Improve your performance with deliberate practice series — part 1

A series about experts, learning, performance, and concrete steps to go from 0 to hero in your domain. Starts with Part 1, goes on with Part 2, and ends with Part 3.

How many times did you miss the opportunity of doing something you loved because “you weren’t talented” — music, drawing, design, architecture, writing and so on. How many times did you or those around you question your ability to perform in a field based solely on talent? I started doing the math and it seemed so sad I dropped it.

For this article, I will give you a peek into what happens in our brain when we learn, so you can decide for yourself who’s the winner.

First, science

Myelin is a living tissue, and much like a muscle, it needs to be exercised regularly for it to grow.

As you may already know, the primer part of our body that determines learning is our brain, with his multiple components and complex storage space.

Our feelings, actions, thoughts are the result of electrical impulses that travel along a series of connected nerve fibers (axons), called “circuits”. Each circuit corresponds to a single action, thought or feeling.

The neural circuits which carry those signals are encased in a substance known as myelin. The myelin determines how quickly and precisely a signal can travel along a circuit.

Myelin

Much like a wider road allows you to travel faster, a thicker myelin enables electrical impulses to travel more rapidly through a circuit. The thicker the myelin, the greater your ability to control movement and thoughts more accurately.

Myelin is a living tissue, and much like a muscle, it needs to be exercised regularly for it to grow. When you do the same thing over and over again you don’t stimulate myelin growth because you’re using existing, strong circuits.

There, pure science. Did I make you rethink a bit how purposeful practice affects your performance? Maybe not yet, but bare with me.

Second, example

World-class artists saw learning as a painful process, in which they engaged with passion.

Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist specialised in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance, asked himself a question “How long after one becomes interested in music is it that one becomes world-class?”.

To answer it he began the study of 500 pieces used in famous music recitals and he mapped the timeline of the 76 composers. What he discovered was that 73 out of 76 of them wrote the first world-class piece after 10 years of working, so he named those 10 years, “the 10 years of silence”.

He could have stopped there, but something else they had in common made him curious — “how” performers practiced. He found that those world-class artists saw learning as a painful process, in which they engaged with passion, but with the purpose and tactics developed specifically to level up their game.

How to Master Anything: PEAK by Anders Ericsson

To wrap-it up, in order for you to grow your skills and become a world-class performer in your field, you need more than time, you need to get your myelin thicker. How do you do that? By replacing the normal, unfocused practice with the kind of practice that is purposeful and focused, having the goal of improving your performance.

Talent fights dirty. It uses weapons and provides people with fears and excuses that limit beliefs and promote lack of information. All the while, purposeful practice uses data and cognitive science. Which one do you believe in now?

I would love to share more learning tips with you. Follow me on Medium!


Lavinia Mehedințu is a self directed learner, always trying to get the best out of her learning process. She dreams to change mindsets and educational systems through her work.