Programming Your Brain with Repetition – “The Talent Code”

Objectives

  • Learning any new material or skill is an active process than can only be acquired through repetition. There are few people with a photographic memory and even they need repetition to embed a skill.
  • Living your life in the manner you wish requires many different skills, and most of us are not taught them at any point in our learning experience.
  • To have a good life, you must live a good life and also learn to efficiently process adversity.
  • The Talent Code presents the concepts of how genius is created and illustrates the process with many interesting examples.
  • Chronic pain evolves from repetition of specific sensory input and your brain becomes excellent at feeling pain. It requires the same process to create an alternate set of more pleasant circuits.

I have recommended an educational and entertaining book, The Talent Code,1 to illustrate how new information assimilated by our brains. The author compiled knowledge from experts and explains how genius is formed. It is rarely an inherent trait. Although, the neuroscience is outdated, the concepts of how learning occurs are correct. There are three parts to creating genius.

  • Deep learning
  • Master coaching
  • Ignition (obsessive repetition)

Deep learning involves reprocessing new information in your mind in a retrievable way. This is critical to use in any advanced learning. For example, one my medical school classmates would read through his pages of notes only once. But he would look at a page and not go to the next one until he could say it back to himself or write most of it down. He was number three in my class. This is in contrast to another college buddy of mine who would read for hours and hours and not retain the material.

In medical school, I would memorize for 20 min and lay down and nap for 10 minutes and keep repeating the cycle over and over again. I would also “rearrange” the material on my own “internal mental grid” that I would construct as I gathered new information.

By using deep learning, you can increase your capacity to learn by 500-600%. That is not an exaggeration. Sometimes in medical school, we would come home with 75 – 100 pages of notes to learn in a day. You cannot passively process this information and be successful at mastering it. Conversely, the author points out that random repetitions decrease your learning by 15-20% and you are wasting a lot of time.1

Master coaching is critical in that you want to practice specific tools and techniques in a precise manner. You have heard the phrase that, “practice makes perfect.” What if you are practicing the wrong techniques or the right ones in an incorrect manner. You’ll embed bad habits. Often, it takes an outside observer to pick up the small details and keep your repetitions in a narrow constructive range. It is perfect practice that makes perfect.

The DOC Journey is largely self-directed but if you can engage a coach to keep you on track, it will hasten the process. It is difficult to see your own behaviors. Additionally, you must experience a huge shift in your thinking from “fixing” to “letting go and moving forward.” In other words, you are learning a new set of skills while using an old approach. Even when you think you “have it”, you may still unconsciously be trying to fix yourself.

Coaching is also helpful for support. It is common to become socially isolated and human contact is healing.

 

 

Ignition refers to being excited enough about what you are doing that you begin to do endless repetitions. Again, it has to be in a narrow range, but the more the better. Consider something that you have become skilled at, whether it is your work, a hobby, music, art, or play. Nothing changed until you consistently practiced. What is commonly called “muscle memory” is really neurological memory from circuits etched into your brain.

As you  become more engaged and excited about your new life, you’ll instinctively increase your repetitions. However, early on, you just have to do it to get over the hump. When you are in pain, it is difficult to get excited about anything. The DOC Journey will not solve your pain. It is providing tools and approaches for you to learn and master in order to navigate your life more competently and at first you may have to “grind it out.”

You are already a “genius” at feeling pain

Unfortunately, the development of chronic mental and physical pain fits the criteria for creating genius. The impulses are “deep learning” in that you predictably react to them, and as you try to cope with them, you are reinforcing them.

You don’t need a master coach in that the impulses are already in such a narrow range and usually predictably affected by specific factors.

The ignition or obsessive repetitions goes without saying as the pain signals are rapid and relentless – especially with obsessive thought patterns that quickly become memorized. The current definition of chronic pain is that “……it is an embedded memory that becomes connected with more and more life experiences and the memory can’t be erased.”2 You are not going to change the trajectory of this complex problem with simplistic random interventions. You must use the same programming principles to become a genius at feeling pleasure.

Recap

It is critical to conceptualize your pain and response to it in terms of programmed circuits. Using re-programming tools, you can create “detours” around them or shift onto circuits that do not include pain. It appears that you can reprogram around almost any pain in any part of your body regardless of the length of time it has been there. The brain’s capacity to adapt is remarkable.

It takes tens of thousands of swings for a major league baseball player to be able to hit a baseball coming at him over 90 mph. There is also a huge variation in speed and trajectory. I think it is one of the most incredible feats in the human experience. With chronic pain – mental or physical, you’ll receive a lifetime of “baseball swings” in a matter of weeks. We do know that chronic pain can be memorized in a matter of six to twelve months.3

 

 

Additionally, since pain circuits are linked to anxiety/ anger ones, any situation that fires up your frustrations will fire up pain and of course pain will fire up the anxiety/ anger circuits. The good news is that all of this can calm down with the same set of approaches.

Become a genius at running your life and take back control.

Questions and considerations

  1. Consider a skill you acquired at any point in your life. The degree of expertise was proportional to your time spent on it. Consider navigating your life as a learned skill.
  2. There are many components to living a successful and enjoyable life. Each one needs to be considered in relation to the big picture.
  3. We have discussed the importance of creating a vision of what you want your life to look like. What set of unique skills to you need to acquire to get there?
  4. You have already spent an endless number of hours pursuing a cure for your pain. Why not get focused and solve it with a fraction of the time and effort?
  5. How committed are you to creating deep change versus holding onto your old life?

References:

  1. Coyle, Dan. The Talent Code. Random House, New York, NY, 2009.
  2. Mansour AR, et al. Chronic pain: The role of learning and brain plasticity. Restorative neurology and neuroscience (2014); 32:129-139. doi: 10.3233.RNN-139003
  3. Hashmi JA, et al. Shape shifting pain: chronification of back pain shifts brain representation from nociceptive to emotional circuits. Brain (2013); 136: 2751–2768.