If you’ve been following my website and the Top Performance Blog you know that my professional interests over the last couples of years have been shifting, away from psychotherapy, the common factors, and feedback and toward the study of expertise and excellence.
Studying this literature (click here for an interesting summary), makes clear that the factors responsible for superior performance are the same regardless of the specific endeavor one sets out to master. The chief principle will come as no surprise: You have to work harder than everyone else at whatever you want to be best at.
In other words, you have to practice.
Hard work is not enough, however. Research shows that few attain international status as superior performers without access to high levels of support and detailed instruction from exceptional teachers over sustained periods of time. In the massive “Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,” Feltovich et al. note, “Research on what enabled some individuals to reach expert performance, rather than mediocre achievement, revealed that expert and elite performers seek out teachers and engage in specifically designed training activities…that provide feedback on performance, as well as opportunities for repetition and gradual refinement” (p. 61).
What makes for a “good” teacher? Well, in essence, that is what the “Top Performance” blog is all about. I’m going on a journey, a quest really. I’ve decided to take up two hoppies–activities I’ve always had a interest in but never had to the time to study seriously–magic and the ukelele.
Practicing is already proving challenging. Indeed, the process reminds me a lot of when I started out in the field of psychology. In a word, its daunting. There are literally thousands of “tricks” and “songs,” (as there are 100’s of treatment models), millions of how-to books, videos, and other instructional media (just as in the therapy world), as well as experts (who, similar to the field of psychotherapy, offer a wide and bewildering array of different and oftentimes contractory opinions).
By starting completely over with subjects I know nothing about, I hope to put into practice the insights gleaned from our study of expertise and expert performance, along the way reporting the challenges, triumphs and failures associated with learning to master new skills. I’ll review performances, instructional media (live, printed, DVD, etc), and the teachers I met. Stay tuned.