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Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,

15 min read
9 take-aways
Audio & text

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“Deliberate practice” is the smarter way to gain expertise.

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What appears to be genius is not so uncommon. Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna, was also a child prodigy. The difference for top performers isn’t practice – it’s “deliberate practice,” a focused method of systematic improvement that psychologist Anders Ericsson spent a lifetime studying. He and co-author Robert Pool explain the science that supports deliberate practice and illustrate their manual with historical examples of top performers.


Practice and the time they devote to the practice differentiates top and average performers.

“Purposeful practice” aims at specific, well-defined targets.

Instead of practicing your golf game, think specifically about what you need to do to reduce your handicap five strokes. Focus, perhaps, on adjusting your swing. Effective practice helps change your brain to increase your playing ability.

Focused practice that challenges homeostasis changes the brain.

Your brain size may not change, but the brain is highly adaptable, or plastic. When you undertake a physical fitness program, muscle cells contract and use available oxygen and energy. But now the bloodstream needs more, so you breathe deeper and tap other sources of energy. If you maintain a program of physical exercise that challenges the body, your cells respond by changing, activating different genes to handle the change. The muscles involved eventually create a “new comfort zone.” By setting up a program that offers continual challenge, “just outside your comfort zone,” you keep improving.

The brain responds similarly to challenges by rewiring neuronal connections rather than generating new ...

About the Authors

Conradi eminent scholar Anders Ericsson, PhD, teaches psychology at Florida State University. Robert Pool has a PhD in mathematics and is a science journalist.

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