowball rolling downhill.
A vision of their ideal future selves, a vision that oriented, energized, and accelerated progress, and that originated in the outside world.
Being highly motivated, when you think about it, is a slightly irrational state.
One forgoes comfort now in order to work toward some bigger prospective benefit later on.
It’s not as simple as saying I want X.
It’s saying something far more complicated: I want X later, so I better do Y like crazy right now.
We speak of motivation as if it’s a rational assessment of cause and effect, but in fact it’s closer to a bet.
If we’re in a nice, easy, pleasant environment, we naturally shut off effort. Why work?
But if people get the signal that it’s rough, they get motivated now.
A nice, well-kept tennis academy gives them the luxury future right now! Of course they’d be demotivated. They can’t help it.
Ignition is determined by simple if/then propositions, with the then part always the same: “better get busy”.
See someone you want to become? Better get busy.
Want to catch up with a desirable group? Better get busy.
Losing a parent is a primal cue: you are not safe.
You don’t have to be a psychologist to appreciate the massive outpouring of energy that can be created by a lack of safety.
Curaçao grew talent because the message of Jones’s success was translated and amplified into a reliable combination of primal cues.
Frank Curiel Field, after all, only looks like a beat-up baseball diamond.
It is in fact a million-watt antenna steadily transmitting a powerful stream of signals and images that add up to a thrilling whisper: Hey, that could be you.
Half of the kids were praised for their intelligence (“You must be smart at this”), and half were praised for their effort (“You must have worked really hard”).
The praised-for-effort group improved their initial score by 30 percent, while the praised-for-intelligence group’s score declined by 20 percent.
All because of six short words.
The teachers and coaches I met were quiet, even reserved.
They were mostly older; many had been teaching thirty or forty years.
They possessed the same sort of gaze: steady, deep, unblinking.
They listened far more than they talked.
They seemed allergic to giving pep talks or inspiring speeches; they spent most of their time offering small, targeted, highly specific adjustments.
They had an extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching, customizing each message to each student’s personality.
Sang needed more emotion, so Jensen turned into a hepped-up cheerleader; Delphos needed a learning strategy, so Jensen turned into a Zen master. He didn’t only tell them what to do: he became what they should do, communicating the goal with gesture, tone, rhythm, and gaze. The signals were targeted, concise, unmissable, and accurate.
Coach Wooden’s observers noted 2,326 discrete acts of teaching. Of them, a mere 6.9 percent were compliments. Only 6.6 percent were expressions of displeasure. But 75 percent were pure information: what to do, how to do it, when to intensify an activity. One of Wooden’s most frequent forms of teaching was a three-part instruction where he modeled the right way to do something, showed the incorrect way, and then remodeled the right way.
Laws of learning:
“Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts,” he wrote in The Wisdom of Wooden.
“The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated,” he said in You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned.
Good coaches help the right circuit to fire as often as possible.
Baby-brain DVDs don’t work because they don’t create deep practice – in fact, they actively prevent it, by taking up time that could be used for firing circuits.
The Shyness Clinic: Founder Philip Zimbardo. “We believe that people are shy not because they lack social skills but because they haven’t practiced them sufficiently. Talking on the phone or asking someone on a date is a learnable skill, exactly like a tennis forehand. The key is that people have to linger in that uncomfortable area, learn to tolerate the anxiety. If you practice, you can get to the level you want.”
“Neurosis is just a high-class word for whining,” he said. “The trouble with most therapy is that it helps you to feel better. But you don’t get better. You have to back it up with action, action, action.”
Shout out to sivers.org for doing this written summary
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