How Practicing Makes Your Brain Better

In general, we all understand that practice improves our ability to play the viola, hit a golf ball, prepare tasty meals, etc. But how does practice work on the brain such that we get better at something just by repeating it?

A lot of contemporary neuroscience has focused on the importance of practice when it comes to honing your talents. In general, we all understand that practice improves our ability to play the viola, hit a golf ball, prepare tasty meals, etc. But how does practice work on the brain such that we get better at something just by repeating it?


The phenomenon has surprisingly complex roots and is intimately related with how the brain translates chaotic sensory data into an ordered view of the world. Take the difference between the sound of speed and light. Over large distances, the discrepancy is obvious, e.g. seeing a flash of lightening entire seconds before thunder booms. But over shorter distances--30 meters to be precise--the brain actually delays your experience of light in order to synchronize it with your experience of sound. In other words, the brain makes you believe you live in the present while you are really living microseconds in the past.

Practicing expands that system of synchronization, bringing stores of data gained through experience to your intuition (not your conscious reasoning). Practice seems to generate the greatest benefit in the sporting arena:

"All sports are a display of brains predicting the future based on intuition built up by practice – brains compensating for lag by seeing what is happening now, before the ball is thrown, before the punch is launched, and making a best guess on what will happen later."

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