The information in this book by Daniel Coyle was tremendously helpful to me. I anticipate this book will be on my list for the top books I read in 2018. Coyle writes a lot about talent, where it comes from, how a membrane called myelin plays a role, and how anyone can build talent if they understand how it works. As I read the book I discovered multiple ways for me to apply the concepts immediately. Something I have learned is that we do not change by thinking about change but by action, and so I always appreciate books that have ideas that are easily applicable.
Here are some of the main thoughts I found helpful:
- To build talent you have to enter into what is called deep practice. Deep practice happens when you struggle at the edge of your abilities, make mistakes, and correct them. It requires you to slow down and address your mistakes rather than glossing over them.
- Our memory is less like a tape recorder and more like an infinite scaffold. The more our brain fires certain circuits, the more obstacles and difficulties we face and overcome, the more scaffold we build. The more scaffold we build, the faster and easier we learn.
- The sweet spot is where you find the “…optimal gap between what you know and what you’re trying to do.”
- The myelin revolution:
- Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons – a circuit of nerve fibers.
- Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy.
- The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.
“Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals.”
- Myelin is a phospholipid membrane that wraps around nerve fibers.
- Myelin fundamental principles:
- The firing of circuits is paramount – myelin does not respond to ideas or feelings about doing something, it responds to action. Myelin responds to action that is repeated.
- Myelin is universal – “one size fits all skill.” Myelin does not care what circuits are being fired. You could be firing your circuits for ball control in soccer practice or for holding your hands correctly to play the violin, myelin does not care. Myelin does not care who you are but what you do.
- Myelin wraps – it doesn’t unwrap – once you insulate a skill with myelin, you cannot un-insulate. Habits are hard to break because you cannot really break a habit but have to change them by repeating different behaviors.
- Age matters – your ability to build myelin around skill decreases the older you get. This is why many world-class experts started so young.
The theory of skill: deep practice x 10,000 hours = world-class skill
- Although talent appears to be predestined, we have a lot more control than we imagine over what skills we develop. We have a lot more potential than we imagine but it can only be unlocked through deep practice.
- The three rules of deep practice: Chunk it up, repeat it, and learn to feel it.
One of the things I came to realize while reading this book is the amount of passion you have to have to engage in the deep practice. This passion is necessary to become world-class. The reality is that you cannot just spend lots of time doing something but you have to spend effortful time on the edge of your abilities, which is uncomfortable. I have started to ask myself some questions. What are the things that I am passionate about? What are the circuits that I want to strengthen and myelinate? Are there any changes that I need to make in how I use my time? Are there things I need to stop, start, or continue doing? I often struggle believing that I have enough time to devote to the things that excite me but the truth is I have time for what I schedule. World-class athletes, musicians, actors, and writers have the same amount of time in their day as me. The difference between us is what we choose to do with that time. Am I using my time to pursue what I am passionate about and will help those around me in some way or am I wasting my time? I would love to answer that I always use my time wisely but the truth is I sometimes waste it. This book has helped remind me how important it is to be wise with my time.
This book has also helped me in regards to my profession. As an engineer I often have to learn steps to a process or calculation. One of the joys and an area to grow as I advance in my career is getting to train and teach newer engineers the same steps and processes. Like most jobs, we always have deadlines and clients who are waiting for our recommendations, so time is always a factor. When it comes to training a newer engineer in this setting there is a potential for frustration. When I teach a new engineer a calculation but the first or second time they try it and they make a mistake, it is easy to gloss over it and correct it myself without spending time with that engineer to make sure they understand the concept they are missing. I am learning to apply what Coyle wrote about in regards to deep practice which is to slow down and address the mistakes to ensure that the correct circuits are being reinforced. I try to think of the time spent as an investment into the engineer to help them be better in the long-run. There is more to life than meeting deadlines and I want to have a positive impact on those around me. I am constantly fighting against the curse of knowledge. The more I know about a subject the harder it is to imagine what it is like to not know. I have to remember that there was a time in the past that I did not know or understand how to perform this particular calculation and need to be gracious. Also, I heard someone say that teaching something enables you to learn something twice. You learn it once on your own and a second time when you teach it. I need to see this as beneficial because the act of teaching and coaching is reinforcing the circuits in my brain and helping me insulate them with myelin.
While reading this book I found it easier to focus on how to myelinate interests and passions I already have such as reading, engineering, and writing this blog. However, just as important is thinking about what habits and thought patterns have been firing the wrong circuits too often, giving them too much power. One that I landed on is worry and anxiety. The list of things to be anxious about is long and probably varies from person to person, however, there are probably some common items on the list like finances, social issues, and health. I have been trying to implement a particular routine in the morning that helps start my day and get my thoughts going in the right direction, however, I have found that worry often derails me. I have the habit, like most people in this day and age, of looking at my text messages and emails as soon as I receive them. Many times this habit has removed my mind from my peaceful morning routine of reading and meditation to worry and anxiety. I am coming to realize just like practicing chess or repeating a golf swing, by letting myself get caught up in worry at the same time and with the same triggers every day, I am insulating the circuits for worry and anxiety. I cannot blame this on anyone and need to take responsibility and begin to build new habits. One of the simple steps I have taken to avoid this habit during my morning routine is to place my phone in a place where I cannot see it or hear it. If I am going to be using my computer to write or play music, I make sure not to open my email. I know I do not have enough discipline to see an email enter my inbox or see a text message alert on my phone and not check it out. It can wait. I am still in the process of changing this habit but I am grateful for this book to reveal this to me.
In this book Coyle writes a lot about skill & talent, how to develop it, what role myelin plays, and much more than a blog post can do justice. I enjoyed this book so much it will likely be on my list for the top books I read in 2018. A big reason I enjoyed it so much is because of how much I could apply to my own life. I would recommend this book to anyone.