If practice makes perfect what are the key elements for practicing perfectly? Staying focused is certainly essential along with well-paced timing of your practice session; mapping out your practice goals; being confident and determined to achieve small daily accomplishments; and practicing smarter not harder. Being healthy artists promotes a realization that effective practice isn’t just in your body, it’s in your mind too, so also use visualizations to to master your goals. Practicing promotes neuroplasticity and changes the architecture of your brain to create more efficient communications between your brain and muscles.
Neuroplasticity and Practicing
So what does practice do to make our brains more efficient? Here’s a brief explantation from neuroscience. Information travels from the gray matter in our brains – which processes information – through a chain of nerve fibers called axons to our muscles. These axons are wrapped with a fatty substance called myelin, and it’s an increase of myelin covering the sheath which appears to change with practice. Studies suggest that it’s the repetition of physical movement during practice that increases the layers of myelin that insulates the axons, allowing signals to move more efficiently from the brain to the muscles. Since muscles don’t have memory we can’t attribute the success of practicing to muscle memory. Rather, it is more likely that the myelination of neural pathways gives performers their edge by creating more efficient neural pathways.
Tips for Effective Practice
We see that effective practice – a habit that is focused, consistent and addresses content or weaknesses that lie on the edge of one’s current abilities – is the key to peak performance. Consider these tips for effective practice sessions:
- Intense focus on the task
- Eliminate distractions (laptops, TV, Smart phones, and Facebook)
- Start with slow practice and gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions
- Frequent repetitions with breaks are common practice habits of elite performers
- Practice in your brain in vivid detail. It’s surprising, but research tells us that once a physical motion has been established that movement can be reinforced simply by imagining it!
Neuroscientists are hard at work uncovering the secrets of our brains. And in time our understanding of how to practice perfectly will improve. For now, use these tips to strengthen your effective practice habits because this is the best way you have to maximize your potential and achieve peak performances.
Excerpted from “How to Practice Efficiently … for just about anything” a TED-Ed video by Annie Bosler & Don Greene. Watch it now: