Things I Learned From Reading Peak

I recently completed reading Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Anders Ericsson is a professor of Psychology whose research is among that body drawn upon by, for example, Malcolm Gladwell when he wrote about the “10, 000 hour rule” (it is in fact the primary source for that rule), and which is also the origin of the concept of “Deliberate Practice”. Robert Pool is a science journalist who in his own right holds a PhD in mathematics from Rice University.

Most people familiar with Pickup and Game are probably quite familiar with the general thesis that expertise in many endeavors which has historically been attributed to innate talent is in fact borne of practice, and is therefore replicable and achievable by most people. Along with the idea that the ability to attract women is one such field or endeavor, that idea is a fundamental assumption of game.

Now, I kind of thought that if I knew that most skills are learnable via Deliberate Practice, then that was all I needed to know, and that a book like this would have little to add to that basic understanding. However, this was still a helpful book to read. For one thing, the concept of “Deliberate Practice” is kind of vague when it’s just thrown around. This book helps clarify what separates any form of practice from Deliberate Practice. It also introduces several other concepts to one’s mental representation of what building a skill consists of, including that of mental representations (whoa).

Here’s a quick run-down of a few of the more interesting concepts I gleaned from the book and think I can apply to learning Pickup.

The first thing I’d note is that Peak repeatedly makes it clear that engaging in the kind of practice that yields great gains in performance isn’t fun. Across the endeavors studied by Ericsson, he notes that the most skillful practiced the most, but generally didn’t do that because they found the practice more fun than the ones who didn’t practice as much. Rather, they engaged in that practice because they had some fundamental motivation that overrode any unpleasantness and tedium attendant to the practice.

This I think should give relief to beginners (maybe even intermediates) in Game, such as myself, who are uncomfortable when they hear Pickup coaches and personalities talk about how one needs to go out and have fun while they learn game. I think learning Pickup can be fun and have at times found it so, particularly in the beginning, when one is just happy to go out and it’s a win just to do more than one approach, or have a pleasant 5-minute conversation with a girl. But most of the time, learning Pickup can be pretty unfun. For me, the part that sucks is when I keep making the same mistake over and over. For others, it’s getting rejected. Whatever one’s particular pain-point, one should take solace in the warning in Peak that DP “…demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable” (p.99). We’ll get into what exactly DP is and what it might look like in the Pickup context at the end.

Now as a corollary to that, at some point the book the authors indicate that beginners may be able to only engage in Deliberate Practice for an hour or two, whereas the more skilled one is, the longer they can engage in the activity. It’s less exhausting when you’ve integrated the fundamentals and those are going on auto-pilot. This is another fact from which beginners can derive solace; we’re often exhorted to “burn the place to the ground” and “stick it out until the bitter end” and to try to pull until the last minute and even after the last minute on the street when the venue empties out. But practicing Pickup can be exhausting when you’re a beginner. You’re on your feet for 3+ hours engaging in a mentally and, for beginners, emotionally demanding activity. Beginners, in my view, should plan on gradually increasing the amount of time they spend out starting with just one or two hours. They should not feel pressured to match the amount of time intermediate and advanced guys can put in on a night out. I would argue that for many beginners, particularly early ones, their time is better spent doing two things that will cement whatever progress they made while out or whatever lessons they learned from their mistakes on a given night: debriefing with wings/writing FRs, and getting sleep.

The book also contains advice on how to break through plateaus. To put in practical and succinct terms the book’s advice on this matter: to break through a plateau, go try to do something really hard that you know you will fail at and pay attention to where exactly you fuck up and why. In order to produce good answers to those questions, however, one will probably need a solid mental representation of what things are supposed to look like.

This concept of mental representations/models is one of the most useful ones I learned from this book. It sounds kind of obvious, but you need to know what a good interaction is supposed to look like in order to judge whether you did well or not. For example, when me and my main wing first started going out, we would have interactions (once we got over AA) that would end in “nice to meet you” and we started to think “oh we need to start engaging in kino or something, that’s the next step for us”. I believe this was stupid conjecture. There was some reasonable intuition behind it; the sets weren’t going anywhere because we weren’t showing intent and escalating. We had consumed enough helter-skelter Pickup material to know we needed to show intent or escalate in some fashion. However, we weren’t looking at the full picture. For example, were we getting any IOIs beyond the mere fact that the girls stuck around? The vast majority of the time during those early days the answer was no. We weren’t getting attraction, and we thought starting to touch the girl’s arm or something was going to change that.

Perhaps more importantly, one needs a good mental representation when in set. Without a map in your head of where you are at in the interaction and what the next step is, you will flounder around. I believe this has been one of my primary problems lately. I go out with the focus on opening in a certain way and hooking, and then when I actually seem to get attraction I’m adrift, because I didn’t really go in with any real intention or expectation to be able to do anything beyond that. My idea of what to do after the set is hooked is hazy; I could move the girl, or try to go for a number, I suppose. But those things are like only semi-charted territories on my map, so to speak. I need to get a better picture of what those things look like, and then when/how they fit into the rest of the interaction; I need, in other words, a more sophisticated mental model of interactions with women.

For example, I need to have specific ways to gauge where I am at with girls who aren’t giving me obvious indications one way or the other. Sometimes, it’s ambiguous. Things I plan on training myself to think about in the set: what the frame is, what the conversational ratio is, and whether the girl is asking me questions. I also need a map of where to go in the set. Once I notice the girl is attracted, do I try to number close to get that out of the way, and then escalate my intent? Do I establish my intent first? Do I try to move her before either of those things? I will be thinking about my mental models in a subsequent post.

Right now, my main game problem is a little more quotidian. I can’t move the interaction forward even though I know I should, and I sometimes think of a good way of doing so in the moment. I think I am just not habituated enough to taking certain actions, like asking for the number, or moving the girl in the venue. These are of course actions that could get a “no” from the girl, so there is likely an internal block on my part in addition to the fact that doing those things are still novel for me. Hopefully by drilling such actions just for the sake of making them habitual I can also learn that making those asks and getting a “no” is no bigger a deal than approaching and getting blown out, which I stopped caring about a while ago. To me, this type of plan is a way of applying the book’s main idea, that of Deliberate Practice.

What exactly is Deliberate Practice and what might it look like when applied to Pickup? Let’s handle those questions one at a time.

There are a number of criteria for Deliberate Practice presented in the book. First off, Peak stakes out two prerequisites a given endeavor must meet in order for Deliberate Practice to even be possible. The first is that the given field contains an increasingly sophisticated body of knowledge of how to teach/learn the skills involved in the endeavor, and the second is that there exist teachers who have reached expert-level proficiency in the skill-set to teach the skills using specific practice methods.

Assuming the endeavor meets those requirements, one can engage in Deliberate Practice, and in order for practice to count as “deliberate”, it must meet several other criteria. The most relevant to Pickup in my view are that the practice is overseen by a teacher or coach; the practice takes place outside of one’s comfort zone; the practice “…involves well-defined, specific goals…it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement [emphasis mine]”; and the practice involves building skills on top of one another.

I do not think the body of knowledge that is Pickup is living up to its full potential with respect to these criteria. There is a large body of techniques and theories in the Pickup universe, but very little thought has been given to providing a template or curriculum about how to digest and learn all of this material. Everyone seems to agree that you start by just going out and facing down Approach Anxiety. But there seems to me to be very little agreement about what to tackle next, in what order, and how. The type of thing I am trying to describe is something like: handle AA; work on tonality, volume, eye contact; work on making sure sets hook; learn how to deliberately get attraction; learn physical escalation; learn good number close methods…learn about logistics, pulling, etc. You get the idea.

I suppose what killed the momentum in terms of developing a common understanding of the order one should learn Pickup skills is the large shift to “natural game”, and the fact that the most prolific producer of Pickup content, RSD, loves the “natural game” paradigm and also generally seems to eschew codification, organization, and rigorous thinking. Hard to tell whether RSD’s dominance shifted the field or whether the paradigmatic shift made competitors that hewed more closely to Pickup’s structured roots less attractive, and thus left RSD to dominate the field and much of its thought for the past few years.  Either way, the primary way a lot of guys learning this stuff go about it is to combine a general (and quite often shallow understanding of game theory) + a few tactics and engage in what Peak calls “purposeful practice”, which basically means “A for effort, but you’re going about this in an unorganized and potentially dumb way”. Another way of putting it is that most guys just try to improve by brute force. Their method is analogous to trying to get better at boxing solely by getting in the ring to spar and getting their ass kicked repeatedly. Yes, one will probably improve by doing this. But one would probably isn’t going to get as fast as one should, certain tiers of skill may be completely closed off using this method, and one may even develop and ingrain certain bad and counter-productive habits doing this as well. Mitt-work, time with the various punching bags, strength training, cardio, drills to improve foot-work–those are just some of the many exercises of a more focused nature one must undertake in order to improve specific skills or characteristics that compose part of the whole that is one’s boxing skill. I’m not a lone crazy guy here; Todd is aware that this is the proper way to acquire skills, that’s one reason why I think he’s the best coach out there.

One weakness of the gospel of “micro-drilling” I preach is one brought up to me by Lloyd of The Single Guy. This weakness lies in the facts that the practice of pickup a) relies on another human being’s reactions and b) is inherently chaotic, messy, and unorganized. Going out to practice pickup is not like hitting the range at a golf course; there is no equivalent to just taking out a driver and practicing a few long drives before taking out a 9 iron and drilling…the high archy parabolic thing you’re supposed to do with that for whatever purpose you’re supposed to do it (been a while since my golf lessons).

I am going to have to adjust my way of practicing to accommodate Lloyd’s advice. I see myself doing this in one of two ways (or both). The first would be to bracket at least one night where I go out and don’t try to drill specific things, but rather just adapt as best as I can to what the set throws at me. The second would be to make my goals themselves contingent upon the girl’s behavior. An example of how I would tailor my goals like that would be: “if the girl is receptive off the open, do x; if not, try y; once in convo for ~ 5 minutes, try z”. Like I said I could try adopting both. I’ll probably start just going with number 1, though. The other nights will be practice, but I can designate one night as “the game”, wherein I actually try to get results instead of focusing merely on improvement.

Hence, it might be that a better way of learning game is to get a solid mental model of what a good set should look like in certain situations; go out and approach; see if you can engage the set in the way you know you “should”; figure out where you fucked up in relation to your mental model and/or see if you need to expand or refine your mental model in any way.