Book Review: The Talent Code

You know that guy you train with who is so fast it makes your head spin when you spar with him?  He must simply have been lucky enough to be born fast, right?  Wrong!  Excellence in martial arts, just like playing an instrument or playing baseball is a skill, and skills follow a universal set of rules for how you excel.  In his book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How, author Daniel Coyle describes the science behind talent acquisition and how you can use this knowledge to become that guy who’s faster and better than everyone else.

In his book Coyle says, “Every human skill, whether it’s playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse — basically, a signal traveling through a circuit.”  He then goes on to describe how your nervous system responds to this by building a substance called myelin, “When we fire our circuits in the right way — when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note — our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become.”

He goes on to describe the process that world-class individuals use to get better.  It’s called Deep Practice.  “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways– operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes– makes you smarter.  Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors and correct them — as you would if you were walking up an ice covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go — end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.”  So, yes it is going to be hard.  But, you can do it.  Anyone can do it.  There are no Luke Skywalkers, people who posses special abilities at birth that the rest of us can’t replicate!

So, here’s the bottom line.

  • Every type of movement, and everything you think and feel is a precise set electric signal traveling through a chain of neuronal connections
  • Neural connections strengthen and are wrapped in myelin to increases signal strength, speed and accuracy
  • The more you fire a circuit, the more it becomes optimized, and the stronger, faster and more fluent your movements and thoughts become

So, how much better is a finely tuned set of neural connections than a new set?  A lot faster!  In martial arts terms, we’re not talking just a little bit faster.  Think about Neo-in-The-Matrix-faster as your guide!  Coyle gives us this reference, “Neural traffic that ones trundled along at two miles an hour can, with myelin’s help, accelerate to two hundred miles and hour.  The refractory time (the wait required between one signal and the next) decreases by a factor of 30.  The increased speed and decreased refractory time combine to boost overall information-processing capability by 3,000 times.”

So, bottom line, what do you need to do in order to become that guy who’s faster than everyone at your school?  You need to practice!  You need to practice hard!  You need to focus on your task at hand when you practice!  Time alone won’t do it.  This final quote from Coyle seems to sum it up for me, “Struggle is not optional — it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit.”

You should check out this book.

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