‘Shaping Psychology: Perspectives on Legacy, Controversy and the Future of the Field’ is a book by Tomasz Witkowiski and aims to do a review of the field of psychology by interviewing prominent psychologists that have had a seminal influence on the field. The 15 interviewees included in the book include such diverse stalwarts as Daniel Kahneman (behavioral psychology), Naom Chomsky (linguistics) and Michael Posner (neuroscience of attention etc).
The fact that the list included some of my favorite people like Joseph LeDoux (a mutual friend on twitter/FB), Roy Baumeister (whose master class on self control I was fortunate to attend courtesy Ben/MentorCaoch) and Robert Sternberg was enough to pique my interest. Inclusion of others whose work I was already familiar with like Elizabeth Loftus, Robert Plomin, Susan Blackamore and Jerome Kagan was enough to convince me that the selection is not only wide ranging but also authoritative.
I was eager to learn about other featured psychologists including Brian Nosek whose work on Open Science I was familiar with, but also people like Erica Burman, Carol Tavris, Vikram Patel and Scott Lillienfeld which were somewhat stranger to me (despite being fascinated by psychology for so long). And I must say I was rewarded adequately, for I found the interview with Vikram Patel utterly fascinating and providing me with a different perspective and odes of inspiration.
Each interview/psychologist is one chapter in the book. The chapter starts with a very brief profile of the psychologists work (and here I think Tomsaz could have done better) followed by an edited transcript of Tomasz’s interview with the psychologist. If you are already familiar with the work of the psychologists then some of the questions and answers make more sense as compared to when you have little knowledge of psychologists background / research interests. There are some questions that he asks almost all of them in way or the other- including advice for young psychologists joining the field, role models they would suggest to them, what they think is their major accomplishments, and what they see the future of the field.
The above are usual questions you would expect in an interview; what sets this book apart is also some relentless questioning around the replication crisis in psychology, or say the relevance of AI to the field in coming years. And it is here you see a divergence in views; When he asks Roy Baumeister about replication crisis, esp in light of the fact that ego depletion has also been questioned despite 100s of studies around it, one gets interesting insights when Roy admits that at one time p-hacking was actually an accepted practice amongst psychologists in the not so recent past. On the other hand, the interview with Brian Nosek provided another insight that current trend for more power and larger samples has tilted the filed towards self -reports and M-Turk samples at the cost of small sized studies that measure say behaviors.
Lest it sound as if the book is all about dull methodological debates/ controversies, it spans other controversies too like false memory/ eye witness testimony research of Loftus, or the allegations of social Darwinism/ eugenics against Plomin to the controversial concept/ theory of memetics.
Some of the chosen psychologists have a bent toward skepticism and it is apparent Tomasz is a skeptic too. Some of the chapters like the one on Erica Burman were clearly beyond my capacity and went over my head- still scratching my head to understand ‘child as a method’ concept. Others like the chapter on Vikram Patel were god send – bringing much clarity to issues of global mental health about which I am quite passionate.
The chapters also reflected , to an extent, the featured psychologist’s personality. Some were drab and to the point, while other more humane and humble in their tone. It definitely provided a window not only on the subject of psychology but also on some of the key players who have shaped it and are continuing to shape it.
I would readily recommend this book to anyone interested in, and slightly familiar with, the field of psychology and who cares about its future and is interested in its recent influences. It would be time well spent.
Full Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review.
This post is a book review of ‘Transcend: The new science of self-actualization ‘ by Scott Barry Kaufman. He, and his publishers, were kind enough to send an advance copy and I think the review is just in time, as the book is formally published, and the virtual book tour gets kick-started.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and emerged wiser and kinder for having read it. I am not sure how far I am, or my reader is, on the path to self transcendence, but whatever may be your current station on your journey, you will find some much needed guidance and help here. At least I did.
The book on the outset is about Maslow and his hierarchy of needs and how self actualization and self transcendence fit in, but its also a tour de force of all that is worth knowing about the latest advances in positive psychology, humanistic psychology and various other aspects like existential psychology. More than mere re-conceptualizing Maslow’s concept of needs, and validating his insights using cutting edge finding in psychology, it is also a culmination of Scott’s interests and expertise in a holistic book form. The magnum opus of whole person psychology that Scott has produced is indeed a ‘whole’ book (pun intended).
First off, lets clarify some misunderstandings about the hierarchy of needs. Most people believe that Maslow had himself arranged them into a pyramid of five needs of inflexible ordering , and while I myself have shown them as pyramid in my earlier posts, I have at least had the good sense of highlighting self transcendence needs early on and at the top. Scott clarifies and adds nuance by distinguishing between security/deficit needs, growth needs and actualization/transcendence needs and illustrates all this with a beautiful sailboat metaphor.
While security needs like safety, connection and self esteem make the body of the sailboat, and their purpose is to make it steady ; the sail that powers and gives direction to the boat is made up of growth needs of exploration, love and purpose.
The book elaborates on all theses needs drawing inspiration from Maslow who is extensively quoted, as well as other prominent psychologists lke Carl Rogers, Karen Horney, Eric Fromm etc ; however the book is only part nostalgia about these great thinkers, it also draws on latest research findings to make its point.
The book contains extensive self assessments to figure where you stand on each of these and other needs/ concepts and helpful tips on what you can do thereof to make sure your needs are optimally fulfilled and are not thwarted. The 2 appendices are really excellent and should not be skipped; the second appendix that lists many (positive, as well as other) psychological interventions should be definitely explored and imbibed in ones daily life.
Scott’s personality shines thorugh the book, and so does Abe’s ; While Scott wanted this as a tribute to Abe, he has indeed stood on the shoulders of that giant and come out on its own – the book integrates various strands of Scott’s expertise, interests and humanism and weaves into a very palatable feast. However , at some places I felt the integration was a bit sketchy or far fetched – for example linking hope, grit, smart goals etc under purpose seemed a bit contrived. But of course as Scott has such expertise in all these topics that one juts loves reading about them and doesn’t mind the apparent disconnect with the topic at hand.
Scott’s and Abe’s message is something that needs to be told and retold, again and again, and I am so glad that Scott took it upon himself to clarify misconceptions about Abe as well as to shine a light on such an imprtnat topic of self transcendence. Here is wishing the book all the success it deserves. Well done, Scott! You are truly a giant!
When I was offered a chance to review ‘Big Love’ I was skeptical- The title seemed too touchy feely. My specialty is reading, and sometimes reviewing, psychology books so I was not even sure it would make good match. Also I had never heard of Scott Stabile and the PR blurb seemed too good to be true. However, as they say don’t judge a book by its cover. The book is a memoir cum advice from hard learned life lessons, and though its not a psychology based book, I could not find any contradictions with what psychology tells us about life and love. The need for vulnerability, courage and authenticity is all essential for love to inform our lives and all these shine throughout the book- the book, and Scott, leads by example.
Scott writes in a witty, humorous and genuine style and its a pleasure reading though the book, each of whose chapters are woven around an anecdote/story from the life of Scott and end up with practical life lessons, tips, attitude changes with which you can benefit.
Scott has had his share of adventures, and misadventures, including writing the screenplay for a Hollywood film that bombed, losing his parents to murder when just 14, or having to deal with his brother’s and roommates addiction/ overdose as also having a strong Facebook community and being a member of a cult for 13 years – however its not the experiences themselves but what he has done with the experiences that make this book stand out.
I hope his efforts at spreading love get even bigger and this book finds the right readership.
Every once in a while you stumble across a book that is very much relevant to your present circumstances and as if written with you in mind; The Grit Guide for Teens happens to be such a book that is proving really valuable to me in my current endeavor of championing positive education.
Some of you might know, that I am currently executing a long term positive education intervention in a school in Pune, which is structured around VIA character strengths. One of the strengths we are focusing on is Grit, the target audience is teenagers and this book has been God-send!
Along side Angela Duckowrth’s book, which I reviewed earlier, this book has been instrumental in designing activities and introspection exercises to which the teens can relate and embody in their daily lives.
The book is in the form of a workbook and is very well structured; each chapter contains multiple activities that draw the reader in and at the same time help build their grit muscles with a relentless focus on clarifying complex concepts without using any jargon.
Caren Baruch-Feldman, makes very novel and innovative contributions, while writing the workbook; she extends the concept of grit to emotional, social and wellness domains apart from the usual suspects of academic and extracurricular domains. When the teens think of being gritty, they usually think about achieving a goal that is either in academic domain (get better at math – I know this is not a SMART goal) or in extracurricular domain (become a good guitarist / get better at cricket) ; however Caren reminds us that grit can be shown in emotional domain (be good a controlling my anger), social domain ( overcome shyness to initiate and sustain connections) or in wellness domain (stick to an exercise regimen to become fit and healthy); these are all my examples, Caren embeds the different domains based references throughout the book, so that one has an idea of how grit can be accomplished and plays out in all five domains.
She is also a clinical psychologist with tons of experience with CBT/REBT and uses that to add additional nuance, when it comes to developing the right mindset for grit- growth mindset , the power of yet and optimistic mindset is conjoined with a focus on thinking traps and figuring out if the thought is real, useful, or something you will tell a friend if he or she was in the same situation? These are powerful tools, one is providing to the kids, and which will help them in good stead in the future.
Caren also makes it clear that if you really want to exhibit grit you have to develop the right mindset and then go forth and execute stuff (like do deliberate practice to hone your craft). There is also adequate coverage of strategies for remaining focused on your goal, by using things like Advantage cards and overcoming temptation by using strategies like situation selection, situation modification etc. She draws upon proven techniques from allied fields in psychology like self-control and habit-formation etc apart from a focus on increasing grit per se. That makes for a holistic package when it comes to ensuring success by the teen.
While I read it mostly from the point of developing activities and using the material with my school students, I could readily see how relate able it would be for the teens themselves and how they will be so much richer for having gone thorough the book and completed all the activities. If you have a teen and his or her school does not promote positive education, yet, then you ought to buy this for your teen; it will be money well spent.
The only lament I have, why don’t we have many more such books, directed towards teens, for each of the VIA strength!! Hope the publishers develop a series around VIA strengths- we do need such workbooks for teens! Here is wishing so much success to the book, that others get inspired and write about all the other strengths and tools that the teens also need desperately!
I have read quite a few books that fall into the ‘hard work triumphs intelligence’ camp, such as ‘Peak’ by Anders Ericsson, ‘Talent is overrated‘ by Geoff Colvin and ‘Outliers‘ by Malcolm Gladwell. And I am more than sympathetic to that viewpoint, however I have always believed in a more nuanced picture. The ability to work hard, is again, just part of the equation explaining outstanding achievements, there is more than enough room for other non-cognitive factors like passion, hope, purpose etc to impact performance.
English: Millstone grit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And that is what Angela tries to do in Grit. She is obsessed, in a harmonious way, with what leads to success and high/ exceptional achievements. After showing that talent/intelligence/ IQ only explains part of the picture, she makes a strong case for non-cognitive factors as being more predictive of success in life than the so called cognitive factors.
Angela defines Grit as a combination of Passion and Perseverance. Passion is built by discovering, and more importantly, cultivating interest. Another source of passion is when you feel what you are doing is purposeful or helpful to others and connects to a bigger whole. Perseverance, on the other hand, can be cultivated by being optimistic/ hopeful, developing a growth mindset and indulging in deliberate practice.
Now, some people have accused Angela of being too expansionist by including hope and growth mindset and purpose and what not in her theory of grit! I think that criticism is uncalled for- she is determined to find what makes people successful and what are its antecedents and mediators. If hope/ growth mindset is an antecedent to gritty behavior, I believe it makes sense for her to touch upon those subjects.
Some have claimed that grit is not yet ready for mainstreaming and that the damage one does by focusing solely on grit is more than its benefits. Angela, in her conclusion admits that she never intended or believes that grit is the only trait worth having; first there is a problem with the goal of success being a be all and end all; other goals like happiness, morality and meaning are legitimate both as ends in themselves and as predictors of good outcomes; secondly its not established that apart form IQ and grit, other factors like creativity etc are not that important for success.
One thing I found surprising was Angela’s reluctance to admit that too much grit may be harmful; brushing aside John Henryism or the need to disengage from goals at times, she come across as someone too invested in the concept of grit to acknowledge its dark side. The fact that these things are discussed in conclusion doesn’t make things any better. I guess an honest upfront admission of grits limitations as well as its power would help put things in perspective.
That said, I am not at all sympathetic to the many critical reviews of the book that have focused on the downsides of the concept / book to the exclusion of its utility/ strong points. Angela does a wonderful job of explaining her own and others peoples research and how it is related to what we know about who succeeds. She also has beautifully organized the book into sections where we can grow Grit from inside out (as end users) or outside in (as parents, teachers working with kids etc).
As a matter of fact for those who read the book, but don’t manage the time or don’t have the inclination to go deep into original research, but would like to dig a little deeper, I am currently featuring Angela’s articles on my newly introduced research summary feature and you may like to check some Gritrelatedarticles there for now. These articles should give you additional insights about the data and studies that Angela refers in the book.
Also, I believe that Girt is ready for mass market adoption; I myself am running a long term VIA character strengths based positive education initiative for schools, and Grit is an integral part of our offering.
So my recommendation, do read Grit and grow it in yourself and others. It will definitely help you in good stead.
“Growing from depression” is a short, easy read on the subject of the depressive experience and how to make best use of and grow from that experience. The book is written by Dr. Neel Burton, who is a psychiatrist as well as a philosopher, and an exceptionally good writer.
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” so wrote Pascal/ Twain and in case of Neel he seems to have spent enough time on this book, making it succinct yet easy to understand and follow by a layman.
The book is organized in four sections; one dealing with defining and delineating depression – an experience that is bound to affect us or our close family/friends once in the lifetime. Some estimates have put lifetime incidence of depression as high as 30 percent , which means we are either a sufferer or a caregiver at some point, thus the importance of the topic.
The second section deals with current treatments for depression, including CBT, ECT and antidepressants. Maybe in future editions newer treatments like Metacognitive therapy or rTMS/ DBS can be explored and elaborated at in depth.
The third section makes the meat of the book- its a self help section with bite sized chapters making one think aloud and get help growing from the depressive experience. Given that Neel is a philosopher, some chapters do digress a bit and become more philosophical/ at tangent with the main premise of the book, but overall the suggestions and elaboration is grounded in what we do indeed know about depression- including things like depressive realism.
The last section is related to mental health services and mental health law and has limited appeal to international audience as its focused and based around the UK health care system and the UK laws.
Overall, its a pretty good read and makes you realize that there is much that you can gain from the depressive experience- including wisdom as to how prevent a relapse by controlling daily stress, maintaining good daily habits like exercise etc.
I wish many more experts and scientists were able to break up from the jargon, and write a self help book for people at large. I am sure we all will be richer for that!
Reading philosophical texts can be daunting- sometimes the terminology and words are dense and sometimes you have to re-read multiple times to understand what the writer means. But reading original sources can be highly enriching too.
Buddhist monk in Phu Soidao Nationalpark, Phu Soidao Nationalpark Waterfall, Thailand, Uttaradit Province Location: Phu Soidao Nationalpark Thailand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So when I came across an opportunity to read and review ‘Psychotherapy east and west,’ by Alan Watts, I proceeded ahead with some mixed enthusiasm- I like his quote ‘What if money was no object’ very much; but I also knew that I might not have the right expertise to do justice to the book. I am not a participating psychotherapist- the only saving grace is that I am very much familiar with some of the eastern ‘ways of liberation’ like Vedanta and Yoga and somewhat moderately familiar with the other oriental ones like Zen Buddhism and Taoism.
However, there is much that I could not understand, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.
Alan Watts, considers the eastern ways of liberation as something akin to western psychotherapy, with the aim being to bring about a change in individual consciousness.
The main resemblance between these Eastern ways of life and Western psychotherapy is in the concern of both with bringing about changes of consciousness, changes in our ways of feeling our own existence and our relation to human society and the natural world. The psychotherapist has, for the most part, been interested in changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals. The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are, however, concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people. But it is increasingly apparent to psychotherapists that the normal state of consciousness in our culture is both the context and the breeding ground of mental disease. A complex of societies of vast material wealthy bent on mutual destruction is anything but a condition of social health.
And thus the importance of context to understand this book- it was first published in the early 60’s a time of cold war as also a time when the, now controversial, double-bind theory of psychosis was proposed by Gregory Bateson, whose work Alan Watts seems to admire. Watts assumes, and tries to show ,that Eastern ways of liberation also work by making an individual come to see the true nature of the double bind that society / culture imposes. He references the Hindu concept of Maya or ‘world-as-illusion’ and applies it to social institutions and believes that even western psychotherapists are in the game of dispelling Maya for their clients:
For they (psychotherapists) are dealing with people whose distress arises from what may be termed maya, to use the Hindu-Buddhist word whose exact meaning is not merely “illusion” butthe entire world-conception of a culture, considered as illusion in the strict etymological sense of a play (Latin, ludere). The aim of a way of liberation is not the destruction of maya but seeing it for what it is, or seeing through it. Play is not to be taken seriously, or, in other words, ideas of the world and of oneself which are social conventions and institutions are not to be confused with reality.
Yet very few modern authorities on Buddhism or Vedanta seem to realize that social institutions constitute the maya, the illusion, from which they offer release. It is almost invariably assumed that Nirvana or moksha means release from the physical organism and the physical universe, an accomplishment involving powers of mind over matter that would give their possessor the omnipotence of a god.
Eastern ways of liberation work by dispelling Maya, dissolution of ego and letting Eros or Love/spontaneity reign. But first we have to understand the double-bind to comment on it and to come out of it.
And that is just the paradox of the situation: society gives us the idea that the mind, or ego, is inside the skin and that it acts on its own apart from society.
Here, then, is a major contradiction in the rules of then social game. The members of the game are to play as if they were independent agents, but they are not to know that they are just playing as if! It is explicit in the rules that the individual is self-determining, but implicit that he is so only by virtue of the rules. Furthermore, while he is defined as an independent agent, he must not be so independent as not to submit to the rules which define him. Thus he is defined as an agent in order to be held responsible to the group for “his” actions. The rules of the game confer independence and take it away at the same time, without revealing the contradiction.
This is exactly the predicament which Gregory Bateson calls the “double-bind,” in which the individual is called upon to take two mutually exclusive courses of action and at the same time is prevented from being able to comment on the paradox. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and you mustn’t realize it. Bateson has suggested that the individual who finds himself in a family situation which imposes the double-bind upon him in an acute form is liable to schizophrenia. For if he cannot comment on the contradiction, what can he do but withdraw from the field? Yet society does not allow withdrawal; the individual must play the game.
But in liberation this comes to pass not through an unconscious compulsion but through insight, through understanding and breaking the double-bind which society imposes. One does not then get into the position of not being able to play the game; one can play it all the better for seeing that it is a game.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. I will let Watts describe an example of double bind to you , both in philosophy and in practice, so that you get a clearer idea:
If all this is true, it becomes obvious that the ego feeling Is, pure hypnosis. Society is persuading the individual to do what it wants by making it appear that its commands are the individual’s inmost self. What we want is what you want. And this is a double-bind, as when a mother says to her child, who is longing to slush around in a mud puddle, “Now, darling, you don’t want to get into that mud!” This is misinformation, and this — if anything — is the “Great Social Lie.”
The theory of double -bind for psychosis, though largely discredited/ unproven; may still be a useful starting ground to think about how ways of liberation work. Is the purpose of Zen Koans like ‘show me your true self’ a way to put a person in double bind? Watts wanted this book to be provocative and not a summary of what research had already happened in terms of commonality between eastern and western approaches to psychotherapy- and I believe he succeeds in making one think.
I loved the book and came out richer for having read that- but beware that like all philosophical books it could be a little dense at times. I hope others, including myself, continue taking ideas from both east and west and keep cross fertilizing them, until we are all ‘liberated’!!
‘Love of learning’ in VIA and ‘Learner’ in Gallup, is one of my top strengths, and it typically manifests as either participating in a lot of MOOC‘s or reading a lot of books. I’m trying to move more towards learning by doing, and moving more towards applied concerns, but I guess some reflection on the books I read in 2016 and which left a mark on me are in order.
I read a total of 16 books completely in 2016 as per goodreads, and I had set a challenge of reading at least 25 books in the year, so I did fall short of target.
Not all books I read made a lasting impact and here are the ones that did.
First off, I read Poke, from start to finish, on the very first day of the year and here is my review that I posted on goodreads.
Started the new year in a meta way by reading this book about starting and initiating, and found it such an interesting read that finished it in one setting. A really good book to hone up your ‘Activator’ strength. Motivated to start and ship ( and fail, and succeed) multiple projects this year.
And that set the tone for the year, where I did start multiple times, and fail and fail fast, and maybe ship once or twice too.
A book I had looked forward with great anticipation was Peak and I was not disappointed. I have already posted a detailed review of Peak on this blog.
While Peak was focused on how you can use the principles of deliberate practice for achieving excellence, the book Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia, was about the other set of outliers, those who experience abnormal thoughts and perceptions and how we can better appreciate the ‘psychotic’ condition.
A radically different , and much needed approach to understanding the ‘psychotic’ experiences. This books brings a humane as well as a much more science informed (which doesn’t mean a medical model ) approach to the whole topic and is an essential reading for all involved !
a superb book and must read for all coaches; its CBT approach complements the positive psychology focus that I am more steeped in. Draws from practical experience and with coaching sessions examples is easy to relate to! highly recomnended!!
An excellent book for all parents, teachers, educators and policy makers …freely available here: http://www.paultough.com/helping/web/ …the online version has many embedded resources like videos etc and makes for a unique reading experience.
The only gripe is that Paul Tough, equates grit/ resilience with non-cognitive skills and makes a case that they cannot be taught in the traditional sense of the word; however many other character strengths like gratitude , forgiveness, kindness can be inculcated by giving daily homework assignments etc.
Marshall Goldsmith is more towards the Coaching for Compliance camp; while I lean towards Coaching with Compassion (as defined by Richard Boyatzis) ; still this is a pretty good read for anyone interested in adult behavioral change.
This book was written when positive psychology had still not come of age; but this book on how to cope has a distinctly positive psychology spin to it. It has chapters on hope, optimism, mastery thinking and benefit finding – all dear to the positive psychology movement. Written by eminent authors in their fields, this easy to read collection of articles around the theme of coping is a good read for those related to the field of mental health/ counseling/ positive psychology.
What a gem of a book! For anyone who thinks of himself as a not-so-creative person, this book is a must-read (and must-do) to instill the much required confidence to be creative. For someone who already thinks that he has creative streaks, this book will fuel his/her creativity by providing rich tools and thinking grounded in the design thinking philosophy.
Read this book once, or twice, but more important —this is a book to do and try things, so try the suggested activities and tips a hundred times till you gain enough confidence. I wish this book was more widely read and I had chanced on it earlier!
An interesting perspective that mental abnormality and illness may confer some really cool benefits when it comes to leadership. Books like this will hopefully reduce stigma associated with mental illness. A brave effort indeed by Ghaemi to retrospectively diagnose many leaders with mental health and illness and make his case. Not a typical psychology book, but more of psychobiography of prominent leaders. A good read nevertheless.
A very clear, accessible and important treatise on meaningfulness and its importance in life. Susan Wolf writes very clearly and makes some important contributions; which are followed by equally lucid commentaries by other philosophers and psychologists and then her response that tries to tie everything together.
Wish more philosophy books were as clear and engaging as this was. Gave me new ideas and those are subject for another day/ blog-post!
To make progress towards my 2016 challenge I picked this book which is a comparatively short read, but I wasn’t decided and though I finished this in a couple of days, I just gained a lot of perspective from this book. The Mind of an Ape by David Premack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fascinating insight into the chimpanzee mind. I had read ‘original intelligence’ by David and Ann Premack quite a few years back and had admired the book a lot, so had great expectations from this book, and this book delivered, and how!
If you are fascinated by how experiments are done with animals (in this case chimpanzees) then this book is a must read. It will be especially helpful to those interested in comparative cognition and language abilities.
a wonderful guide to choosing the right career, especially relevant to those who want to have a social impact or ‘make a difference’. The advice is research backed, grounded in psychology principles, and while being value laden to an extent, is also very pragmatic.
If only all self-help advice and non-profit functioning was as rigorous as the 80,000 hrs looks to be!
Malcolm Gladwell had popularized the ‘10,000 hour’ rule to expertise in his popular book ‘Outliers’. As per his formulation, anyone who puts in 10,000 hours of effort could excel in a particular field. What one required was determination and raw effort. He had based these conclusions on the work of Anders Ericsson and colleagues and now Anders Ericsson (with Robert Pool) in his new book ‘Peak’ has tried to clear the muddied waters surrounding the 10,000 hour rule.
You can read an excerpt from peak here , where Anders himself clarifies that it doesn’t necessarily take 10,000 hours to develop expertise- for some it takes longer while for others it is much lesser. Also that the number of hours required varies form domain to domain; and that for exceptional performance you may need another additional 10,000 hours; he adds all that nuance but the most important caveat is that not any effort will do, it has to be 10,000 or more hours of ‘deliberate practice‘.
So what is ‘deliberate practice’ and how does it differ form mere blind efforts? As Scott Barry Kaufman brilliantly explains in this article:
Deliberate practice involves a series of techniques designed to learn efficiently and purposefully. This involves goal setting, breaking down complex tasks into chunks, developing highly complex and sophisticated representations of possible scenarios, getting out of your comfort zone, and receiving constant feedback.
And this is over and above purposeful practice , which again is a different beast from mere effort or repetition and involves, well-defined specific goals, focused efforts, , feedback and getting out of one’s comfort zones. Add to that specialized learning (and teaching) techniques available in a field, learning from a coach or mentor to constantly push oneself beyond one’s limits, the use of mental representations and conscious and intentional improvement efforts and you have a perfect recipe for deliberate practice.
However, important caveats apply. Deliberate practice is useful/ applicable only in highly specialized domains (what a downer!).
But as they note midway through their book — and I believe this is a really important caveat— the techniques of deliberate practice are most applicable to “highly developed fields” such as chess, sports, and musical performance in which the rules of the domain are well established and passed on from generation to generation. The principles of deliberate practice do not work nearly as well for professions in which there is “little or no direct competition, such as gardening and other hobbies”, and “many of the jobs in today’s workplace– business manager, teacher, electrician, engineer, consultant, and so on.”
Important points to note here: for most messy fields, like say expertise in psychology, the 10,000 hours rule may not apply as there are no clear techniques for being a better psychologist that one can learn from a coach/ mentor and improve by getting instant feedback on one’s skill as a psychologist – so there is little room for deliberate practice…..moreover deliberate practice as I understand applies more to development of skills and not so much to knowledge, so many academic disciplines will likely remain out of its ambit.
I myself have been guilty of wrongly understanding and applying the 10,000 hour rule- my about page proudly proclaims that I have developed expertise in psychology by the hard way- by putting in more than 10,000 hours of self-study- however as long as the 10,000 hour is rightly applicable to domains in which one can learn under the guidance of a coach and consciously keep improving and pushing limits, my 10,000 hours of self study is unlikely to make me an expert or anything like that as per the research is concerned.
However, I can think of one example from my life where I did indulge in deliberate practice. Counter-intuitive though it may seem, it was while preparing for a high stakes educational assessment called JEE (entrance test of IITs‘), and this may be applicable to other high stake testing like GRE/GMAT /SAT also.
One can consider the final exam / test as a performance and all the prior preparation like mock tests etc as practice. Now, I used to study in a coaching class under the guidance of an expert teacher in mathematics, and the teacher (Mr Bansal) used to stretch us beyond our comfort zones by constantly exposing us to problems that were difficult to solve and also helping us see what we can do to improve and where we needed to put in more efforts. Although the whole duration of preparation was about an year, and I definitely did not become a maths expert after that, it was enough to crack the JEE, but the larger point is that if that sort of deliberate practice was continued, I might have become an expert in maths.
So having just said above that deliberate practice may not apply to academic pursuits, on second thoughts I would grant that it may apply very well to some academic pursuits by building skills of thinking and solving problems.
Creativity of course would be a different beast and as Scott rightly notes may involve more than the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. But while everyone may aspire for creativity, and its origins still remain mysterious, Anders with ‘Peak’ had demystified how to be an expert in any field.
‘Peak’ is a much needed and timely book that will help you apply the principles of deliberate practice to all parts of your life , including your work life, and can take you to the next level- of course you will have to put n the right efforts, keep motivated , find the right coach , but the sky is the limit once you decide to achieve expertise in the domain and Anders is there to help.
Do yourself a favor, do read this book on expertise , by the world’s foremost authority on the subject and then choose a domain and stick to it. You may surprise yourself with what you are able to achieve
Today, i.e. 15th may 2013 is being celebrated as a mental health blog day by APA and in the spirit of the day I am posting a review of ‘A Lethal Inheritance’ by Victoria Costello. It is a book chronicling how ‘ a mother uncovers the science behind three generations of mental illness‘ and is an apt topic for the day highlighting the importance of public education and discourse about the topic of mental health. this blog pots and book review is a homage to all the people who silently suffer from mental illness, most of the time undiagnosed, or even after diagnosis kept under warps due to associated stigma, and their family members who face the burden of not just care-giving but the counterproductive and unnecessary guilt that many of them either by themselves feel or are made to feel by indirect societal gestures.
Let me also take this opportunity to apologize to Prometheus Books and Victoria : the book had come out a year ago and I was sent a review copy promptly, but could not review it earlier. Better late than never!
The book, as the subtitle reveals, revolves around three generations of Victoria’s family (this book is autobiographical) : her two sons Alex and Sammy, which have their own mental health challenges and the unraveling of one of them: a first time encounter with a psychotic experience which could be quite disconcerting for everyone involved: leads her on on her journey to trace the roots of this malady affecting her family and also on a scientific pilgrimage where she continues to search for reasons, symptoms and preventive measures for the various mental health conditions afflicting her family’s three generations.
If the third generation is her sons, the second generation comprises of her and her sister Rita. While she struggles with undiagnosed/ untreated depression for most of her life, her sister is found struggling with serious substance dependence and addiction- which in the end cost her her life.
The first generation consist of an Irish immigrant grandpa in USA, whose claim to family fame, is that nobody wants to talk about his death: a purported accident where he feel asleep /drunk on the railroads and died. Now Victoria is a journalist and a good investigative journalist at that. Not satisfied with the account her mother has narrated to her, she undertakes an investigation of her own that leads to surprising discoveries like the fact that her grandpa had dies seven months before hew mother was born , rather than afterwards as believed. Also that his official death transcript reads as died from accidental drowning in a lake, thus casting doubts over the real conditions surrounding his death and also raising a question, could we ever really know if someone had committed suicide or died accidentally even if the incident was of yesterday and not many years before. The fact that his grandpa was an alcoholic, an immigrant laborer most probably facing economic stress and suffering from some mental illness, and likely committed suicide, based on the guilt/ disgust and many other emotions it aroused in his relatives (wife , daughter etc) points to the various ways genes (Irish inheritance) and environmental factors come together to wreak havoc.
The book is large part sensitive narration of one’s own story, some part thrilling investigative journalism and remaining parts informed scientific documentation of symptoms, risk factors, early signs, preventive measures and genes-environment interplay in the making and unmaking of mental health. While the scientific facts are up-to-date, they wont be path breaking as this is not mostly a scientific book- its value lies more in a first hand account of how a family deals with mental health issues and how there are common genetic risk factors that manifest in various forms- from a teen having conduct problems and eventually psychosis, to an adult in the grips of substance use and addiction, to a mother fighting and feigning at the same time that she does not suffer from depression, to a long dead grandpa who was alcoholic and probably committed suicide, to traces of violence in other relatives.
The book is also important as it highlights that mental illness and genetic risk does not respect diagnostic boundaries- from depression to conduct disorders to substance use to psychosis – all manifest in the same family tree and were perhaps myriad manifestations of a same common inheritance.
My recommendations; read it, read it as a piece of fiction , as an autobiographical account; as an educative opportunity to know more about mental illness and risk factors or just to get a first hand experiential account of what it meas to live under the weight of a lethal inheritance- read it whichever way you like, but you are bound to come out with an enhanced and more nuanced perspective that would be richer for having read this .
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