Posts Tagged ‘K. Anders Ericsson’

Learning How to Think and Process is Deeply

October 16, 2019

This post is the second in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport. The title of this book is “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea,: is advice from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy. He argues that to advance your understanding of your field you must tackle the relevant topics systematically, allowing your “converging rays of attention” to uncover the truth latent in each. In other words, “To learn requires intense concentration.”

In the early 1990s, a psychologist K. Anders Ericsson conducted research on the difference between expert performers and normal adults. He denied that the difference in the two groups was immutable. He argued, with data to support him, that the differences between expert performance and normal adults was the result of a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

So what does deliberate practice actually require. Its core components follow:
your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to master;
you receive feedback so you can correct your approach, to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
So deliberate attention cannot exist alongside distraction; instead it requires uninterrupted concentration.

Ericsson emphasizes, “Diffused attention is almost antithetical to the focused attention required by deliberate practice.”

Since Ericsson’s first major papers on this topic, neuroscientists have been researching the physical mechanisms. These researchers believe that part of the answer includes myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons. The myelin acts like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner. Keep, in mind that skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits.

Of course, more than myelin is involved, especially for cognitive tasks. In additional to strengthening brain circuits, learning involves establishing new brain circuits. Learning new information and cogitating about this information establishes an increasingly new number of brain circuits.

Concentration is focused. Say you are trying to learn a new skill such as SQL database management. In a state of low concentration or while you are doing any additional tasks, you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen. To learn things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.

The following formula law of productivity has been offered:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

HM again stresses that this formula is not restricted to work. It is good for any type of physical or cognitive enhancement. It applies also to hobbies and recreational activities. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it is defined in terms of work, as work itself can become more palatable or enjoyable if is not regarded as work, but rather as furthering a worthwhile goal, hobby, or intellectual achievement.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Deliberate Practice

December 14, 2011

Deliberate practice is a term coined by K. Anders Ericsson1 to define the type of practice needed to achieve superior performance or expertise. He wrote, “ For the superior performance in any field the goal isn’t just repeating the same thing again and again, but achieving higher levels of control over every aspect of performance. That’s why they (experts) don’t find practice boring. Each practice session they are working on doing something better than they did the last time. Intense solitary deliberate practice is the hallmark of the superior in every competitive field that I have studied over my forty year career.” He contrasts the practice method of professional versus amateur golfers: Most amateurs participate almost exclusively in recreational play with others. When they ‘practice’ they tend to do things that they are comfortable with and can do with minimal control, such as whacking buckets of golf balls at a driving range. Professionals, in contrast, engage in practice activities that require full concentration to improve specific aspects of their performance, Further, they voluntarily choose practice routines in which they initially experience difficulties in order to improve a specific weakness…The expert golfer’s ability to perceive minute differences and exert control of the ball trajectories does not emerge naturally but through the process of acquiring refined mental representation for perceiving, monitoring, and controlling the muscles involved in the various required movements.”

The pianist Angela Hewitt wrote, “In my recording sessions I find that the improvement comes not in endlessly repeating a piece, but in listening intently to what has been recorded and then thinking about how it can be done better. The editing process then becomes an art in itself and requires intelligent musical decisions.”

In formulating his theories of relativity Einstein needed to master non Euclidean geometries. Acquiring expertise requires constantly going beyond what you know and mastering new material.

See the Healthymemory Blog Post “How the Memory Champs Do It” to understand the fantastic feats of memory that they can perform as well as the types of deliberate practice they employ to build these phenomenal skills.

Remember the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice man, practice.” This needs to be changed to, “Deliberate practice, man, deliberate practice.”

It is remarkable what you can do. But true expertise requires deliberate practice.

1Anderson, K.A. (2007). Deliberate Practice and the Modifiability of Body and Mind: Toward a Science of the Structure and Acquisition of Expert and Elite Performance. International Journal of Sports Psychology.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.