Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, entrepreneur, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.
The Little Book of Talent - by Daniel Coyle

The Little Book of Talent - by Daniel Coyle

Amazon page for details and reviews.

First he wrote The Talent Code, which I also highly recommend, then he distilled all that research about deliberate practice into 52 actionable tips. Amazing and inspiring, you can read the whole thing in 90 minutes, then get to work!

my notes

The Little Book of Talent - by Daniel Coyle

While the underlying neuroscience is fascinating and complex, it all adds up to the basic truth: Small actions, repeated over time, transform us.

“Muscle memory” doesn’t really exist, because our muscles simply do what our brains tell them to do. Thus, the new science can be summed up as follows: You want to develop your talent? Build a better brain through intensive practice.

Create the spark, and to use the fuel for deep practice.


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TIP #1:
STARE AT WHO YOU WANT TO BECOME

Fill your vision with vivid images of your future self, and stare at them every day. Studies show that even a brief connection with a role model can vastly increase unconscious motivation.


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TIP #2:
SPEND FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY ENGRAVING THE SKILL ON YOUR BRAIN

Watch the skill being performed, closely and with great intensity, over and over, until you build a high-definition mental blueprint.

The key to effective engraving is to create an intense connection: to watch and listen so closely that you can imagine the feeling of performing the skill.
For physical skills, project yourself inside the performer’s body. Become aware of the movement, the rhythm; try to feel the interior shape of the moves.
For mental skills, simulate the skill by re-creating the expert’s decision patterns.
Chess players achieve this by replaying classic games, move by move
Public speakers do it by regiving great speeches complete with original inflections
Musicians cover their favorite songs
Writers retype passages verbatim from great works


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TIP #3:
STEAL WITHOUT APOLOGY

Look at every single performer better than you and see what they’ve got that you can use. Then make it your own.

Everything from how to hit a high note to how to deal with a rowdy crowd.

The younger members of musical families so often are also the most talented, because of this.

Focus on specifics, not general impressions. Capture concrete facts.


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TIP #4:
BUY A NOTEBOOK

Daily performance journal.

Write stuff down and reflect on it. Results from today. Ideas for tomorrow. Goals for next week.


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TIP #5:
BE WILLING TO BE STUPID

If a passerby can recognize a song, it’s being played too fast.


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TIP #6:
CHOOSE SPARTAN OVER LUXURIOUS

Luxury is a motivational narcotic: It signals our unconscious minds to give less effort. It whispers, “Relax, you’ve made it.”

Simple, humble spaces help focus attention on the deep-practice task at hand: reaching and repeating and struggling.


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TIP #7:
BEFORE YOU START, FIGURE OUT IF IT’S A HARD SKILL OR A SOFT SKILL

Hard skills are about repeatable precision.

Soft, high-flexibility skills are about being agile and interactive; about instantly recognizing patterns as they unfold and making smart, timely choices.

The following three tips take this idea further, explaining the methods of deep practice that work best to develop each type of skill.


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TIP #8:
TO BUILD HARD SKILLS, WORK LIKE A CAREFUL CARPENTER

Be careful, slow, and keenly attuned to errors.

Make one simple move at a time, repeating and perfecting it before you move on. Pay attention to errors, and fix them.

The Suzuki music instruction method does this.


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TIP #9:
TO BUILD SOFT SKILLS, PLAY LIKE A SKATEBOARDER

Soft skills are the result of super-fast brain software recognizing patterns and responding in just the right way.

Soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside challenging, ever-changing environments. These are places where you encounter different obstacles and respond to them over and over.

Practice should be aggressive, curious, and experimental, always seeking new ways to challenge yourself.

After each session ask yourself, What worked? What didn’t? And why?


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TIP #10:
HONOR THE HARD SKILLS

Most talents are a combination of soft and hard skills.

Prioritize the hard skills because in the long run they’re more important to your talent.


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TIP #11:
DON’T FALL FOR THE PRODIGY MYTH


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TIP #12:
FIVE WAYS TO PICK A HIGH-QUALITY TEACHER OR COACH

1) Avoid Someone Who Reminds You of a Courteous Waiter
2) Seek Someone Who Scares You a Little. Look for someone who: Watches you closely, is action-oriented, and is honest, sometimes unnervingly so.
3) Seek Someone Who Gives Short, Clear Directions
4) Seek Someone Who Loves Teaching Fundamentals
5) Other Things Being Equal, Pick the Older Person


***
In the talent hotbeds I visited, practice was the big game, the center of their world, the main focus of their daily lives.

The key to deep practice is to reach. This means to stretch yourself slightly beyond your current ability, spending time in the zone of difficulty called the sweet spot. It means embracing the power of repetition, so the action becomes fast and automatic. It means creating a practice space that enables you to reach and repeat, stay engaged, and improve your skills over time.
***


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TIP #13:
FIND THE SWEET SPOT

Sensations: Frustration, difficulty, alertness to errors. You’re fully engaged in an intense struggle - as if you’re stretching with all your might for a nearly unreachable goal, brushing it with your fingertips, then reaching again. Percentage of Successful Attempts: 50–80 percent.

Locating your sweet spot requires some creativity.

Seek out ways to stretch yourself. Play on the edges of your competence. As Albert Einstein said, “One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

If you tried your absolute hardest, what could you almost do? Mark the boundary of your current ability, and aim a little beyond it. That’s your spot.


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TIP #14:
TAKE OFF YOUR WATCH

Deep practice is not measured in minutes or hours, but in the number of high-quality reaches and repetitions you make - basically, how many new connections you form in your brain.
Instead of counting minutes or hours, count reaches and reps.
Instead of saying, “I’m going to practice piano for twenty minutes,” tell yourself, “I’m going to do five intensive reps of that new song.”


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TIP #15:
BREAK EVERY MOVE DOWN INTO CHUNKS

1) What is the smallest single element of this skill that I can master?
2) What other chunks link to that chunk?
Practice one chunk by itself until you’ve mastered it - then connect more chunks, one by one,
See the whole thing. Break it down to its simplest elements. Put it back together. Repeat.


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TIP #16:
EACH DAY, TRY TO BUILD ONE PERFECT CHUNK

Perfect - not just improve, not just “work on,” but get 100 percent consistently correct.


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TIP #17:
EMBRACE STRUGGLE

The struggle and frustration you feel at the edges of your abilities - that uncomfortable burn of “almost, almost” - is the sensation of constructing new neural connections,


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TIP #18:
CHOOSE FIVE MINUTES A DAY OVER AN HOUR A WEEK

The way our brains grow - incrementally, a little each day, even as we sleep. Daily practice, even for five minutes, nourishes this process, while more occasional practice forces your brain to play catch-up.


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TIP #19:
DON’T DO “DRILLS.” INSTEAD, PLAY SMALL, ADDICTIVE GAMES

Skills improve faster when they’re looked at this way.
If it can be counted, it can be turned into a game.


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TIP #20:
PRACTICE ALONE


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TIP #21:
THINK IN IMAGES

Create a vivid image for each chunk you want to learn.


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TIP #22:
PAY ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU MAKE A MISTAKE

A vital instant, 0.25 seconds after a mistake is made.


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TIP #23:
VISUALIZE THE WIRES OF YOUR BRAIN FORMING NEW CONNECTIONS


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TIP #24:
VISUALIZE THE WIRES OF YOUR BRAIN GETTING FASTER


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TIP #25:
SHRINK THE SPACE

Poets and writers shrink the field by using restrictive meters to force themselves into a small creative form - such as with haiku and micro-writing exercises. Comedy writers use the 140-character arena of Twitter as a space to hone their skills.

What’s the minimum space needed to make these reaches and reps?
Where is extra space hindering fast and easy communication?


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TIP #26:
SLOW IT DOWN (EVEN SLOWER THAN YOU THINK)

When we learn how to do something new, our immediate urge is to do it again, faster.


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TIP #27:
CLOSE YOUR EYES

Closing your eyes is a swift way to nudge you to the edges of your ability, to get you into your sweet spot. It sweeps away distraction and engages your other senses to provide new feedback. It helps you engrave the blueprint of a task on your brain by making even a familiar skill seem strange and fresh.


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TIP #28:
MIME IT

Removing everything except the essential action lets you focus on what matters most: making the right reach.


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TIP #29:
WHEN YOU GET IT RIGHT, MARK THE SPOT

When you have your first perfect rep, freeze. Rewind the mental tape and play the move again in your mind. Memorize the feeling, the rhythm, the physical and mental sensations. The point is to mark this moment - this is the spot where you want to go again and again. This is not the finish - it’s the new starting line for perfecting the skill until it becomes automatic.


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TIP #30:
TAKE A NAP

It helps strengthen the connections formed during practice and prepare the brain for the next session.


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TIP #31:
TO LEARN A NEW MOVE, EXAGGERATE IT

Go too far so you can feel the outer edges of the move, and then work on building the skill with precision.


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TIP #32:
MAKE POSITIVE REACHES

Reach for what you want to accomplish, not away from what you want to avoid.


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TIP #33:
TO LEARN FROM A BOOK, CLOSE THE BOOK

Closing the book and writing a summary forces you to...
... figure out the key points (one set of reaches),
... process and organize those ideas so they make sense (more reaches)
... write them on the page (still more reaches, along with repetition).


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TIP #34:
USE THE SANDWICH TECHNIQUE

1. Make the correct move.
2. Make the incorrect move.
3. Make the correct move again.
The goal is to reinforce the correct move and to put a spotlight on the mistake,


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TIP #35:
USE THE 3 × 10 TECHNIQUE

Our brains make stronger connections when they’re stimulated three times with a rest period of ten minutes between each stimulation.
To learn something most effectively, practice it three times, with ten-minute breaks between each rep.


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TIP #36:
INVENT DAILY TESTS

What’s one key element of this skill?
How can I isolate my accuracy or reliability, and measure it?
How can I make it fun, quick, and repeatable, so I can track my progress?


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TIP #37:
TO CHOOSE THE BEST PRACTICE METHOD, USE THE R.E.P.S. GAUGE

R: Reaching and Repeating
Does the practice have you operating on the edge of your ability, reaching and repeating?

E: Engagement
Is the practice immersive? Does it command your attention? Does it use emotion to propel you toward a goal?

P: Purposefulness
Does the task directly connect to the skill you want to build?

S: Strong, Speedy Feedback.
Does the learner receive a stream of accurate information about his performance - where he succeeded and where he made mistakes?

Pay attention to the design of your practice. Small changes in method can create large increases in learning velocity.


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TIP #38:
STOP BEFORE YOU’RE EXHAUSTED

Fatigue slows brains. It triggers errors, lessens concentration, and leads to shortcuts that create bad habits.


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TIP #39:
PRACTICE IMMEDIATELY AFTER PERFORMANCE

The mistakes are fresh in my mind.


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TIP #40:
JUST BEFORE SLEEP, WATCH A MENTAL MOVIE

Play a movie of your idealized performance in your head.


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TIP #41:
END ON A POSITIVE NOTE

A practice session should end like a good meal - with a small, sweet reward.


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TIP #42:
SIX WAYS TO BE A BETTER TEACHER OR COACH

1) Use the First Few Seconds to Connect on an Emotional Level. Effective teaching is built on trust. Before you can teach, you have to show that you care.
2) Avoid Giving Long Speeches - Instead, Deliver Vivid Chunks of Information. Short, targeted, customized messages to each student, one at a time.
3) Be Allergic to Mushy Language. All good teaching follows the same blueprint: Try this concrete thing. Now try this concrete thing. Now try combining them into this concrete thing. Communicate with precise nouns and numbers - things you can see and touch and measure - and avoid adjectives and adverbs, which don’t tell you precisely what to do.
4) Make a Scorecard for Learning. Pick a metric that measures the skill you want to develop, and start keeping track of it.
Zappos ignored the usual scorecard and began tracking the occasions when their customer-service representatives went above and beyond the call of duty - “delivering wow,”
5) Maximize “Reachfulness” What kind of space will create the most reachful environment? How can you replace moments of passivity with moments of active learning?
6) Aim to Create Independent Learners


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TIP #43:
EMBRACE REPETITION

Bruce Lee said, “I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times.”


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TIP #44:
HAVE A BLUE-COLLAR MIND-SET

Get up in the morning and go to work every day, whether you feel like it or not.


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TIP #45:
FOR EVERY HOUR OF COMPETITION, SPEND FIVE HOURS PRACTICING


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TIP #46:
DON’T WASTE TIME TRYING TO BREAK BAD HABITS - INSTEAD, BUILD NEW ONES

Ignore the bad habit and put your energy toward building a new habit that will override the old one.


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TIP #47:
TO LEARN IT MORE DEEPLY, TEACH IT

This works because when you communicate a skill to someone, you come to understand it more deeply yourself.


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TIP #48:
GIVE A NEW SKILL A MINIMUM OF EIGHT WEEKS

Don’t make judgments too early. Keep at it, even if you don’t feel immediate improvement.


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TIP #49:
WHEN YOU GET STUCK, MAKE A SHIFT

The best way past a plateau is to jostle yourself beyond it; to change your practice method so you disrupt your autopilot and rebuild a faster, better circuit. One way to do this is to speed things up - to force yourself to do the task faster than you normally would. Or you can slow things down - going so slowly that you highlight previously undetected mistakes. Or you can do the task in reverse order, turn it inside out or upside down.


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TIP #50:
CULTIVATE YOUR GRIT

https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/user/login?destination=node/465
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