I read Peak a few months back: it talks about using deliberate practice to develop expertise. Basically, you have to put in your time, but you also have to be putting in your time in the right way: always stretching yourself, instead of coasting (making things too easy) or flailing (making things too hard). Or, for that matter, instead of doing something that’s difficult but not difficult in a way that is most useful for the learning goal at hand. (The book ultimately also tells to you find a coach who knows what they’re doing…)

On the one hand, books like this are a useful reminder: I feel like I can usually tell when I’m stretching myself and when I’m not, and that’s an important distinction to keep in mind. But, on the other hand, there are some assumptions potentially lurking there that I’m not entirely comfortable with.


A lot of these discussions talk about what you need to do is to be great at something. And that might be important if you think you’re pursuing your vocation (though it might be overrated even then!), but, most of the time, when I’m learning something, being great at it isn’t my goal.

Take Tai Chi, for example. I’ve been learning it over the last three years, I am taking it seriously, and I am trying to get better. But my goal isn’t to become a Tai Chi master: not now, not even over the next decade or two. I have a full time job, I have a family, I have other interests; I don’t even practice Tai Chi every day (though I can imagine that changing; and actually there are some isolated exercises I do every day now), and on days when I do practice, I only practice for an hour or two.

If I really wanted to become an expert, it feels to me that treating it basically like a full-time job would be table stakes. And I’m not doing that, or coming anywhere near doing that: I’m trying to get better, but, well, not I’m not trying all that hard! Which is fine, it’s a conscious choice; but also, even though I’m reading a book about expertise, I don’t actually have to try to become an expert in everything, or even everything that I try to practice deliberately.


But, stepping back further, I don’t always have to practice deliberately! For this one, I’ll use guitar as the example: I do put in a few hours of guitar practice a week, and I would like to get better at it. (Though, as with Tai Chi, I’m not coming anywhere near putting in the hours and effort necessary to become an expert.)

Sometimes I do try to deliberately practice guitar. But I also just enjoy playing, and I enjoy interactively listening to music. And that’s okay, too? It is, again, probably good not to be under any illusion: yes, I would improve faster at guitar if I practiced differently. But that’s not necessarily the metric that’s important to me: it’s okay to enjoy things, too!


On that last note, one thing I actually have noticed is that, when I buckle down and focus on playing a small section of a song on guitar, I enjoy the process a lot more than I expect. So, even if I’m just trying to enjoy myself, deliberate practice can still be worth it? That’s also related to something that I’ve noticed about doing Tai Chi: I like how the concentration that it induces feels in my brain.

I dunno. I mean, the idea of deliberate practice is definitely important. I just don’t like the narrative that links it too closely to becoming an expert…

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