Practice Makes Perfect

Winston ChurchillThe wise Winston Churchill once said,

“They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.”

Well, now there’s an answer for that from the University of Cambridge, no less. Researchers studied how we learn new skills. They found that you can learn a single skill faster if the follow-through is consistent. This insight applies to motor skills.

They also found you can learn multiple skills as well by varying the follow-through. The reason is because the multiple movements create multiple motor memories. These findings have important applications, whether it applies to sports training or rehab following a stroke.

Practice and Muscle Memory

When you take on new skills, it takes time for your brain to build muscle memory. But think of how subtly this works. I recently took up the guitar. I wanted to get in touch with my musical past.

Through practice and lots and lots of scales, you learn instinctively where the strings are—so you don’t have to keep looking at your hands. It is infinitely more difficult with the violin and the lack of frets guiding your way. Been there, done that.

And as writers, we care about how the brain works. By knowing these facts, we can leverage them to our advantage. With the ease of doing certain skills comes the opportunity to engage in diffuse mode thinking.

Some call it daydreaming or idleness. Researchers, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Joanna A. Christodoulou, and Vanessa Singh, call it constructive internal reflection. Practice sets the stage for it. Learning, after all, is good. What’s fascinating is learning how your brain has it all figured out. Chris DR

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