The world’s top musicians and athletes can make their crafts seem effortless. But scoring a three-point shot or tearing through a guitar solo isn’t achieved through raw talent alone—such skills take hours to master.
This video from TED-Ed breaks down the science of effective training, starting with the impact it has on our brains. Similar to how exercise builds muscle, repeating the same action over and over strengthens the nerves delivering that message. Nerve fibers, or axons, are insulated with a substance called myelin that reduces energy loss and allows information from the brain to reach muscles more efficiently. Studies have shown that practice can bulk up these tissues, resulting in what some people think of as “muscle memory.”
But not all types of practice are created equal. TED-Ed goes on to suggest some tips for making sure whatever you’re trying to learn sticks. One effective tool is visualization. In a 1996 study, two groups of participants were asked to practice free throws. The first group completed the physical act of throwing a basketball while the second simply visualized going through the motions. The subjects who used their imaginations to practice improved by 23 percent and the physical players improved by 24 percent. So whether you want to master cooking, coding, or a new language, you have the tools to practice your skill no matter where you find yourself.