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Monday
Jan092012

Neuroscience Vs Talent?

 

I am a big advocate of the notion that anything is possible. I honestly believe that if I fully understand what needs to be done and if I desperately want to achieve it, I will. 

But, unlike most “self help” doctrine that promotes a quick fix for almost everything, my belief is that real and lasting change requires time for repeated action, time for the brain to rewire for the job!

Many will retort sharply at this notion claiming that they are a product of their inherited genes and that they can no more change their brain as change their eye colour. But we may not be completely at the mercy of our biological make-up after all.

Neuroscientists have challenged the ‘hard-wired brain’ theory, suggesting instead that the human brain is extraordinarily plastic - a rather astute philosopher known as Buddha said the same many years before! It has been known for some time that in exceptional cases, victims of extreme brain trauma have regained function as a result of the brain “rewiring” and reallocating neurons.

Talent?

Countless athletes, musicians, sports personalities, and other high achievers claimed to have had a below average ability in their chosen field when they started out. Yet, through dedication and hard work they managed to become world class.

Whilst it is true that our genes create who we are, it is also true that our experiences shape our genes over time. Even Shakespeare understood this nature nurture balance and no doubt many other high achievers did also.

Being the best at something simple means that our brain is wired appropriately for the job. The hippocampus (just below the cerebral cortex) deals with spatial awareness. So, if you want to be a world class racing driver you’ll want to grow your hippocampus by repeated training. And here is a secret that will blow your mind; doing something over and over grows the part of the brain needed to get the job done. I know you knew that already, but think about it for a second. Amazing right!

There is a strong correlation between people with attention deficit disorder and television viewing in early childhood for example. Being spoon fed fast paced images and brightly coloured adverts means that the brain has no need to learn how to concentrate or amuse itself. [Those who meditate invariably have a larger and more developed frontal lobe cortex].

A comment from our friends at the Apple Beam recording studio in Birmingham sums it up:

It’s funny how the best singers are the ones who invariably practice more and the worst are those who feel that they have some god given right to be talented!

Cause and Effect

I know what you’re thinking, could this be an issue of cause and effect. Do people meditate because they started out with a larger frontal lobe cortex? And, are children who are predisposition to have attention deficit disorder more attracted to the TV in the first place?

Most evidence suggest not. In fact, the human brain is so ready to learn and wire itself that babies who receive no stimulus when they’re first born can have lasting (and severe) brain damage. The brain needs to change, learn and adapt to whatever you do the most. Repeated action forces the brain to create new connections and find quicker and more effortless routes for transferring “data” from neuron to neuron.

That is not to say it is easy, especially when attempting to change personality traits that are deep seated, but learning to play an instrument or becoming a skillful sportsman is in every sense about applying consistent practice, something that anyone can do if they have the time and inclination.

Learning to be Creative

Can this “rewiring” of the brain apply to creativity? This may be very controversial but I believe it can. I believe that practising at being creative will improve your brains sensitivity to creative thoughts and ideas. Lionel Richie said that he felt as though ‘his “antenna” went up during a creative phase in his life’. I personally have experienced my “creative juices” flowing much more freely during extended periods (months) of songwriting. Ideas seem to come easier and this must be due to the rewiring and excersising of specific brain areas.

The practical aspects of taking control of your brain is amazing. To have power and control over your brain (and your so called “natural” ability) is life changing.

My Experience of Brain “Rewiring”

My first conscious experience of this was as a drummer. Early in my learning stage I wanted to develop more limb independence. That simply means I wanted my right arm to do something different to my left leg whilst my right leg did something different to my right arm. Don’t worry, it’s harder than it sounds!

I started by trying one of the toughest independent exercises a drummer can attempt, playing a specific pattern called a paradiddle with the hands and simultaneously playing a half time paradiddle with the feet. You don’t need to know what a paradiddle is, just believe me that no human was ever born with the innate (natural) ability to perform this multi limb exercise!

To begin with I could feel my brain ache. I could feel that my brain had no way of disassembling the task and no way of summoning the vast amount of “data” required to process such a demand. Quite simply, my brain was not wired for the task at all. It felt hopeless.

I continued to practice, breaking the actions down into smaller more manageable chunks. Suddenly I was aware that I could comprehend parts of the overlapped paradiddle and over the next few days a kind of compounding happened where the more I comprehended, the faster my brain was able to comprehend more. This reached a critical mass after a week or so and I was able to do it effortlessly, without conscious thought. In fact, at this point, consciously thinking about what I was doing would cause me to mess up.

As Einstein said, if you do ANYTHING for an hour a day with focus and intent to improve, you will be an expert after just one year. I recently decided to learn to solve the Rubiks Cube and despite there being three million, million, million different combinations, just an hour a day for two or three weeks was all it took for my brain to develop the correct neural network for the job. The rock band City Of Ashes challenged me to a race to solve the Cube before they finish their new song - watch the video

I Can’t Do That!

I get frustrated when my mum says “I could never do that”. I can accept if someone doesn’t want to do something, but I cannot accept that someone with a healthy brain cannot achieve anything. Just imaging how powerful the compounding effect would be with years of intent and consistent practice.

Believe it or Not

Einstein wasn’t any cleverer than you or I, he just studied much, much harder and for much, much longer. He was average at maths and attributed his success to allowing himself to be creative and think for years on one single problem.

Michael Jordan is no more naturally gifted at basket ball than you or I, he just played for more hours than anyone else. He himself admits that he wasn’t talented and attributes his excellence to the fact he played more than any other human.

Pavarotti is NOT a “natural” singer. He was in fact told to give up because he was not ‘cut out for the job’. Pavarotti decided to be a great singer and when a human decides to do something with full unwavering intent, it’ll get done. Pavarotti could have been an incredible football player, gymnast or businessman if that was his all consuming desire.

So, What Do You Want To Be?

It really doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that you definitely want to achieve it. Give your brain time to rewire itself. Practice is a means to an end and shouldn’t be rushed, but it should be consistent because that is all the brain demands. The brain does not require natural ability, it does not require extreme intensity, it doesn’t even require unrealistic measures of time, it only requires consistency.

Shameless Plug!

I founded Audio Rokit to help song writers, bands and musicians get their music through to top industry professionals. All of our members can use the in-built song submission system, which makes it easy to submit music directly to any music company listed on the website with a single click and you get a guarenteed reply! Costs start at £6.99/month.

Thank you to artM for the awsome brain image.

Reader Comments (6)

Awesome post thank you.

January 15 | Unregistered CommenterRod

Agreed and I also believe that most people fall short of their true potential simply because they fear failure. When learning an instrument it is best to not be too hard on yourself .. it will take years no matter how talented you are!

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterDonald

1. Very inspiring and I agree that anything is possible with consistent hard work
2. I have experienced the compound effect of "brain rewiring" before when learning piano, as momentum build I was able to digest more complex problems and my ability shot up. It's a very powerful and humbling experience.
3. Your website, Audio Rokit helped me secure a publishing deal and have been a fan for about 6 months so thank you for that!

January 19 | Unregistered Commentercupcake

Loved the post! Sometimes I think us musicians need to take a leaf from athletes book and really try to be the best (if that's what we want). It's a mind set but your article says it really well. Incidentally, I have used your pitching website audiorocket and think it's great so all in all very impressed!

February 13 | Unregistered CommenterDonald M

makes me want to work harder. very inspiring thanks.

February 22 | Unregistered CommenterJim_guitar

hey had an awesome program in BBC Horizon saying similar things, that the brain can rewire itself.

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterJo Kyle

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