The Only Way to Become the Best in Your Field

As a teenager in Sweden, Anders Ericsson used to play chess against one of his classmates, a boy considerably worse at the game than Ericsson. Every time they’d play, Ericsson would trounce him.

Then one day, the classmate beat him.

Ericsson wanted to know: What exactly had the boy done to improve his performance so drastically?

Though Ericsson didn’t realize it then, the question would come to define his life’s work.

This is a very interesting article. Not so much in that Anders Ericsson says that practice is needed to be the best [1], but his assertion that even someone that is not a natural talent can rise to towards the top with deliberate practice.

In general, according to Ericsson, deliberate practice involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying activities beyond your current abilities. While repeating a skill you’ve already mastered might be satisfying, it’s not enough to help you get better. Moreover, simply wanting to improve isn’t enough - people also need well-defined goals and the help of a teacher who makes a plan for achieving them.

At first, the teacher gives feedback on your efforts; eventually, you can spot problems in your own performance and tweak it accordingly. Ericsson’s research has led him to study expert spellers, elite athletes, and memory champions - and he attributes their diverse successes to deliberate practice.

Most notably, Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice formed the basis for the “10,000-hour rule” featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers”: Put in about 10,000 hours of practice, and you’ll become an expert.

Unfortunately, Ericsson says Gladwell misinterpreted his research and that 10,000 hours of merely repeating the same activity over and over again is not sufficient to catapult someone to the top of their field.

As I read this, I was nodding my head and remembering how much better I got as a gymnast when I got to college and started working out with other guys who were much better than I. Even as a climber, I only started climbing stronger when I began climbing with others who were better climbers.

It’s not just the hours you put into your sport or passion, it’s the kind of hours. Whether it’s climbing, crossfit, or chess…find that person that is better than you and practice with them. There’s a lot more than just repetition that goes into being elite in your field.

The Only Way to Become the Best in Your Field


  1. duh  ↩