Practice Makes Automation

Does “Practice makes perfect?

Well the truth is practice makes automation.  I don’t expect you to understand it just yet but I will explain. Our brain is wired in a way that it constantly rewires itself. This means that every time we come across a new situation, our brain try to put that puzzle together. When it does find a resolution, it writes that resolution into our brain. When we come across that same situation, we will be able to solve it without thinking. Let’s take for instance, learning a new language. You tend to focus on every word, pronunciation, meaning and so on. When you are eventually fluent in that language, all these situations are automated. You don’t have to pay much attention to what each words mean or how to say it. You just know. This applies to many of our every day task. The scientific word for that is Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity is the term used to refer to the brain’s ability to adjust itself at any stage of our lifetime. It is closely related to our learning process and how our memory is wired. What happens is; the brain reorganizes itself as we get exposed to different things in our life. This process begins as soon as we are born and continues throughout our adult life. The brain starts to create new connections between our neurons which are our brain cells. Other cells that are involved include; the glia and vascular cells.

What do we do when we practice something? If you are like most ‘normal’ people, as you practice you adjust your process each step of the way in order to make it better. Once you have found a process that works for you, you keep doing it over and over again until it is seamless. In a way, practice helps you with the learning process. Each time you redo that same process; your brain adjusts and sends signals to your body to reactivate these same motions every time you come across the same situation. There are times when the body cannot duplicate that exact same process but it gets it close enough so that the result is seamless.  FUN FACT: It takes the brain roughly 18 to 254 days of practice in order to reach the automation stage. This is at a median of 66 days.

Regular and frequent practice is an important part of neuroplasticity. Let’s go back to our first example about learning a new language or even the language we speak. What you don’t realize is that we practice the language we speak every day.  Let’s take for instance you move to a different country that speaks a different language. If you completely or semi-completely stop using the current language that you speak and adapt to the new language, you will slowly forget words and even how to speak your first language. When you do try to speak your native language, you will find yourself consistently debating word meaning or even use words from the new language or start to mix them up when you speak.

When we practice, there are several things that take place with our brain. The more we practice, our brains rewires so that it takes less and less thought behind the action. The process is somehow becomes second nature to us because our brain has automated that process. Sometimes you hear people say “mind of matter.” This is almost a similar application. Once we convince our brain that we can do something, our brain translates it to our body. Hence, give us the ability to perform anything we wishes (well, except flying). At some point, our brain plasticity declines. Our senses are connected to memory and our cognitive ability. As we get older, our brain doesn’t rewire as fast as it use to in our prime. 


Brain Plasticity: What Is It?

Johnson, Jeff. Designing with the Mind in Mind : Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Guidelines, Elsevier Science, 2014.

Lally et al., 2010. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.

What is Brain Plasticity? 

What is brain plasticity and why is it so important?

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