philosophizing about PRACTICE and myelination on a Monday.

Science has shown us that the brain is incredibly plastic–meaning it does not “harden” at age 25 and stay solid for the rest of our lives. While certain things, especially language, are more easily learned by children than adults, we have plenty of evidence that even older adults can see real transformations in their neurocircuitry.

In order to do any kind of task, we have to activate various portions of our brain. In the context of various tasks including language learning, experiencing happiness, and exercising…our brains coordinate a complex set of actions involving motor function, visual and audio processing, verbal language skills, and more. At first, the new skill might feel stiff and awkward. But as we practice, it gets smoother and feels more natural and comfortable. What practice is actually doing is helping the brain optimize for this set of coordinated activities, through a process called myelination.

Scientists have found that myelination increases the speed and strength of the nerve impulses by forcing the electrical charge to jump across the myelin sheath to the next open spot on the axon. In other words, myelin turns the electrical signal into the brain version of Willy Wonka’s sideways traveling elevator. Instead of traveling in a straight line down the axon, the charge is hop-skip-jumping down at a much faster rate.

Practice Makes Myelin, So Practice Carefully

Understanding the role of myelin means not only understanding why the amount of practice is important to improving your skill (as it takes repetition of the same nerve impulses again and again to activate the two glial cells that myelinate axons), but also the quality of practice. Similar to how the science of creativity speaks about idle time and not crushing through one task after the other, practicing with a focus on quality is equally important.

As an Athlete, my coach put a spin on the old phrase and would always say: “Practicing poorly just develops poor skills.” If we practice poorly and don’t correct our mistakes, we will myelinate those axons, increasing the speed and strength of those poor signals. Not good.

Practicing skills over time causes those neural pathways to work better in unison via myelination. To improve your performance, you need to practice often, and get feedback so you practice correctly.

Whew! A bit heavy on a Monday…but where dievca’s mind is dwelling~

Photo: dievca NYC 01/2017
Thank you to Buffer and Lifehacker, Jason Shen

6 Comments on “philosophizing about PRACTICE and myelination on a Monday.”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Quite a subject Dievca, I’m impressed but I have to disagree on “we are what we repeatedly do. Going back to Descartes ( a Frenchman who lived in the Dutch Republic (in the 17th century the first state to declare itself independend and a republic in history) and Paris – of course and died in Sweden. All of which are countries you tend to visit frequently while travelling to Europe. Anyway, the more Descartes travelled, the more he thought he knew very little about life. The only truth in life were his doubts and so he said “cogito ergo sum”. You are what you think – and because you think, you are not what you do. What I do agree about is that so many people practise the skill of living a unhealthy or unhappy lifestyle and try to perfect it. And practise makes perfect. Glad you don’t go that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dievca says:

      I think you are applying the discussion to Life in General and mental issues.

      The process of myelination is literally physical and only comes with physical training to become better at something physical. Not mental. Granted my use of the word philosophizing leads to thinking mental ~

      What Descartes was thinking about didn’t develop via myelination and was not training for a physical activity, so we have apples and oranges, here.
      Two different topics.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marty says:

    So true! All those years ago when in practice you “focused”, you didn’t realize you were being “myelinized”. 😉

    Liked by 1 person


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