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More Brain Research About The Importance of Practice


There's often a lag between scientific research and the narrative that accompanies the studied subject. When we think of the brain, the most popular metaphor is a computer. When we think of genes, we turn to "blueprint"; talents, "gifts."

But new research says it's time to revise the metaphors. It turns out that genes are influenced by the environment. "Genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses, and other genes," writes David Shenk in The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong. That continuing interaction between genetic make-up and the environment is behind the idea of education.

New research also finds exceptional ability to be the result of highly concentrated effort. Shenk proposes that we think of talent not as a thing, but as a process. Not something inherently possessed, but something we do.

Which brings us to writing.

There's no magic potion, no alchemy, no trickery other than practice. As psychologist Anders Ericsson put it, one needs to invoke "deliberate practice," or "repeated attempts to reach beyond one's current level," which means "frequent failures." And, one hopes, occasional successes.