Whatever the ability is, it is located in the brain. So, when we pick up a dime from the table – that is a neural activity. When we really focus our listening as we experience a beloved concert – we are activating and working our brain. So for anyone of us to stretch or grow our ability in any way – the brain is a big part of that growth.
Growth means to deepen your knowledge, increase the effectiveness of your performances and/or shape your dispositions. Personal growth is about you intentionally working at increasing your own growth at your own “edges”. And, any growth you make becomes portable and it shows up where you are. Because it is part of you, it is rooted.
In this post I’ll be sharing information form The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born, It’s Grown by Daniel Coyle (2009). This book explains a how ‘talent’ is grown by looking at how our brains work. Coyle reports”
Useful Brain Science Insight Number 1:
All actions are really the result of electrical impulses sent along chains of nerve fibers. Basically, our brains are bundles of wires – 100 billion wires called neurons, connected to each other by synapses. Whenever you do something, your brain sends a signal through those chains of nerve fibers to your muscles. Each time you practice anything – sing a tune, swing a club, read this sentence – a different highly specific circuit lights up in your mind, sort of like a string of Christmas lights.
Useful Brain Science Insight Number 2:
The more we develop a skill circuit, the less we’re aware that we’re using it. We are built to make skills automatic, to stash them in our unconscious mind. This process, which is called automaticity, exists for powerful evolutionary reasons. It also creates a powerfully convincing illusion: a skill, once gained, feels utterly natural, as if it’s something we’ve always possessed.
These two insights – skills as brain circuits and automaticity – create a paradoxical combination: we’re forever building vast, intricate circuits, and we’re simultaneously forgetting that we built them. (Pages 36, 37 and 38)
So, if you want to get better at throwing a baseball, thinking more abstractly, dancing the jig, creating homemade birthday cards or developing your ability to communicate: with individuals, with groups, with subordinates, and/or with those you report to then – find your edge and start trying to throw that ball or dance that jig! Growing, developing and becoming are not passive or lucky ‘brain events’.
For a person to grow and develop that person needs to go to his or her ‘edge’ of the skill, disposition, knowledge and/or understanding and they will need to work through the disequilibrium that comes from moving beyond the ‘what is’ to ‘what might be’. So, learning, growing and developing surely is a courageous journey. Whether it is a song you are learning on your clarinet or a new way of actively listening deeply to the members of your family.
Coyle explains that “struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter. Or, put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them – as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go – end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.” (page 18)
A person has to be willing to “address” his or her “growth edges” if he or she wants to change and grow. Coyle has reported the science behind this. And he shares how it is that our brains respond to practice, when we are ‘operating at the edges’: To do that he tells the story of myelin.
You are likely asking: What is myelin? Here is how Coyle explains where myelin fits into learning.
“(1) Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons – a circuit of fibers. (2) Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy. (3) The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.” (page 32) he sums things up this way: “Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals. The story of skill and talent is the story of myelin.” (page 33)
Myelin is “universal: everyone can grow it, most swiftly during childhood but also throughout life. It’s indiscriminate: its growth enables all manner of skills, mental and physical. It’s imperceptible: we can’t see it or feel it, and we can sense its increase only by its magical-seeming effects. Most of all, however, myelin is important because it provides us with a vivid new model for understanding skill. Skill is a cellular insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals.” (page 6)
So, learning is about enhancing brain pathways to be open and ready for use. Learning is about putting in time in ways that stretch us. And as we stretch we need to try to process our way to higher progress. These are the rules. These rules are not to be ignored. Working through the challenges at our growth edges is how we progress.
“All skills, all language, all music, all movements, are made of living circuits, and all circuits grow according to certain rules.” ~ Dr. George Bartozokis