You might have been told when learning a new skill you’ve got to “practice, practice, practice”.
Practice is important; you’ve likely heard me mention this more than once before, but far more important is how you practice. Something learners (and many teachers) frequently overlook.
There’s an optimal sequence for how you can learn any skill. But to discover that, we need to go against conventional wisdom…
Take for example the old saying, “practice makes perfect.”
That’s not true.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes things permanent.
A more useful mantra to retrain yourself to use is:
“Correct practice makes perfect.”
What does correct practice look like?
If you want to acquire skills faster – here’s a simple idea to implement right away.
Use it anytime you want to learn new motor skills faster…
Take a break!
Specifically, take TINY breaks…
… between practice drills.
Just a few seconds long can do wonders for your brain.
It might seem counter-intuitive but a study published recently in Current Biology has found that most of the improvement while learning a motor task comes, not while actually practicing, but instead during the B R E A K S between practice drills.
Note – I’m not talking about taking hours or days between practice sessions to see performance improvements, but literally seconds.
Here’s the skinny:
Recently the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes in the United States of America ran a study to find how our brains learn new skills.
They got a group of 27 participants and had them make a number of key presses.
The subjects sat in a chair facing a computer screen.
The researchers put brain caps on their heads to record brain wave patterns.
The experiment began when they were shown a series of numbers on a screen and asked to type the numbers as many times as possible with their left hands for 10 seconds; take a 10-second break, and then repeat this trial cycle of alternating practice and rest 35 more times.
As expected, the volunteer’s speed at which they typed out the numbers correctly increased dramatically (about 350% improvement) during the first few trials, before hitting a plateau at the 11th time.
However, what caught the researchers’ attention was what was happening to the volunteers’ brains DURING the rest periods.
“I noticed that participants’ brain waves seemed to change much more during the rest periods than during the typing sessions,” said Dr. Bönstrup, the lead researcher.
“This gave me the idea to look much more closely for when learning was actually happening. Was it during practice or rest?”
By re-analyzing the data, they discovered the volunteers’ performance improved primarily during the short rests, and not during typing.
They also discovered patterns in the brain, which indicated that the volunteers’ brains were consolidating/strengthening memories during rest periods.
The take-away from their research:
Optimize the timing and spacing of rest intervals when learning new skills, especially in the early stages of acquiring new skills.
Short tiny breaks of a few seconds between practice drills during the initial skill development, appear to greatly help accelerate the speed at which you acquire new skills.
The researchers plan to explore, in greater detail the role of early resting periods in learning and memory.
Please test it out for yourself and see how you get on.
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