I read this book after reading Anders Ericsson’s book Peak. It pretty much has the same idea as Ericsson’s albeit Ericsson’s book is more comprehensive. In addition, Ericsson is the leading researcher on human performance so if you want to save time, reading Peak alone is enough. As a matter of fact, the book refers to Anders Ericsson’s studies on human performance.
Myelin – neural insulator which some neurologists now consider to be the holy grail of acquiring skills. When we learn, our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around the neural circuit, with each new layer making the communication between neurons more efficient.
Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals.
We tend to think of our memory as a tape recorder, but that’s wrong. It’s a living structure, a scaffold of nearly infinite size. The more we generate impulses, encountering and overcoming difficulties, the more scaffolding we build. The more scaffolding we build, the faster we learn.
The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle.
Age matters. In children, myelin arrives in a series of waves, some of them determined by genes, some dependent on activity. The waves last into our thirties, creating critical periods during which time the brain is extraordinarily receptive to learning new skills. Thereafter we continue to experience a net gain of myelin until around the age of fifty, when the balance tips toward loss. Anyone who has tried to learn a language or musical instrument later in life can testify that it takes a lot more time and sweat to build the requisite circuitry. This is why the vast majority of world-class experts start young. Their genes do not change as they grow older, but their ability to build myelin does.
Deep Practice (a.k.a deliberate practice)
Deep practice is built on a paradox; struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter. Experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.
Deep practice is assisted by the attainment of a primal state, one where we are attentive, hungry, and focused, even desperate.
Three rules of deep practice:
Rule # 1: Chunk it up
How to chunk it up?
- Look at a task as whole – one big chunk.
- Divide the whole into its smallest possible chunks.
- Play with time, slowing the action down, then speeding it up, to learn the inner architecture of each chunk.
Rule # 2: Repeat it
There is no substitute for attentive repetition. Nothing is more effective in building skill than executing the action, firing the impulse down the nerve fiber, fixing errors, honing the circuit.
Rule # 3: Learn to feel it
(Mental representations! Refer to my notes of Anders Ericsson’s book Peak to get more information about mental representations).