Episode 128

We’ve all heard of the 10,000 Hour Rule (popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers — that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill and become an expert.

Turns out 10,000 is not a magic number, it’s just a big number.  In Episode 128, Jesse talks to an expert on becoming an expert, Dr. Karl Anders Ericsson, Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, and author of the new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.  Although Gladwell drew on Dr. Ericsson’s research, they never spoke before Outliers was published.  Dr. Ericsson believes the most important element of mastering a skill was lost in translation:  deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice

According to Dr. Ericsson’s research, deliberate practice is the secret sauce for achieving expertise.  Deliberate practice involves practicing a skill in a way that pushes you to improve as much as possible, through the right sequence of training, guided by a teacher.

Both the amount and quality of practice are important.  Deliberate practice is sustained and specific.  It’s not fun — you’re working on what you can’t do, or can’t do well — and it’s not quick — it takes a long time to become an expert.

The myth of natural gifts is destructive.  Even Mozart wasn’t born with perfect pitch.  Research has found that perfect pitch can be taught to children between the ages of three and five.  So don’t waste time trying to discover your unique talent.  Pick a goal, find the best teacher possible, and dedicate yourself to improving.

Constant Improvement

People at the highest levels of performance share key characteristics:  they are in control of their skill development, and are constant analyzing and measuring their performance.

They get feedback quickly and early, and actually change what they’re doing based on that feedback.  Think of it this way:  You wouldn’t practice free throws without checking if the ball actually went through the hoop, would you?

Experts keep practicing even when they aren’t physically practicing.  Experts are able visualize situations so accurately that they can improve from mental training alone.  Word of caution:  before you can benefit from mental training, you have to be skilled enough that you can visualize in detail what you’re practicing.

Listen to the episode for more on state-dependent memory, whether rituals are effective, and becoming a chess master.

Episode Highlights

0:27Intro to Dr. Karl Anders Ericsson
1:28This Week in Neuroscience: Prejudice Can Actually Change How You View Faces
4:45The audience interaction settings
5:20Water Fast Week 2016
8:10Expertise on expertise
9:15Perfect pitch vs relative pitch, and brain changes as you age
11:07Deliberate practice
12:51Do experts know how they become experts?
13:48Looking for your gifts vs honing your skills
15:09The 10,000 hour rule - is it real?
17:29The correlation between the time takes to gain expertise and how quickly a skill is acquired
20:48The difficulty in quantifying improvement
22:05Parents helping their children, and finding the right teacher
25:55The reality of testing the 10,000 rule
29:06State-dependent memory
31:40Visualization vs real-world practice
35:05How, when and why do breakthroughs happen?
36:01The OODA loop
37:37Ruthless Listener-Retention Gimmick: Scientists revive water bears after 30 years of deep freeze

PS:  Become an expert on your own brain with our weekly neuroscience dispatch, straight to your inbox every week.

Written by Hannah Sabih
Hannah believes there's nothing 8 hours of sleep and some kale can't cure (yes, she's from California). She's an avid runner, reader, and traveler, who brings you the latest and greatest in neuroscience via our social media channels.
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