Persevere and Reach Your Peak!

Do you look at geniuses like Mozart, Michael Jordan, and Steve Jobs and go, “I can never be like them”? We tend to think that the best artists, musicians, businessmen, athletes are born with those gifts, not made, and that unless we were inherently designed with certain talents, there’s no way we can make a mark in our chosen field.

When I started reading the book Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, recommended by a friend, what caught my attention first of all was that Mozart did not come by his musical gift by birth or by accident.

Now, most articles we read about him would rave about the things he can do on the piano as a child, and how he could immediately identify any note played on any musical instrument. And we’re awestruck by what seems to be an unusual, natural phenomenon.

But in the book, apty subtitled “Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” he shows us that Mozart’s father was actually an expert musician himself, and he apparently trained the young Mozart in music, a very young age by constant practice. New research now shows a highly probable link between early music training and perfect pitch.

Does that give you hope? It does me!


The general belief was that our brains only evolve up to the time we step into adulthood, and then it’s fixed for life. But knowing that we can still mold it and shape it gives us hope for learning new things, and learning them well!
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5 Important Truths about Reaching Peak Performance

Here are some of the highlights from the book that I believe will also challenge the way you think about excellence in any field:

1. Purposeful practice has power!

In the book, the authors give us example after example of astounding memory work: people who’re able to memorise strings of unrelated numbers. It might sound pointless, but the point they were making is that, through extensive, purposeful practice, it’s possible to expand the limits of our short-term memory.

But it’s not just about memory work: they have also shown the impact that purposeful practice has on other things like sports, dance, and music, among others.

The caveat here is that it’s not just any practice. Instead, it has to be practice with a purpose. For example, a tennis player who wants to improve a specific swing needs to practice the correct form purposefully. Simply playing day in and day out without paying attention to the correct way of doing it will only solidify the wrong way and not result in improvement in performance.

2. Our brains can adapt

In this chapter, we learn about one of the most challenging jobs in the whole world: being a cabbie in London! Can you imagine being able to navigate twenty-five thousand streets in the most efficient way possible as to maximise your time? That’s exactly what prospective cabbies have to learn—as a bare minimum! Add to that the countless possible number of landmarks that any passenger might ask for, and you’re toast!

Would you believe that they found sigificant differences in the size of a certain part of the brain of the taxi drivers versus non-taxi drivers? As it turned out, the constant practice at needing to navigate the intricate sets of streets resulted in a physical change in their brains.

This finding helped prove the point that our brains continue to adapt and evolve, even past adulthood. In the previous century, the general belief was that our brains only evolve up to the time we step into adulthood, and then it’s fixed for life. But knowing that we can still mold it and shape it gives us hope for learning new things, and learning them well!

3. Experts use mental representations

Another clue into the best performers in any industry is the ability to use mental representations. In the chapter about this theme, we read about chess masters who can play—and win!—blindfolded against their opponents. In fact, some of the best can win even over several opponents! What’s their secret? The ability to make mental representations.

The authors expound on the way that any one of us actually use mental representations in daily life, for example, when a picture of a dog comes to our mind as soon as we see the word “dog.” But the best of us are found to develop efficient mental representations that help us remember all that we need to. In the case of the London taxi drivers, the best of them are used to imagining their potential routes as an actual picture in their minds.

And it’s not just about mental work. Even atheletes are found to benefit from mental representations, such as a competitive diver who envisions what his next dive should look like at every point of the action!

All this to say, we encourage you to practice making mental images as part of your regular practice!

4. Natural talent has a role but should not be a limiting factor.

Apparently, the authors always get asked this question: what about our natural talents? Granted, it is possible that some people are born with natural talents. But the authors believe that innate characteristics play a smaller role than we think.

They share two basic questions to understand the role of natural talent:
What is the exact nature of the ability?
What sorts of training made it possible?

From this, we can tell whether what we thought was a natural ability was actually honed by training and practice.

Peak Performance is Possible

The good news from all this is that performing at our peak level is no longer some faraway dream: it’s actually possible! When we change our minds to understand how our brains work and how deliberate, purposeful practice can impact our abilities, we end up removing the lids that have been keeping us from pursuing the best.

To read the book yourself, check out this Amazon link.

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