Friday, 11 July 2014

Deliberate practice = talent for anyone! An appreciative extract

"in revealing talent to be a process, the simple idea of genetic giftedness is forever debunked. It is no longer reasonable to attribute talent or success to a specific gene or any other mysterious gift. The real gift, it turns out, belongs to virtually all of us: it is the plasticity and the extraordinary responsiveness built right into basic human biology." 
- David Shrenk, The Genius in All of Us, 2011:58.

I am currently reading David Shrenk's The Genius in All of Us. A highly insightful book that I picked-up from the £3 bookstore on Park Street in Bristol - you never know what you will find and I always pass it slightly poorer.

No caption required.

Shrenk's book is an absolute godsend because, by referencing the increasing plethora of related scientific research, Shrenk debunks the slightly-more-than-worrying idea of inherently gifted genetic heritage that would typically elevate the few into the realm of the extraordinary and force the 'underprivileged' and 'untalented' into an existence of mediocrity. 

Shrenk devotes half of the book to detailing all of the empirical evidence behind his claims!

I was immediately transfixed by this book because it so strongly enforces my own philosophy of achieving your potential; in addition to adhering with the research I myself have been doing... 

I was especially taken by one section - a section that very concisely, empirically and logically backs up what I have been saying for a very long time now - that I felt compelled to produced a short blog post based around it. As Shrenk has already done such an impassioned job of laying it out himself, I have decided to just present a short extract from the book.

Below I have presented pages 54 to 57, that reside in Chapter Three...

The End of 'Giftedness' (and the True Source of Talent)

What if the intangible could be made tangible? 

Over the last three decades, Anders Ericsson's research army has aimed to do just that. Like all good scientists, their approach has been to break down athletic, intellectual, and artistic achievements into tiny, measurable components in order to determine what separated the mediocre from the good, the good from the very good, the very good from the extraordinary. They've interviewed, taped, tabulated, and scanned. 

They've measured eye movements, muscle response, breaths, swings, strokes, torque, vernacular function, white matter, grey matter, and memory. They've watched people hone skills, or not, over many years' time. Over time, a picture has emerged - not nearly complete, but vivid enough to begin to see a process, to actually witness the tiny moving parts driving individual movement. For those on their way to greatness, several themes consistently come to light:

  1. Practice changes your body. Researchers have recorded a constellation of physical changes (occurring in direct response to practice) in the muscles, nerves, hearts, lungs, and brains of those showing profound increases in skill level in any domain. 
  2. Skill are specific. Individuals becoming great at one particular skill do not serendipitously become great at other skills. Chess champions can remember hundreds of intricate chess positions in sequence but can have a perfectly ordinary memory for everything else. Physical and intellectual changes are ultraspecific responses to particular skill requirements.
  3. The brain drives the brawn. Even among athletes, changes in brain are arguably the most profound, with a vast increase in precise task knowledge, a shift from concious analysis to intuitive thinking (saving time and energy), and elaborate self-monitoring mechanisms that allow for constant adjustments in real time. 
  4. Practice style is crucial. Ordinary practice, where your current skill level is simply being reinforced, is not enough to get better. It takes a special kind of practice to force your mind and body into the kind of change necessary to improve.
  5. Short-term intensity cannot replace long-term commitment. Many crucial changes take place over long periods of time. Physiologically, it's impossible to become great overnight.
Across the board, these last two variables - practice style and practice time - emerged as universal and critical. From Scrabble players to dart players to soccer players to violin players, it was observed that the uppermost achievers not only spent significantly more time in solitary study and drills, but also exhibited a consistent (and persistent) style of preparation that Ericsson came to call 'deliberate practice.' 

I have got into the habit of annotating all of my factual books - it's astounding how much it improves your memory!

First introduced in a 1993 Psychological Review article, the notion of deliberate practice went far beyond the simple idea of hard work. It conveyed a method of continual skill improvement. 'Deliberate practice is a very special form of activity that differs from mere experience and mindless drill,' explains Ericsson. 'Unlike playful engagement with peers, deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable. It... does not involve a mere execution or repetition of already attained skills but repeated attempts to reach beyond one's current level which is associated with frequent failures. Aspiring performers therefore concentrate on improving specific aspects by engaging in practice activities designed to change and refine particular mediating mechanisms, requiring problem solving and successive refinement with feedback.' 

In other words, it is practice that doesn't take no for an answer; practice that perseveres; the type of practice where the individual keeps raising the bar of what he or she considers success. 

In other words , it is practice that doesn't take no for an answer; practice that perseveres; the type of practice where the individual keeps raising the bar of what he or she considers success. 

How does deliberate practice actually improve one's skills? In a nutshell, our muscles and brain regions adapt to the demands that we make of them. 'Frequent intense engagement in certain types of practice activities, ' writes Ericsson, 'is shown to induce physiological strain which causes biochemical changes that stimulate growth and transformation of cells, which in turn leads to associated improved adaptations of physiological systems and the brain'. 

For deliberate practice to work, the demands have to be serious and sustained. Simply playing lots of chess or soccer or golf isn't enough. Simply taking lessons from a wonderful teacher is not enough. Simply wanting it badly enough is not enough. Deliberate practice requires a mind-set of never, ever, being satisfied with current ability. It requires a constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one's capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again and again. 

If you would like to

The Genius in All of Us by David Shrenk

The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance - Anders Ericsson's original Psychological Review article.

Physiologically, you are more than capable - realise your potential and become truly talented!

If you would like to know more about my related research; in relation to my own life story and how I have been developing my own potential, see I RUN NO MORE: Realise your focus, embrace your fear, claim your time and achieve your greatness! My story might just change your life...
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