Daniel Coyle makes a point in “The Talent Code” that mastery goes beyond the usual “genes” VS “environment” discussion.
And “struggle” is a huge part of mastery.
- Exec Summary
- Full Summary
- Real Life Applications
- The Talent Code is: Ignition + Master Coaching + Deep Practice = Talent
- To learn quick you must struggle and make mistakes at the edge of your comfort zone
- To achieve master you need to love your craft so you will stay long at it
Myelin a fatty tissue that surrounds the axon of the nerve cells in our body and, importantly, in our brain. Axons are a bit like the connecting cables of our brains, and the myelin is the sheath surrounding these cables.
Myelin can grow with usage similarly to how a muscle can grow with usage, and the more myelin we build to connect some specific paths of our brain, the more skilled we will become at that specific craft we’re working on.
Put simply: practice builds myelin, and myelin makes you perfect.
Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neuro circuits and grows according to certain signals. The story of skill and talent is the story of myelin.
The whole point of the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle is to explain how we can optimize our practices to build myelin quicker and more efficiently.
The Talent Code PART I: Deep Practice
Daniel Coyle say that Deep Practice involves “doing it yourself” first and foremost. For example if you’re struggling to remember you a name and you remember it yourself you’re more likely to remember it later on. And if you try to put a safe vest by yourself you’re more likely to remember how to do it compared to simply watching a flight attendant do it.
It’s because you fire those connections in your brain and you build myelin around them.
Do It Often: Action
The more often you repeat a certain action, the more myelin you build.
Deep practice involve quick cycles of repetition based on mistakes and quickly fixing them. Daniel Coyle explains the huge number of talented Brazilian players in a game they all play growing up: futso. Futso is played on a small field and allows the player to touch the ball up to 600% times more often. Being so often actively involved in the game allows the futso player to pack much more practice in a much shorter time.
The Sweet Spot: Make Mistakes
Daniel Coyle says the best way to build a good circuit is to fire it, attend to mistakes, then fire it again over and over. You must teach that circuit how to fire correctly. Struggle is not an option, it’s a requirement.
And that’s why passion and persistence are key to talent: wrapping lots of myelin requires lots of energy and repetition. If you don’t love what you’re doing, you won’t do it often enough.
The author says effortless is a terrible way to perform and so is working against insurmountable odds with no solution in sight.
The sweet spot of deep practice is at the edge of your ability, where you can target the struggles that are near your ability level, make those mistakes and correct them. Incidentally, the sweet spot at the edge of your ability is also a key to find inner motivation, as explained by Daniel Pink in Drive.
Daniel Coyle says our brain is built to make the skills we master automated. The more we build a skill circuit, the more we are aware of actually using it.
Cannot be Undone
Myelination -the growth of myelin- happens in one way only: once it’s built it cannot be undone. The only way to change a patter of behavior then is to build a new habit by building a new behavior.
Daniel Coyle goes a bit into the age question and says that in children myelin arrives in a series of waves lasting until our thirties. These waves vary depending on the person, and they form critical periods in which the brain is extraordinarily receptive to learning new skills.
We keep building myelin until around 50, when the myelin tips towards loss rather than accrual. But we retain the ability to myelinate during our whole life. That’s why it’s easier to learn young: our genes stays the same, but the ability to build myelin changes.
10 Years Rules
Top mastery requires around a decade, or 10.000 hours of deep practice.
This is one of the most quoted and most popular notions coming out of The Talent Code. It’s also one of the most misunderstood, as Daniel Coyle himself says it’s more about the how you practice than simply clocking hours.
The Three Rules of Deep Practice
The three rules of deep practice are:
1. Chunk It Up:
Look at the task as a whole first. Listen to the whole song, watch the whole movement sequence.
Then break it to chunks and do them slowly first. Going slowly allows you to attend to errors more effectively and reach a higher degree of precision whenever you fire signals. So your myelin grows over the correct portion of neurons more precisely and quicker.
Master the pieces individually, then start linking them together in progressively bigger chunks.
2. Repeat It
Daniel Coyle You have to continuously keep working on your skill.
Myelin is a living tissue, it breaks down and repairs, so daily practice matters.
Repetition though is only as good as the quality of the practice. Coyle says that most top talent schools he visited practice no more than 3 hours a day, and doing that in a state of deep practice is not only enough, but it will often exhaust you.
My Note 1: I don’t fully understand here why the author says myelin breaks down while earlier he says that myelin cannot be undone (unless through age or illness).
My Note 2: I was intrigued about this 3h day practice only that I had to research deeper. I expected to find out 3h only is not enough. Well, Daniel Coyle in his blog actually takes it even further. He mention Barcelona’s talent school practices only 70 minutes a day. And he suggests you quit when you’re exhausted. Here’s the blog post with lots of disagreement in the comments.
3. Learn to Feel It
Daniel Coyle says that Deep Practice should feel to you as being a staggering baby learning to walk. It’s an uncomfortable sensation that most sensible person would seek to avoid. Yet the longer you endure in this sensation the more myelin you build and the more skills you build.
The author then drops another gem when he says that to get good, you must love, or better be enthusiastic, about being bad.
We Can be Heroes
Daniel Coyle says that genes matter, IQ matters, but we have a good deal of control over what skills to develop and we have more potential that we might have ever presumed.
The Talent Code PART II: Ignition
Motivation is started and sustained through a process called ignition.
Students who performed best in music classes answered they were going to practice longer than students who weren’t sure. The students who performed best thought and felt like the art they were studying “was their thing”.
They had acquired the identity of being musicians (read more on how to build a supportive identity)
It’s also a social construct: the willingness to be like someone. So if you had a musician in the family, it could feel to you like that’s part of your heritage, which will also come to share your identity.
Ignition is that spark that leads us to decide who we want to be. Ignition shapes our identity.
Long term commitment always beats short term commitment.
Believing You Can
Ignition is also what makes us believe we can do it.
Daniel Coyle uses the example of Korean golfers. There had never been a golfer in Korea, but the moment one appeared, it suddenly seemed possible that a Korean could be great at golf. She became a start and a few years later Korean started dominating golf.
Similarly it was for the first man who ran a mile under 4 minutes. Before then it was thought to be impossible, but after Bannister did, many more did.
My Note: this story always smelled fishy to me and it might be one of those fake “you can do it” cheap motivational stories with little truth behind it. The more likely truth is very well explained here. You don’t need fake “you can do it” motivational psychology to empower yourself.
Ignition Through Competition
Daniel Coyle notices that even in sports where genetics seem to reign supreme, like running, there are strong indicators that there’s more than meet the eyes. Most runners for example were younger brothers or sisters in the family.
To keep up with their older brothers they had to put more effort, which worked as the ignition element to always put them at their edge of their skills, effectively leading them to deep practice every day.
Language of Ignition
Daniel Doyle gives a few examples of how throwing a challenge to someone can set out an ignition spark. Sentences such as “you don’t stand a chance”.
The author then talks about Carol Dweck and her research on Growth Mindset. Telling children they were smart or telling them they worked hard had incredible consequences. The kids praised for being smart were subsequently looking for easy tests to confirm their intelligence, while children praised for working hard sought difficult tests.
When presented with difficult tests the kids praised for intelligence hated those tests and gave up early. The kids praised for working hard were more likely to relish the challenge and stayed at it much longer.
In light of the myelin and Deep Practice point of view we can now see how a Growth Mindset naturally leads people into Deep Practice (learn how to develop a growth mindset).
The Talent Code Part III: Master Coaching
I found Daniel Coyle description of the master coaches inspiring and eye opening.
The best coaches were quiet, mostly older and have been coaching for decades. Their gaze was deep and unflinching, they listened more than they spoke. They didn’t give Hollywood style prep talks but instead offered small and highly specific adjustments.
They are also master of psychology and communication
John Wooden, probably the most famous of them all, wasn’t looking for big improvements, but was constantly working on smaller incremental improvements.
Daniel Coyle says that John Wooden’s rules of learning on could be called rules of myelin. The steps are:
Deep Practice and Psychology
Cognitive Behavior Therapy & Deep Practice
I love the part in which Daniel Coyle talks about social improvement and how it’s similar to deep practice.
The secret to improve socially, as for most anything else, is to move to the edges of our comfort zone and linger in that uncomfortable area, learning to tolerate the anxiety.
Robert Ellis was a painfully shy kid and decided to react to his shyness problems with actions. One afternoon he sat on a bench and chatted with every woman who sat down. In one month he spoke with 130 women. 30 walked away and he spoke with the other 100, for the first time in his life, no matter how anxious he was.
Ellis went on to build an action oriented approach to psychotherapy came to be known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which works equally or better than prescription drugs according to the New York Times.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy challenges the Freudian model of examining childhood experience and proposes action instead.
The issues with most therapies, Ellis said, is that they help you feel better. But you don’t really get better. You gotta back it up with action and action.
Robert Ellis said that “neurosis” is just a high class word for whining he said.
This is similar to what Tony Robbins said in which Freudian psychoanalysis look for the issues instead of looking for solutions. The problem of looking for issues is that you find what you look for, so you will find them. So if you look for solutions instead you’ll find solutions.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Building New Connections
Daniel Coyle says you can’t undo myelin wrapping, but you build a new connection to link the traumatic stimulus to a new normal every day event.
So for example doctors use a software -Virtual Iraqui- to administer all the war sensations to the returning Iraqui soldiers dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. The idea is to relive the memory without triggering the debilitating connection.
You can’t easily unbuild the circuit of war memories and stressful reactions, but you can build another road where the war memories don’t lead to any negative reaction.
This way the war memories and sensations, played and played again, become the new normal.
Real Life Applications
Two huge lessons learned you can readily apply:
- Use the Deep Practice methods in your craft of choice
- Use Identity to solidify behavior and long term commitment
Does myelin undo or not?
In one part Daniel Coyle says you need to keep practicing all the times or the myelin scaffolding will undo itself. In several other instances he says you can’t undo myelin.
Which is which?
The Talent Code is a great book.
It will improve your understanding of how the brain works and what you can do to reach mastery of your craft even faster. And all information is applicable and supported with examples to make it easier for you to understand.
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If I had to leave you with one key advice to take away from The Talent Code, it’s this:
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