Traffic moves faster on a superhighway than a gravel road with potholes. Which road would you prefer to travel? If you are like most people, you would take the faster route.

It’s the same for the human brain – and mindful repetition ends up being the construction workers of our minds. The brain loves practice because it builds superhighways in the brain.

Myelin is the insulation coating surrounding the neurons. The myelin coating thickens with practice. Thicker insulation, increases the speed the nerve impulses move along the neuron axons. The impulses are also stronger.

Repetitive triggers create a path that becomes a highway. Overlearning creates the superhighway that allows you to perform the task perfectly without consciously being aware of every step. A superhighway requires less energy than a road with potholes. Therefore, energy is used for other brain functions.

Why Is Practice Important In Learning?

Knowing how to do something doesn’t mean you can do it. The theory is the knowledge; practice is the doing. In one study, a Diffusion MRI (a specific brain scan) compared the brains of musicians to people who didn’t practice a musical instrument. The study showed that the increased white matter in the parts of the brain where the skills were developed, correlated with how much the musician practiced. 

Practice applies what you’ve learned and improves on it. In the classroom environment, the teacher provides the right learning environment for kids to program their brains to form the correct highways through deliberate practice.

When a person improves in something, they become more competent. Being able to do something boosts self-confidence. If the student practices Math, for example, and does well in a test, their confidence improves. Their confidence creates an eagerness and their desire to learn more challenging Math principles may increase.

Consistency in practice forms the highway. When the student is challenged with a new topic or Math problem, their brain will follow the built highway; it becomes easier to practice the new concept until they grasp it.

Why Is Practice Important in Changing Habits?

Automation is fertile ground in creating lifelong habits. Overlearning results in automation. The practice  builds a superhighway and the child applies what they’ve learned without conscious thought.  

The brain doesn’t differentiate between right or wrong. It functions according to the data received. When there is a choice, the brain will always choose the highway in preference to the gravel road, wouldn’t you? Habits are automated actions that created highways through practice.

Some habits highways may be effective for a certain season in your life, but then you need to change the habit, for example wearing diapers as a baby is not appropriate as a teenager. Other habits highways may impact your life negatively. For example, smoking causes health issues as you grow older.

Changing habits mean reprogramming the highway to form a new superhighway. The old habit doesn’t replace the new habit; it just becomes the preferred choice. Initially breaking a habit and forming a new one is hard work; it takes a lot of effort and dedication to build a new highway when it’s easier to follow the old.

When the new habit is formed, the brain will automatically choose the new highway to the neglected older road. In time the old habit’s highway becomes a gravel road with potholes.

The level of automation required to form a new habit needs consistent and deliberate practice.

A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology showed that it takes about 66 days to form a new habit, not the mythical 21 days. Some participants took 8 months for the habit to become an automated action.

What Are the Benefits of Practice for Kids

The greatest benefit of practice for kids is the effort it requires. Myelinations happens easily in kids. Age decreases the speed of myelin growth around the axons. With the abundance of myelin, children create brain highways readily. It takes adults more effort to practice a skill to automation than it does a child.

As mentioned before, the brain doesn’t decipher between good and bad habits. It’s as easy for a child to create undesirable habits through practice than constructive habits. Adult supervision is therefore vital to guide kids towards forming good habits and skill through practice.

Practice builds self-confidence. A self-confident kid is a happier kid who makes better choices than a child who doesn’t want to try because they lack confidence.

The habits and skills kids form during childhood may determine their success as adults. For example, a child that practiced self-control as a kid will know how to handle emotionally tough situations as an adult. Self-control will help them come up with solutions to problems instead of being overwhelmed by the situation.

Their academic and sports achievements improve — overlearning results in better test and exam scores. Kids who haven’t practiced throughout the year may do well in a test, but they forget most of the content they tried to learn in a short time. Kids who practiced until they mastered the material, however, retained the information long after the test and exams. They had built a highway that could easily retain the material when needed.

Other benefits the Canadian researchers found when observing 168 college students at the University of Montreal were:

  • Students had a positive attitude towards the material learned.
  • Their long-term retention increased.
  • Teachers could influence the amount of practice of all students. The more lenient the teacher was, the less likely the lower achieving students practiced.
  • With the right motivation, students would practice. High-ability students practiced without needing a reward while lower ability achievers were motivated with rewards.

Studies showed that

  • When tasks are done automatically, the brain is free to practice and build highways for more challenging tasks.
  • Kids and adults benefit from practicing problem-solving. Their ability increases in applying these skills to different and more complex problems.
  • Kids become experts in the content they deliberately practice.
  • When kids acquire knowledge and skill through practice, they are inspired to learn more.
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