By Brad Phillips, Aril 29, 2019
Mastering any skill requires time and effort. But how does Brazil produce one of the best soccer players in the world? How does a humble storefront music school in Dallas, produce Jessica Simpson, Demi Lovato, and a succession of pop stars?
And how did a 13 year old girl named Clarissa accomplished a months worth of practice in just 6 minutes?
It’s not just about practice, it’s about how you practice. Both Clarissa and the talent hotbeds tapped into a neurological mechanism in which certain patterns of targeted practice build skill. Without realizing it, they have entered a zone of accelerated learning.
The talent code is built on revolutionary scientific discoveries involving a neural insulator called Myelin. Every human skill, whether it’s playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse, basically, a signal traveling through a circuit.
Myelin’s vital role is to wrap those nerve fibers the same way that rubber insulation wraps a copper wire, making the signal stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out.
When we fire our circuits in the right way when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed.
The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become. So how does Brazil produce so many great players? Well Brazilian football players, played a game called Futsal.
The court is smaller, the ball is heavier and there is less space for the player to move. Futsal requires more precise handling of the ball, and each player has six times more contact with the ball compared to regular soccer.
When Ronaldinho and Ronaldo played futsal, they were firing and optimizing their circuits more often and more precisely than when they played the outdoor game. They were growing more myelin.
The author call this, deep practice – firing and optimizing circuits, correcting errors, competing, and improving skills. Now that you know how important Myelin is and that we get more of it through deep practice, you should also know the rules of deep practice, so you can create your own ‘futsal environment’ to get the most out of your practice time.
First: Chunk it up. This means looking at the task as a whole, then breaking it down into very small units. By intensively examining and learning these tiny units, you gain a deeper understanding of each crucial component of your skill.
In a New York music school sheet music was chopped up horizontally then stuffed into envelopes and pulled out randomly so that a piece of music would first be practiced in a random order. So when the musicians finally played the piece of music in its intended order, they had gained a deep understanding of each element of the piece.
Second: Slow it down In another school, one teacher had a rule of thumb: if a passerby can recognize the song being played, it’s not being practiced correctly. Why does slowing down work so well? Well going slow allows you to attend more closely to mistakes, creating a higher degree of precision with each firing, and the more the nerve fires, the more myelin wraps around it.
Coordination is built with repetition, whether correct or incorrect.
Third: Repeat it. There is, biologically speaking, no substitute for attentive repetition. Nothing you can do talking, thinking, reading, imagining is more effective in building skill than executing the action, firing the impulse down the nerve fiber, fixing errors, honing the circuit.
And finally: Always practice at the edge of your capabilities. Clarissa managed to accomplish a months worth of practice because she was practicing just out of her reach, in the so called « stretch zone ».
If you want to practice anything efficiently, don’t shy away from your mistakes, but focus on adjusting them until you improve.
If you play a new piece of music, don’t just play it from top to bottom, but stop every time you make a mistake and repeat that part. It might not sound very nice while practicing, but the result will be great!
The key message in this book is that: Talent depends on myelin growth, the insulation that wraps around our neural circuits. To stimulate myelin growth, you have to practice at the very edge of your current capabilities so that you make mistakes and correct them. Talent is formed, when deep practice is encouraged. Either you are or you wanted to learn some new skill in the past, whether it be mental or physical. So now is a good time to start that thing, incorporate the ideas from this book, and use the talent code to master the skill in the shortest time possible.