The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown and Here’s How

There exists a zone of accelerated learning, in which you learn super fast, and retain a lot more. Prodigies like Mozart, Davinci, etc., were only lucky enough to know how to enter that zone deliberately. In other words, they had cracked the talent code. In this article, I will share with you how this life-altering secret.

What You Will Learn:

  • What really is talent, and how it is grown?
  • How you can drastically speed up acquiring a talent using deep practice.
  • How you can create the motivation that pushes you forward.
  • A new mindset that literally changes you into believing if it is humanly possible, it is within your reach as well.

Before stumbling on the Talent Code book, I believed that innate talent has always been a major element of success and extraordinary achievement. From that decisive and brilliant leader who makes accurate snap judgments to those kids who solve the Rubik under 10 seconds, I always used to think, gosh, they’re so lucky to be so talented. But I was wrong, terribly wrong.

Viewing skills and accomplishments in this is quite limiting and prevents us from even trying.

Luckily for me, I read this amazing book which debunked lots of dangerous and self-limiting myths about talent and achievement.

What Really is Talent?

What we refer to as talent, as scientists have discovered, involves a neural insulator called myelin and is now considered to be the holy grail of cultivating skills.

From the simplest skill, such as flipping a coin, or riding a bike, to complex ones such as programming, proving a mathematical formula, playing the piano, etc., each human skill involves chains of nerve fibers and neural circuits that carry tiny electrical impulses.

Simply put, each skill involves traveling of signals through specific circuits of neurons.

Myelin critical role is to wrap around those nerve fibers and circuits. Think of it in the way rubber is wrapped around a copper wire.

The more myelin is wrapped around those fibers, the faster and stronger those tiny signal travel through the circuits. Hence, you become faster and better at the task.

In addition, this myelination and insulation of fibers make you more accurate by preventing the electrical signals from leaking out.

Fig -1 Action potential travels much faster in a myelinated neuron (the right one) than unmyelinated neurons (the left one) — Wikipedia

But How Are These Myelins Created?

If more myelination means becoming faster, better and more accurate, you would definitely want to know how it is created, and how we can influence it.

First, let’s see how it is created.

Imagine you want to try to swing a bat or play a note; if you do it correctly, your brain responds by wrapping myelin around the involving circuits (the circuits that successfully led to your desired outcome).

Each time you repeat the task another thin layer of meyelin is added to the involving circuits, making you even faster and better.

There are several critical facts that make mayelin important:

  • It’s universal: everyone can grow it, throughout life.
  • It’s indiscriminate: its growth allows for all kinds of skill, mental or physical.
  • Most importantly, now that you know what myelin is and how it is created, you will experience a radical shift in your thinking about skills and talent. (that is exactly what happened to me.)
  • All skill acquisitions, and thus, all talent hotbeds, are operating within the same principles, no matter how magical they might seem.

Although everyone can grow myelin, there are certain rules about practicing, that makes its growth much faster. And those prodigies that you see (from Michelangelo to Michael Jordan) are following those specific rules while they practice.

In fact, success or mediocrity depends most on the way you practice, not the already built-in brain power.

How to Cultivate Skills Faster, by Following Deep Practice Rules

You will become clever through your mistakes

The best way to learn Deep Practice is through a real example. You will then see for yourself how critical is the way you practice.

Spend a few seconds looking at column A. Then spend the same amount of time on column B.

Fig — 2 Deep practice in action

Now without looking at the table, try to remember as many pairs as you can.

From which column you can do you recall more words?

If you are like most people, it would not be even close. You will remember far more from column B than column A.

Scientists have measured that on average, you will retain 300% more from column B.

Your IQ does not increase while looking at column B. But, when you look at its items with fragments and blanks, something profound takes place in your brain:

  • You stumble briefly
  • You figure it out
  • You experience microseconds of struggle

And it is these microseconds of struggle that make all the difference. You didn’t practice harder, you practiced deeper.

In essence, practices in which you are forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them, end up making you swift and graceful without you even noticing it.

As Robert Bjork (the creator of the example) puts it:

We think of effortless performance as desirable, but it’s really a terrible way to learn.

And now the three rules of deep practice.

Rule 1: Chunking

While growing up, we have heard millions of times: “Just take it one step at a time”. This simple and intuitive technique is crucial to deep practice but that’s not all.

Chunking itself involves three steps:

First, you must look at the task as a whole. For instance, if you want to learn to play a melody with piano, you have to listen to it attentively to have a sense of what it sounds like as a whole. Or if you want to learn backhand in ping-pong, you must first, see and absorb the move in action. This one big chunk is the mega-circuit you want to eventually build.

Second, you must divide it into its smallest component. In Meadowmount School of Music, it is famous that children learn a year’s worth of material in just seven weeks. A 5-fold increase in learning speed.

Teachers in Meadowmount take the idea of chunking to the extreme.

Students scissor each measure of their sheet music into horizontal strips, put it into an envelope, take out one strip randomly. Further, they break those trips into smaller fragments by altering rhythm. In this way, they are focusing on a sub-circuit.

Third, slow down: you must slow down the action and play with the time. Slow down, then speed it up, to learn its inner architecture.

As a rule of thumb, in Meadowmount, teachers say: if a passerby can recognize the song being played, it’s not being practiced correctly.

Why Does Slowing Down Work?

For two reasons:

Going slow allows you to attend more closely to mistakes, forging a higher order of precision. When it comes to myelin, precision is everything.

Going slow helps you gain a deeper perception of the skill’s internal blueprints and architecture.

Rule 2: Repeat It

Repetition is the mother of skill. — Tony Robins

Biologically speaking, there is no substitute for attentive repetition. It is invaluable and irreplaceable. There are a few caveats though.

Conventional thought might suggest: more is always better: hitting two hundred forehands a day is presumed to be twice as good as hitting a hundred forehands daily.

Deep practice, does not obey the same math.

According to Ericsson’s research (the one who came up with the theory of 10000 hours rule), world-class experts in any field (pianist, chess players, etc.) practice between three and five hours a day.

Deep practice tends to make you exhausted after a couple of hours.

Rule 3: Learn to Feel It

The point here is to get a balance point where you can sense error when they come. To avoid the mistakes, first, you have to feel them immediately.

This is a vital phase of deep learning. Getting feedback, and correcting the course.

So far, we have learned about deep practice. But, deep practice is not a piece of cake. As you might have noticed, it requires lots of mental energy which in itself can be painful.

In other words, deep practice often requires another driving force behind it. You guessed right! It is motivation and enthusiasm.

Motivation is the second element of the talent code. In the next section, we will how motivation is created and sustained, through a process called ignition.


Ignition: Fueling Deep Practice by Motivation

Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world is a triumph of some enthusiasm. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ignition provides the energy, while deep practice transforms that energy over time into progress, a.k.a, wraps of myelin.

While the deep practice is all about baby steps, ignition is about the set of signals and subconscious forces that create our identity. The moments that lead us to say that that is who I want to be.

If you already are fond of a specific skill (music, sports, programming, etc.), there are specific steps you can take that would provide you with the required fuel.

Some of this ideas are coming from the Talent book I am writing this review on. But there are other techniques as well which I have learned along the way from the books like Mastery, by Robert Greene, Pick by Ericsson, etc.

So let’s examine some of the effective techniques

1. Exposure: One effective way is to be constantly engaged with figures that you admire. For instance, if you aspire to become a pianist, you must surround yourself with reminders of prodigies of this field.

Constantly listen to their masterpieces and let the enthusiasm grow within you.

Read their biographies, watch their performance and embrace the passion that sparks in you.

Install cues that constantly remind you of your ideal self. This technique is critical in that it keeps the flames of passion on.

2. Visualization: The second powerful technique is to travel to the future with your mind’s eyes and see yourself at the pick performance. Visualize with great details your ideal future self.

3. Accelerated cycle return: In his book, mastery, Robert Greene elaborates on the concept of accelerated cycle return.

It states that by keeping practicing and practicing attentively with intense focus, your brain reaches a state called “accelerated cycle return”.

In this state, you not only don’t see the practice as a burden but also feel a constant craving to get back to work and continue cultivating your skills, whether it is math, playing an instrument, etc.

So, if initially you merely like a subject and seek immense motivation to take to a higher level, keep practicing attentively and have in mind that you will eventually reach this holy accelerated cycle return.

Summary

Talent is merely myelination of neurons.

You can grow myelins faster by doing deep practice.

The deep practice has three rules:

  1. Chunking
  2. Repetition
  3. Slowing down

Deep practice is mentally demanding and unless we don’t have passion and motivation, our brain wouldn’t like it.

To spark motivation, you must:

  • Constantly expose yourself to figures that inspire you and you admire them.
  • Visualize your ideal self in the future.
  • Practice attentively with focus till you reach the accelerated cycle return.

I hope you enjoyed the review. Share your thoughts in the comments. I would be curious to know if you know techniques that help you learn faster.

Also, I would like to know in what domains would you use the deep practice techniques? Share with me.



Originally published at livelikepros.com.

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