Deliberate Practice: the Ultimate Brain Training

I was talking to two of our members about the idea of “deliberate practice” in our work at GAF.  They could easily relate that idea to the way they practice their music together.

In their practice sessions, they describe chunking music down into riffs and carefully practicing each riff until the quality of the finger work, chords and harmonies feel and sound just right. Then, they reassemble the pieces into the whole to play the entire musical work. It takes them to the edge of their skill set and on to a higher level of expertise.

What they’re doing is called “deliberate practice.” It’s sometimes referred to as deep practice and it’s brain training at the highest level. They do it, not intentionally for the benefit to their brains, though, but for the shear joy of creating something beautiful together.

I’ve said it before. Anyone can sit down and bang on the piano keys, but it takes patience and practice to play the piano with any degree of skill and sensitivity.

Of course, I wasn’t talking about about music per se, but speaking metaphorically about how we might be using our own bodies. My point is, it’s important to use your body well and it takes “deliberate practice” (brain training) to develop the skills.

Why is it better to learn and develop skills for coordinated, efficient movement, rather than be left to our own natural devices which, to continue the metaphor, keeps most of us “off key” and just “banging on the keys”?

Here’s a story I made up that might help you understand.

Once upon a time there was a body named Billy. Everything that Billy-body did was derived from his brilliant brain, as the main purpose of Billy-body’s brilliant brain was to assure Billy-body’s survival.

Billy-body used his eyes, his inner ears and sensory feelings from his nerve endings stimulated by his movements, to feed information to his brilliant brain about the environment “around him” and “in him” to make decisions on how to keep Billy-body safe.

In his early days Billy-body’s brilliant brain was getting sharp, clear information. But, as Billy-body got older, and grown-up responsibilities sentenced him to eight hours of sitting every day, Billy-body’s brilliant brain received less and less information from the sensory nerve endings that used to be so precise and distinct. Billy-body’s brilliant brain forgot how to help Billy-body move well.

Over time, with more sitting, Billy-body’s brilliant brain had more and more difficulty sensing Billy-body’s muscles and joints and developed a syndrome called “sensory motor amnesia,” SMA for short.

No longer could Billy-body’s brilliant brain make good predictions to keep his beloved Billy-body safe. There was no choice but to shut Billy-body down. Billy-body’s brilliant brain did this by giving Billy-body pain and stiffness.

Billy-body’s brilliant brain’s plan worked!

Because of pain and stiffness, Billy-body started moving less and less. Billy-body soon became afraid to move. Hurray! Billy-body’s immediate survival was assured. But, somehow the plan backfired for in the long run it made Billy-body feel like a decrepit, trapped old man. Poor Billy-body.

But all was not lost. The potential to move well again was still within his power. It was just a question of him finding the proper instruction, mustering the determination and following the “deliberate practice” model to restore the lost function.

That’s true for us, too.

We can to get back to the stage before our own SMA set in by chunking movement down into small parts, slowing it down, exploring it and then putting it back together in whole movement. That’s the way to get the brain feeling like things are safer. That’s the way to reduce pain and get us moving better.

It’s clear to me that we want to explore movement through “deliberate practice” to keep our brains clearer and sharper to reduce pain. But, just like the musicians, maybe we want to do it for the shear joy of creating something beautiful together, too. I like that idea!

Move well and move often!

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