The Science Behind Practice- How it Changes your Brain and How to Make it Work for You
Updated: Aug 22
Have you ever wondered how athletes end up winning gold, silver, and bronze medals by performing those fascinating stunts? How do they perform at their best? Well, it is all up to practice. Believe it or not, you can become anything you want by the habit of practicing. So, What is the science behind practice, and how it changes the brain, and make it work for you? Are you ready? It is time to dive in!
What is the Science Behind Practice - How it Changes the Brain?
When athletes practice, the habit brings positive changes in physical abilities. There are crucial changes that also happen in their brains. What changes in their brains? We will first need to understand how brain nerve signals work.
Fact 1.Neuroscience 101
Neuron (nerve cells)have three parts
Neurons are the building blocks in our brain(nerve cells). The cell body in the neuron is the core and also called Soma. The Soma holds the genetic material and the energy for maintaining the nerve cell activities. The cell body will then process those signals.
The cell body in a neuron is connected to an axon at a specialized junction called the axon hillock. Axon looks and acts like a long cable. Axon in nerve cells also interacts with the other dendrites. Neurons have a root-like structure that branches out of the cell body called Dendrites. Dendrites receive signals from all other neurons.
Axon is covered by a fatty tissue called Myelin. Myelin is responsible for the transfer of nerve impulses between neurons. The neurons are communicating with each other as nerve impulses.
What are nerve impulses?
Nerve impulses are electrical impulses that travel down the neuron’s axon and then communicate with the next neuron in the brain. This is how the nerve impulses travel or transfers. To make it simple try imagining a long row of dominoes. When we push down one domino the next one also falls, and the one after and after that. You get the idea. In our brain, the neurons fire up in milliseconds.
Most have heard or said our brain is gray matter. This is because our neurons appear gray. White matter in the brain is our focus. Fun fact, our brains are almost 50% made out of white matter. The scientific word for white matter is myelin. Myelin is a fatty tissue that covers the axon. Research shows myelin covers the axon and increases the speed at which information travels. This becomes a highway for information transmission between neurons. Ideally, the more you practice a task, the more myelin coats the axon and the better you get at the hobby.
How Does Myelin Appear on The Axon as you Practice?
Myelination happens naturally. Kids are usually good at myelination. As we age, we still make myelin, but it needs more effort and time. Therefore, it is generally easy for kids to adapt to a new language than adults. So, what creates myelin? Myelin can’t just appear. Science shows us that there are glial cells (or non-neuron cells) that produce myelin. One of the two glial cells is called the astrocyte and the other is called the oligodendrocyte. The astrocyte monitors the axons for repeated activity. When the astrocyte finds an axon with repeated activity a chemical reaction occurs. The astrocyte releases chemicals that trigger its buddy the oligodendrocyte. The oligodendrocyte produces myelin, and it wraps around the axon which shows repeated behavior.
Whether it’s a baby’s first time walking or a future athlete's first swim, both earn and produce myelin. Whatever you do, you become terrific which a lot of practice. Myelin increases the speed of the information traveling, but how do myelinated neurons perform better?
How Do Myelinated Neurons Perform Better?
We all might still have one last question in our minds, how do myelinated neurons perform better? We all know information travels faster but is the performance better? Scientists still don’t know the answer to this question, but a recent brain scan of musicians has left some interesting clues. We all know that musical brains are different from non-musical brains. Albert Einstein started playing the violin at a very young age. During one brain scan, scientists learned that inside a professional piano player's brain there seems to be a denser white matter. The white matter in the brain is connected to finger movement, auditory and visual processing, etc. Most of the white matter was gathered up during childhood and adolescence years. Most importantly, it was found that there was raw evidence that shows the hours they practiced the piano and myelination are directly proportional. I guess this musician did believe in the saying ~ practice makes perfect.
Fact 3.Quality is Better Than Quantity
When understanding myelination, it is important to know that quantity is no better than quality. In my blog post on creativity, there are few handy tips on how to stay focused while practicing. When we ignore our mistakes, we are sending the wrong signal to our brains. When we practice, after ignoring the mistakes it becomes harder to correct them in the future. This is how bad habits are initiated. While practicing always aim for precision.
Are you now motivated to become your favorite athlete? With enough practice, perseverance, dedication, and determination you can achieve anything. It's never too late to start! Remember this memorable quote, “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything you're willing to practice, you can do.” Bob Ross.