I’ll be honest. In the past I was not a fan of doing things twice. If you are like many other people, busyness and fear gets in the way of building new skills, and habits as well as achieving goals. However today I am regularly shaping my saw and practicing, practicing, failing, succeeding, practicing, learning, and achieving…building the courage muscle.
But practicing–that is, repeating–and learning are inextricably connected. And the ability to learn is a key component of development, success, courage and growth. As famed NBA basketball player and coach Edward Macauley put it, “When you are not practicing, remember–someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”
But why in the world does practicing even work in the first place? What’s really changing that provides those positive gains in memory and performance we’re after?
It’s all about the brain and insulation
As Annie Bosler and Don Greene explain in their Ted Ed video, you have two main types of matter in your brain. The first is gray matter, which processes information and directs signals and sensory stimuli to nerve cells (neurons). Then you’ve got white matter, which is a combo of nerve fibers (axons) and fatty tissue. Axons are simply long, thin projections of neurons. Their job is to conduct electrical impulses away from the main body of the neuron.
Now, think of axons as electrical wire in the way they function. Electrical wire usually has insulation around it to prevent the loss of energy and keep it moving efficiently along the proper path. Axons are exactly the same. They have a natural insulating sheath known as myelin.
Every time you practice and repeat a physical motion, you build up the layers of myelin around your axons, improving their insulation. Scientists believe this extra insulation makes such a difference in the axon function that it essentially creates a sort of “super highway” for the electrical signals traveling through your body. So it’s not that you’re forming “muscle memory” (that doesn’t really exist). It’s that you’re upping the speed at which the brain and your muscles are communicating, improving how fast recall, command and response take place.
Here are 3 Keys to Easily Building New Skills and Talents
We are really good at the things we do often and, because we are good at them, we choose to do them often.
We tend to ignore the things we are not so good at, and that is a pity when there are simple ways to turn these into talents and skills, too.
Today I want to show you 3 keys to easily building new skills and talents.
Understand how your brain works.
Let’s take a look at the brain.
Every time you do something regularly, you are building up a strong pathway through the nervous system and brain. You are building up the myelin in specific areas.
“Myelin is an insulating layer that forms around nerves, including those in the brain and spinal cord. The purpose of the myelin sheath is to allow impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells.”
So the more often you perform a task or action, the smoother the ride is for the impulses being sent around your body.
You can expect that the first few times you perform a new task, the ride will be a little bumpy but we know that through repetition, you will improve your performance because your brain will help you do it.
You must practice with full attention.
In a book called The Talent Code, Brian Coyle tells us that deep practice can increase skill up to ten times faster than conventional practice.
So what is deep practice? It’s a form of attentive practice that fires off parts of the brain.
Coert Visser describes it like this:
“A first step in deep practice is to look at the task at a whole. One way of doing this is to observe an experienced performer. A second step is to divide it into its smallest possible chunks (components) and practice and memorize these separately. Then, link them together in progressively larger groupings. A third step is to play with time, first slowing the action down and then speeding it up. Slowing down helps you to attend more closely to errors, creating a higher degree of precision.”
So deep practice isn’t just about doing. It’s about analysing, thinking and observing the task as it is done. It’s embedding it in the brain through extreme attention, and the struggle to perfect each component.
Be prepared to struggle.
You are learning something new so straight away you will be out of your comfort zone. Most of us hate making mistakes and find it really uncomfortable it we don’t get it right immediately. Yet it is often through struggle that we learn best – the lessons really stay with us.
When we find a task difficult, we are forced to slow down and work at half pace or less. That gives us time to think as we act, engaging the full capacity of the brain in your learning experience.
Whenever you struggle from now on, know that you are learning something!
These are three important steps or techniques that you can use in your next skill development experience.
Finally we love to coach and teach the power habits and visualisation – this will be explored in our next newsletter!
Would you love to learn new skills in Leadership? Join us in the Self-Paced Leadership Program today! Free 7 Day Trial!
Director of Your Mind
If you’ve ever watched mountain bike racing, you’ve probably wondered just how the cyclists manage to ride their bikes through the rugged terrain of the forest at such breakneck speeds without hitting a tree or another obstacle. For most of us, the sudden appearance of a large obstacle in our path causes a surge of adrenaline as our conscious minds make us aware of the danger ahead. Listening to our conscious mind, we might simply freeze!
Yet these cyclists seem to magically fly by these obstacles without slowing down, completely unscathed, and with only a slight change in their course. How do they do it? The answer lies in the cyclist’s ability to allow their subconscious to direct their mind and remain focused on their goal.
The Power of the Mind
The secret lies in the power of the mind. The cyclists have, through practice and experience, learnt to trust the intuition of their inner voice and allow their subconscious the freedom to direct their course.
Of course, the power of our mind is not limited to safely guiding us when we are riding a bicycle. Your mind can help you to achieve more happiness and success in life if you will learn to trust your inner voice and allow your subconscious the freedom to direct your course in your daily life.
Becoming the Director of Your Mind
- Be specific. In order to get your mind to work for you, it is important that you learn to think in specific terms when it comes to your goals. Make time to be alone with your thoughts each day and really focus on the specifics of what you want to achieve. Think about those things that bring you joy and work to include more of these activities into your daily life. Doing so will help to bring positive energy into your life and help you to feel calmer and more centred.
- We get what we focus on. How often have you sat in a seminar and said to yourself, “Don’t pick me! Don’t pick me!” Inevitably, you are the one who is picked. The more we focus on what we don’t want, the increased chance we have of getting it. You have the power to choose your own focus, so use it wisely.
- Do one thing. Choose one thing to work on and do it well. Splitting your focus and concentration across a number of tasks or problems only means that none of them have the attention they deserve. What is important to you right now? That’s what you need to work on.
- Know your attention spans and cycles. Perhaps you’re a morning person. Perhaps you can work for 3 or 4 hours straight before you need a break. Or perhaps you’re someone who can’t get started until you’ve have a couple of coffees and a chat. It makes sense to work when your brain is ready, doesn’t it? We’re all different and we have different peak times for working and needing a break. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day and take a break when you need it. You won’t do your best work when you’re tired and your mind begins to wander.
- Be mindful. Notice what you are doing and thinking. When things are going along as expected, the brain switches to autopilot and all those familiar thoughts pop up from the default network in the brain. This is the path where your thoughts always go, whether you are aware of it or not. For example, you’re driving home when you suddenly realise that you haven’t noticed the last few kilometres you’ve driven – but somehow you’ve planned out the night’s menu. When your brain operates this way, you are missing out on all sorts of experiences and information that you could take in and use, in particular through your senses. Being mindful means living in and experiencing the moment, and it’s a skill you will need to practice if you really want to direct your own mind.
As you think about what you want to achieve each day, be mindful of the types of thoughts that try to enter your mind. Learn to control negative thoughts, worries and doubts and replace your negative thoughts and self-doubts with positive affirmations and self-talk that builds your self-esteem.
As you learn to be specific in your goals, and direct your thoughts to be more positive than negative, you will find that your thoughts are less scattered and unfocused. You will start to achieve greater success in reaching your goals. Rather than focusing on the obstacles that block you from achieving your goals, your mind will automatically look for ways to help you to create situations in your life that help you to reach your goals. Over time, you will learn how to hear the inner voice of your subconscious and you will begin to trust it to direct your course, and you will become the director or your mind.