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Growing Myelin: The Science of Building Habits

I picked up The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle as it came in highly recommended detailing out that talent can be grown and is not born.

Daniel goes through meticulous details and science to prove a point, which is known to us for ages. He puts data behind it and science to make sure that others do not dispute. The whole book is about “Practice makes perfect”. He constantly talks about “Deep Practice”.Daniel shares that there is a chemical called Myelin in brain. Myelin wraps itself around our nerve fibres to make a broadband highway for the signal to travel faster and faster for us to become proficient at a skill.

Every human movement, thought, feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons- a circuit of nerve fibers.

Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibres and increases signal strength, speed and accuracy. (See picture above, the purple oval is myelin)

The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimises the circuit, and the stronger, faster and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.

It works like this, you want to learn a new skills your nerve fibers send a signal to the part of the body, which is learning that skill as you start practicing on that skill myelin starts growing around the nerves which is being used for the skill. Myelin keeps on growing around it and making it stronger and stronger till that skill becomes natural to us. That is how an overnight star is born, that star has been practicing the skill for 8-10 years and when she appears for a competition she is able to replicate stuff immaculately. So whether is was Beyonce, Anna Kournikova or Dipa Karmakar, all of them have been practicing for a very long time in the areas they want to excel. 

Also in case you want to change a habit you will have to build a new pattern with a new nerve firing as the old one cannot be changed. Once myelin grows around a nerve fiber it cannot be undone. You have to find a new skill a new way of doing things, then the new neuron fires, a new circuit gets built and myelin starts growing around it, for you to build a new habit. Indian philosophy of Yoga has been propounding this belief for ages and built on this new age chemical finding.

Thanks Daniel, for backing up the age old idioms and wisdom with all the data, research and science.

Essential takeaway from the Talent Code:

  • Practice what you want to be good at. About 10000 hours should do it.
  • Practice self-discipline to become good at it. You want the Meylin to keep growing.
  • If you want to change a habit, pick up a new pattern as the myelin which has grown around the fibre cannot be changed.

Do it while you are young. Myelin kind of slows down when you reach 50 years of age.

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