Reviewed in the United States on July 17, 2016
I hesitated to buy this book, because I have read so much about Anders Ericsson's work already, and have used what I (thought I) knew about it in my own life, and in my work as a business coach in the very specialized field of direct marketing copywriting.
Wow... and this is not the copywriter in me, this is the student, teacher, and coach speaking from here on in... wow, am I glad I got past the hesitation and bought it.
I haven't finished reading it yet. I'm at about page 175 of 300. But what I've read so far has opened my eyes, shaken up my brain, put new courage in my heart, and motivated me in ways that are more experiential than describable.
It's kind of weird, because I'm reading the book from three points of view, almost at the same time:
1) As a coach, who helps others reach their personal peaks (and often, raise the limit on what they thought their own peak was)
2) As someone who has been very successful at a few things and not so successful at all at a number of other things, and
3) As a beginner, a student, who at age 63, has started on a rather challenging journey and is eager for all the help and insights he can get.
I've reflected on my own life, and the successes of my most accomplished coaching clients. In the light of what I've read in the book so far, I realize that a lot of big wins came either from purposeful or totally accidental deliberate practice. I thought I knew what it was, but this book fills in what either I didn't know, or was mistaken about, with great clarity and care.
Deliberate practice, of course, is self-imposed focused work on raising your skill level where doing so will bring you the greatest gain. It's more than that, though. The authors politely hint about it, but I'll say it blatantly: Deliberate practice, when done right, can take you to a place of confusion and personal terror the likes of which you might never imagine, if you haven't experienced it before.
Not forever. But for at least a little while.
Not always. But it can happen. I've experienced this myself, and spoken quietly with clients of mine who were also Olympic medal winners and other world-class performers. High anxiety... happens. Sometimes.
Here's why: You're rewiring your brain. Literally. You are creating new neural pathways, rearranging the organization and use of your brain cells, and in some cases, actually enlarging portions of your brain (an example you may be familiar with if you've read any of Ericsson's previous work is the fact that the two hippocampi, the seahorse-shaped lobes in the brain, actually got larger in the heads of London cabdrivers, as a result of the ridiculously detailed amount of memorizing they had to do to get, do, and keep their jobs).
OK. So rewiring your brain -- sounds like an exciting adventure, right?
Well... partially. But you also can get disoriented. Anxious. Even very scared. Because suddenly the familiar world you were living in, is different. And as exciting as that may be (especially... eventually), it's also disturbing at times.
When the great champs say, "No pain, no gain," it's not just physical muscle aches and fatigue they're talking about. There are mental and emotional aspects to growth in skill and capability, too.
I can't recall seeing as detailed a description, and explanation, of what happens and why, as I have in this book. Ericsson and his co-author clearly took a lot of pains themselves to bring the science of deliberate practice to a new level of clarity and accessibility.
So I don't want to dwell on my own past glories or those of my clients. If for no other reason, because what's most fascinating to me about this book was how it helped me get clear on what I'm going through with the new thing I'm working on, and understand at least in general terms, what's ahead.
By the way, "10,000 hours" was either very clever promotion or insufficient research on Malcolm Gladwell's part. While it turns out that most professional violinists and most professional dancers have put in roughly that much time to achieve mastery, Ericsson definitively says (and proves) that the number varies depending on the person and what they are applying deliberate practice to. (It can be less. It depends on a lot of things.)
Which... is a relief to me. Since, at 63, if I were to put 10,000 hours going forward into what I'm doing, and I could do it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would take me over a year. But at a more reasonable rate of two hours a day, every day, it would take me over 13 years.
Hey... that's too long!
What is this labor of love I'm looking to become skilled at?
Playing guitar. I started when I was nine, and stopped sometime in my teens. Then, something came over me a year ago, and I picked it up again. I finally settled into a routine about six weeks ago.
Now I didn't get a roadmap or a timeline from this book as to how long it will take me to get how good. Nor would I expect to. But what I did get, which is so valuable to me in so many ways, is the clearest possible definition of what deliberate practice is, and how so much of the world of training, teaching, and coaching (including -- ouch! -- guitar instruction) just doesn't get it.
Plus, the book gave me a very clear idea of what to look for, what to steer clear of, and what I can do for myself.
The key takeaway is this: Deliberate practice isn't fun. But it's necessary. It's not the only practice you need or want to do, whether it's playing guitar, or any other skill you are seeking to develop. In fact, you probably shouldn't do deliberate practice on anything for more than an hour at a time -- and that's Ericsson's advice, not mine.
But deliberate practice IS pretty much the only way you can make massive and lasting improvements -- and, as long as you have reasonable health and a functioning brain, it's available to you.
Even if you're a "senior citizen," like me. :)
That's why I like this book so much. I've never seen information about advancing skills... whether a little, or to a world-class level, or anywhere in-between... laid out so clearly and comprehensively (and convincingly) as it is here.
If you are looking for "the missing piece" in achievement, you very well might find it in this book. For me at this time in my life -- I did.
Thanks, Anders Ericsson and your co-author, Robert Pool.