Putting the Science of “Peak” to the Test

Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Poole cover cartoon

No book I’ve read—not The Talent Code, not Deep Work, nothing—has convinced me more effectively that nobody is born with special talents, but that talent is earned, than did Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. I now fervently believe that all that separates me from Mozart, Magnus Carlsen, Ben Franklin, or Picasso is training and dedication. 

That doesn’t mean I want to become like those people, though. For now I’ll keep my aspirations quite a bit lower.

Way lower.

All I want is to become a faster typer.

A Slow Type

Elite typers can type over 120 words-per-minute. (And yes, I believe “typist” is technically the correct word, but I’ll stick with “typer” because it seems more natural to me.) My girlfriend, whose training mostly amounts to writing Instagram captions, can comfortably type over 80 WPM. Me? Despite having the proper no-look, ten-finger typing technique and spending hours every day doing it, I can only type a mediocre 60 WPM.

Not fast.

I used to attribute my lack of blazing typing speed to being tall (more distance between my fingers and my brain, you know?) and never having taken piano lessons. Why else could it be?

Well, now that I’ve read Peak, I know the answer.

I’m a slow typer because I’d gotten too comfortable too soon when learning to type, then developed bad habits that slowed me down even more. That doesn’t mean I can’t change, though. And that’s why I’ve set the goal of ramping up my typing speed to 90 WPM.

Why Typing?

I type roughly ten thousand words a week. At my current speed that takes two hours 47 minutes to do. This adds up to 18 eight-hour work days in a year—that’s a lot of typing! 

If I can get 50% faster, that’d save me six whole workdays worth of typing every year for years to come. So even if it takes me a hundred hours of training to get there, training to be a faster typer is a great investment.

(Oh, and I wouldn’t mind being faster than my girlfriend either.)

Time to get Deliberate

As Ericsson and Pool explain in Peak, simply typing more won’t help me. That’s because once we reach an acceptable level at anything, doing it more doesn’t make us any better. We will actually deteriorate over time that way. To get better, as Ericsson and Pool describe, I need to do “deliberate practice.”

Here’s how I’ve taken their detailed advice and examples of what deliberate practice consists of to apply to my own typing training regime:

1. Find a Teacher

I don’t have access to a typing coach, so I’m not off to a hot start. Luckily, Ericsson and Pool offer a plan B. 

“If nobody will teach you, find an expert,” and then, “Identify what this person does differently from others that could explain the superior performance.”

That I can do.

Google searching “secrets of expert typists” has proven to be fruitless. There’s no book, or even blog post, with anything more than basic typing tips. I have, however, found another resource: YouTube. Specifically, I’ve found quite a few videos of people typing really fast.

To identify what they “do differently that can explain their superior performance”, I have started to carefully analyze their typing technique,  comparing it to mine, and honing in on opportunities for improvement. 

2. Create or Find a Feedback Mechanism

To track my progress and identify improvement areas I’m using TypeRacer.com. It may not look pretty, but it’s pretty awesome. With TypeRacer I can participate in unlimited typing races, track my WPM over time, race against myself (previous run-throughs of the same text) and others, and reply my races while tracking every mistake I made.

3. Don’t Hope For General Skill Improvement. Have Focused Goals.

The biggest hurdle between me and my 90 WPM goal is error. If I could type error-free, I’d reach my goal. As it stands I have a 97% accuracy rate. If you don’t think that’s a lot, imagine being in a running race and having to take three backwards steps for every hundred forwards steps. Terrible.

That’s why I’m tracking and recording every error I make on TypeRacer. This allows me to identify specific points of weakness that I can then focus my practice on. Also, to punish myself for each error I make and hammer the correct motor patterns into my brain, I force myself to retype every word or phrase I mistype fifteen times consecutively without a single error. This can sometimes take me hundreds of attempts to do per error, and I have many errors per race. It’s slow, hard going. But that’s the point.

4. Engage Completely

I’ve set aside half an hour a day to shut off everything else and focus only on putting in what Ericsson and Pool write must be, “maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable.” Every practice session, I will push myself to do better than the last, which will force me to be maximally engaged.

Let the Typing Begin!

That’s enough typing for me here. It’s time to start my deliberate typing practice. I’ll post an update here when I’m through my experiment. Wish me luck!

Dig Deeper: Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Peak by Anders Ericsson coverWhile you might not care to become a faster typer, there’s undoubtedly something you’d like to be better at. Whatever that may be, if you actually want it to make it happen, I recommend you read Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool might just convince you, as they did me, that your true potential isn’t limited by your brain or your body, but by how you train. 

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