Thursday, 13 May 2010

Practice makes perfect..

Well, maybe not perfect, but any of us can reach a level of excellence and expertise through practice. It's opportunity not genetic inclination that creates excellence, that old 10,000 hours again...

Sure, a great footballer has exceptional perceptual awareness and complex spatial skills, but there's a very relevant argument that says this comes primarily from practice, not from genes.

Think about it. Learning to speak is a complicated process, but we all master it. In fact, the process of learning to speak actually creates the neural pathways in the brain that makes us expert at it. The same with learning to read. Or learning to walk. Jump. Hop. Extend this to any complex physical or mental task and it comes back to the same thing... repetition of doing something over and over again, call it practice is you like, makes it possible to do it better.

Takes this a stage further and practice, practice, practice - purposeful practice as the experts term it - and you actually change the anatomy of the brain. For example, taxi drivers learning "the knowledge" so that they can navigate the 659 square miles of the 33 boroughs of London, show a larger than averaged size hippocampus - the area of the brain which houses memory.

And this facility for change is life long. Neurogenesis - the creation of new brain cells and neural pathways, and neuroplasticity - the flexibility of the brain, is life long. We may be less inclined or motivated in some activities than others, but success or failure hinges more on our beliefs than our ability, it seems. The motivation to clock up the hours of practice is born in our brain, not our genes.

Read more about this, and see how you can apply it to the art of concentration, in Matthew Syed's book Bounce: How Champions are Made

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