psychologyofsuccess

Archive for the ‘Neurons’ Category

Beat the Competition: Practice when you Sleep!

In Brain, Goal Setting, Neurons, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Sports Psychology, Success on July 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm

piano-girl

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Let’s say there are two piano players, Jim and Bob. In their individual lessons their instructor, Leslie, tells them a position is opening up in their city’s orchestra. Who gets it will be based on 5 songs they must play before judges. She gives them the sheet music for the competition and sends them on their way.

At this moment they are equal in skill and ability and neither Jim nor Bob has ever practiced the songs they are given. They dive with equal fervor into their preparation. Unknowingly, both adopt the same training regimen and practice an equal amount of time. However, this is where their similarities end. Jim and Bob are two very different people in one key area. Jim has always been very disciplined about going to bed early and insuring that he gets 8 hrs of sleep. Bob is a night owl and stays up late watching TV and reading books.  He usually gets 5 hrs of sleep each night.

However, if Jim and Bob’s training methods and length of training are exactly the same why is it more likely that Jim would perform better at the competition than Bob?

According to, “Your Brain: The Missing Manual,” Bob is missing out on a precious benefit gained during sleep that would boost his piano playing ability.  That precious gift is the brain reviewing the previous day’s activities and increasing the ability for Bob to perform those actions better the next time he tries them.

As we practice any activity neural pathways are created that help the brain to remember how to perform the action at a later date. Each time we perform a particular task the pathways become a stronger series of networks that can help us get the job done.  This apparently happens even when we’re sleeping.

So by sleeping three more hours Bob would perform just as well as Jim?

Most likely.

But there’s a catch to improving performance by sleeping. It has to occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. That is one of four stages of sleep we cycle through throughout the night. It is also the deepest level of sleep. If Bob does not cycle through the REM stages then he can’t reap the benefits.

The author of “Your Brain,’ Matthew MacDonald, cites two studies, one involving rats and the other humans that demonstrate the effectiveness of REM sleep in improving our ability to conduct tasks we perform during the day. In a study (2001), rats who had “electrodes implanted” in their brains were sent through a series of mazes. Their neuronal activity was “recorded.” When the rats later fell into REM sleep those same neurons fired in the same way as if they were running the mazes.

Another experiment, conducted by Robert Strickgold (Harvard Medical School) in 2000, was where human subjects were asked to play Tetris for 7 hours a day. Participants were observed while sleeping and awakened during their REM cycles. Many of the test subjects were indeed dreaming of playing Tetris (17 of 27). MacDonald goes on to say that in these types of studies, subjects who are prevented from going into REM sleep do not perform as well as others who are allowed REM sleep when learning “new tasks.”

Sometimes succeeding in something boils down to small advantages. We can only practice for so long or in so many ways. If I can gain an edge through a relaxing deep sleep, someone please, hand me a pillow.

Find out 101 more ways you can ‘beat the competition’ 🙂 in Dr. Akil’s groundbreaking new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.

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Rewire your Brain

In Brain, Neurons, Psychology of Success, Success, Uncategorized on June 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm

 

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. 

 

Understanding the brain can provide another approach to how we can achieve success. In the book, “Brain Rules,” John Medina, a molecular biologist, provides fascinating explanations detailing how our brains work. He discusses the way we learn, how what we learn is processed and how that process leads to us becoming very unique individuals.

 

According to Medina, when we perform an activity we have neurons in our brain that pass along information through synaptic clefts (imagine a waterway) to other neurons. As we continue to do the same type of activities these connections become stronger. These neurons split at the ends and form new connections and each time you repeat an activity it becomes easier the next time you try. The brain creates neural pathways to assist you in your tasks.

 

Whether it is a motor skill or memory recall, repetition is the key. It leads to a more complete and thorough brain wiring. Therefore, if we want to be excellent at something, we have to do a few key things for our brains to cooperate. Those things are:

 

Perform the action properly

Perform it many times; and

Perform the action regularly

 

We can literally wire our brains for success. When looking at achievement in this way, excelling becomes a matter of learning something right the first time, practicing religiously and keeping it up after a level of excellence is achieved. 

 

Need a playbook for success, a game changer? Then purchase Dr. Akil’s new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.