How to Learn a Skill At Least 5x More Effectively Through Variations
- It takes 6 hours or more to develop a motor skill after a practice session.
- Practicing the same way over and over again may not strengthen a skill.
- Slight variations during practice sessions may help you learn at least 5x faster.
- The protocol looks like this: Practice normally. Then, wait at least 6 hours before practicing again. Finally, introduce some variations to your next session.
- Changing things up too early may not strengthen the skill.
Imagine getting results as if you’ve been practicing for a week when you have been practicing only for 2 days. Talk about rapid learning.
In the Motor Skills are Strengthened Through Reconsolidation study, participants were divided into three main groups. All of them performed a task on day 1; two groups returned after 6 hours for another session. Of those that returned, one group repeated exactly the same tasks; the other with slight variations.
Finally, all of them went back the following day to repeat the first set of tasks from day 1. The result? The group that trained with variations had the best speed and accuracy scores. The two other groups improved as well, but their results looked tiny compared to the winning group.
To understand better how it works, imagine shaping a play-doh into a sphere and placing it in a box — this represents the initial memory development. After six hours, you open the box and add a little bit of play-doh to the existing sphere. If you just pick up the sphere without introducing additional play-doh, it will not change. On the other hand, if you add too much, the sphere will morph into a new “memory.”
How To Practice With Memory Reconsolidation
If you’re a beginner, start by exposing yourself to a skill you want to learn. By how long? The typical duration for one practice session in the discipline of your choice might be ideal.
Then, wait at least six hours before practicing again. This gives your brain time to “bake” the memory to completion. If you can afford to practice twice a day. Great. If not, I don’t think it’s a big deal.
Finally, on your next practice session, make the task slightly different. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of developing a completely different memory, or your improvement will be minimal.
What if you’re already proficient?
In an attempt to answer this question, I’ll be borrowing some knowledge from Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist from Stanford.
Dr. Huberman says that when learning, adrenaline gets secreted in our bodies which causes stress. But, it also makes us alert and focused.
On top of that, acetylcholine also gets secreted alongside adrenaline. You can think of acetylcholine as a marker which highlights the spots in the nerve cells for change. So when we rest, the marked cells get strengthened, hence skill development. You can read more about it in my article, The Neuroscience of Skill Development. What Happens Under The Hood When Learning.
That said, if you introduce something different to your practice, your body should feel its novelty which will make you improve still. The answer may not be to try harder but to try things differently.
There are two main ingredients to using this protocol. Time and variation. Sufficient time allows the brain to go through an offline learning process. Variation gives it novel stimulus to help you level up in skill.
So, practice, rest, and change it up. Repeat.
You got this.