The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
This book is great! There was a variety of test subjects and many applicable examples of how to approach learning and training in terms of myelin— how it grows, moves, and builds skill. The fundamental takeaway of what The Talent Code is all about is that skill is a cellular insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows in response to certain signals. This neural insulator is called myelin. Myelin wraps around nerve fibers making signals faster and stronger in the brain. The thicker the myelin gets, the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become. We can tap into this neurological mechanism in which certain patterns of targeted practice build our skills. This is a zone of accelerated learning that can’t be bottled/ eaten/ sold but can be accessed by those who know how. All skills — language, music, movement, etc — are made of living circuits in the brain. All circuits grow according to certain rules. Skill grows by the same cellular mechanism even when these skills are so varied.
To grow more myelin for better and smarter movement, there are three principles that come into play: 1) Deep Practice, 2) Ignition, and 3) Master Coaching. The convergence of all three is the key to creating skill. If we remove one, the process slows.
Deep Practice emphasises a way of training to fail. To think of progress as a matter of small failures. A rhythmic pattern of mistakes. We can break down these mistakes to its component parts and then move through them repeatedly until the movement smooths out - in the body and in the brain. In that moment of a mistake, a microsecond of struggle demonstrates a deeper practice. Though it may not have been any harder, the struggle creates a shift in the brain that tells the body to move slightly differently than before. In training, Cameron constantly highlights how great it is to practise something you can fail at. Budokon movement and teaching praises moments of failure because when we do badly we can learn how to better ourselves and refine those movements. It’s no good doing something perfectly over and over again. The Budokon curriculum encourages us to push past our comfort zone and try something else, or another way: to build more myelin.
Struggling in targeted ways makes us operate at the edges of our ability. To build more myelin, struggle is not optional: it’s neurologically required. In order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit sub-optimally. We can all be more willing and enthusiastic about being bad at something. As we continue to put in the work, this productive and uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current capabilities, is where change happens. Like flexing a muscle to build strength, skill circuits fire by trying hard to do things we can barely achieve. Over time these skill circuits will respond by getting faster and more fluent. Deep Practice encourages failure that makes us feel happy and builds skill bit by bit.
As much as the struggle is real and beneficial, we must continue to put in the work. And in order to do so we need to find the fire within ourselves to keep trying after every failure. We can do anything but we can’t do everything. It takes hard work to keep going and this sense of ignition, a spark of motivation that keeps us going is less associated with self-motivation but more driven by a primal instinct. Something that we may not necessarily be aware of when the fire sparks, but then sustains us when we are tired/ beaten/ on the verge of losing hope. Born out of our deepest unconscious desires, these primal cues speak to parts of our being that create passion and catalyses our skill development.
So we carry the passion to do the work, we persevere through the painstaking process of being bad, and now we need people to support us. Effective coaching is the third and final tool to maximise the growth of myelin. Master Coaches have an abundance of knowledge through their own Deep Practice, with the ability to recognise inconsistencies in someone else’s movements, and can connect with a student to sustain their ignition, focus, and training. Coaches fuel the specific firing of neural skill circuits, telling them how to fire with clarity over and over again to help bring a student closer to their goals.
The Budokon approach to teaching movement follows a lot of the qualities Coyle describes in these Master Coaches. We learn from master movers who themselves have gone through years of Deep Practice so they are filled with knowledge, strategy and experience of the subject. The cueing guide for teachers is concise and direct. Feedback is given on the spot through an investigative perceptiveness that reads into how a student is processing new information and how best to approach their learning. Both as teachers and students we are encouraged to investigate mobility chains and yoga movements that make sense, are functional, and have certain rules and structures that can narrow down our focus so we can hone in on a particular movement, repeat it over and over, and feel the tiny shifts of progress.
Budokon embraces repetition. A sort of Deep Practice with constraints that identifies elements within a movement pattern and organises itself into what Coyle calls “chunking”: to break things apart, slow it down, and attend to errors. When it comes to growing myelin, precision is everything. One encounter is far more useful than hundreds of observations. I remember Cameron observing my Front Bow Roll to Bridge transition and I kept feeling like I was belly flopping without enough momentum in my legs to lift up from the floor. His cue wasn’t so much about finding the strength or getting over my fear of falling forwards. He told me to land my feet in the direction of where Melayne was standing, about 45 degrees North from where I had been landing previously. With the pressure of someone watching me do something badly, and this new direction in mind, I miraculously rolled and landed with a certain grace and effortlessness that wasn’t there before. I was shocked, I didn’t really know how it happened. With hindsight I figure I needed a visual reference for the movement — “I am here and I want to go there” — rather than stressing over this new movement, my brain found another way to move my body into that form. My takeaway here is that Cameron somehow read how I think about moving. He acknowledged the sort of fear about falling on my face and directed my focus to something else, which worked for me. Master Coaches display a real desire to build a connection with their students, most evident when delivering criticism and attending to errors made.
Skill is myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and grows according to certain signals. Our skills are all in our wires. The way we think reflects the way we move. Budokon is constantly throwing new challenges my way and I love how it gets me frustrated because I cannot immediately do it well. When we break things down and smooth out the bumps, essentially we are trying to make sense of a situation. This is evident in the way I practise Budokon and the way I share it now with my students. Watching over the mobility chains for assessment I play the video in slo-mo to better capture where Cameron’s limbs are going and how he places his hands. Much the same, when I am guiding a class through the Primary Series or introducing a mobility drill, my verbal cues may not always make sense on the first try. Especially when Budokon is new to the audience, I need to figure out a language that makes sense to the people in the room at that time. The Talent Code and Budokon encourages a way of learning through attention, connection, focus, and mistakes. Experimenting in an unfamiliar territory and making it feel more comfortable. Students feel alert and awake because they are working on the edge of their ability. They need to be wholly there— building knowledge, growing myelin. And though it’s undoubtedly tiring, it’s well worth it, and we walk away stronger, better informed, and eager to get back at it again.
Highly recommend this book, and for more...