How You Can Practice More Effectively

How You Can Practice More Effectively

TEDEd published a video exploring research-backed ways you can more quickly upgrade your skill levels.

"Mastering any physical skill, be it performing a pirouette, playing an instrument, or throwing a baseball, takes practice. Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement, and it helps us perform with more ease, speed, and confidence. So what does practice do in our brains to make us better at things?

Our brains have two kinds of neural tissue: grey matter and white matter. The grey matter processes information in the brain, directing signals and sensory stimuli to nerve cells, while white matter is mostly made up of fatty tissue and nerve fibers. In order for our bodies to move, information needs to travel from the brain's grey matter, down the spinal cord, through a chain of nerve fibers called axons to our muscles.

So how does practice or repetition affect the inner workings of our brains? The axons that exist in the white matter are wrapped with a fatty substance called myelin. And it's this myelin covering, or sheath, that seems to change with practice. Myelin is similar to insulation on electrical cables. It prevents energy loss from electrical signals that the brain uses, moving them more efficiently along neural pathways.

Some recent studies in mice suggest that the repetition of a physical motion increases the layers of myelin sheath that insulates the axons. And the more layers, the greater the insulation around the axon chains; forming a sort of superhighway for information connecting your brain to your muscles.

So while many athletes and performers attribute their successes to muscle memory, muscles themselves don't really have memory. Rather, it may be the myelination of neural pathways that gives these athletes and performers their edge with faster and more efficient neural pathways.

There are many theories that attempt to quantify the number of hours, days, and even years of practice that it takes to master a skill.

So if effective practice is the key, how can we get the most out of our practice time?"

Try these tips

How You Can Practice More Effectively

1. Focus on the Task at Hand

"Minimize potential distractions by turning off the computer or TV and putting your cell phone on airplane mode. In one study, researchers observed 260 students studying. On average, those students were able to stay on task for only six minutes at a time. Laptops, smartphones, and particularly Facebook were the root of most distractions."

How You Can Practice More Effectively

2. Go SLOW

"Coordination is built with repetitions, whether correct or incorrect. If you gradually increase the speed of the quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly."


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How You Can Practice More Effectively

3. Frequent Repetitions with Allotted Breaks

"Studies have shown that many top athletes, musicians, and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time used for effective practice into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration."

How You Can Practice More Effectively

4. Practice in Your Imagination

"It's a bit surprising, but a number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.

In one study, 144 basketball players were divided into two groups. Group A physically practiced one-handed free throws while Group B only mentally practiced them. When they were tested at the end of the two week experiment, the intermediate and experienced players in both groups had improved by nearly the same amount."


You can drive deeper into the content of this video and the research behind it here.


The above post was lovingly crafted by Josiah Hultgren. Josiah Hultgren is Founder/CEO of MindFullyAlive, a Senior Lecturer at California Lutheran University, a NeuroCoach, and a practical neuroscience expert. He produces and curates mindfulness content designed to improve structure and functioning of the brain. His mission is to help create a more vibrant world and apply neuroscience in ways that help people reach their highest potential.