How to master any new skill

Anders Ericsson studied dozens of the world’s top performers, from entrepreneurs to chess grandmasters. Here’s what he learned about learning

Author Anders Ericsson

Author Anders Ericsson. (Magnus Bergström)

Anders Ericsson is an award-winning psychologist who co-wrote Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise. He’s studied the lives and work of some of the world’s top performers across a wide range of skills, and shared what he’s learned about learning:

Forget about 10,000 hours

Malcolm Gladwell argued there’s something magical about 10,000 hours, and people concluded that they need to spend that much time in order to reach the very highest levels. That would be attractive if it were true. But if you’re not explicitly trying to improve, the time you spend doing something isn’t related to actual improvement.

Break it down into stages

A lot of individuals think it’s the number of repetitions of a task that makes the difference. But just playing a piece of music many times, for example, actually has very limited effects. You have to monitor what you’re doing, and if you’re not getting the intended result, you need to make some kind of adjustment. Pick out an aspect you can change, and focus on that. Incrementally addressing issues will eventually get you to a very high level.

Work with an expert

You don’t have to find your own path. Working with a teacher can assure you that other people had similar issues and provide you with training to overcome them. You can rely on others who have figured out that some ways are more effective.

Embrace discomfort

If you’re doing something that’s comfortable, then you’re not imposing any stress and you’re not going to grow. If you go
out jogging without getting exhausted, for instance, your body won’t really change.

Adjust your expectations

Competing against a person who’s been doing something since age five when you started at 25 is an uphill battle. But I’ve yet to see clear evidence that you can tell people they will never succeed.