WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2012 ― The old adage “practice makes perfect” now may come with a caveat.
A new study by researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia found when we attempt to learn new things, stepping away and allowing our minds to digest is an important element to improving at a task.
Dr. Soren Ashley and Dr. Joel Pearson, psychology researchers who headed up a study entitled, “When more equals less: overtraining inhibits perceptual learning owing to lack of wakeful consolidation,” which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences journal, found that learning new skills takes time for the brain to absorb.
As Dr. Pearson explains, “Many studies have shown that you don’t learn if you don’t sleep after a day of training,” adding, “Likewise, overtraining can reduce learning if you don’t allow time for consolidation.”
“Performance on perceptual tasks usually improves with training,” the study explains. But the research demonstrates that “too much consecutive training can be detrimental.”
In other words, practice goes a long way to improving skills, but the brain needs time to digest the information in order to achieve enhanced performance over the long-term. If individuals practice at a task without taking a break, the exertion actually becomes counter productive, resulting in what the researchers call “overtraining.”
It would appear that the brain operates in a similar fashion to muscles. Muscle memory is a critical component of learning how to do a physical activity, and training the brain and the muscles to work in tangent to achieve this memory would appear to be consistent with the new research.
Learning to ride a bike, improving your chess or your soccer skills, and even attempting the Tango all require the constant diligence of practice. Nevertheless, well-deserved breaks, as the study suggests, are recommended to really achieve our full potential.
Perhaps Mr. Miyagi’s training of Daniel LaRusso, in the movie Karate Kid, with incessant practicing of wax on and wax off found the right balance. While that is a Hollywood version of events, maybe the best athletes and those seeking to learn a new skill can enjoy a well-deserved break after some focused training. It seemed to work for “Daniel-son,” right?
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