Your Brain and The Concept of Desirable Difficulty

The struggle and frustration you feel at the edges of your abilities— that uncomfortable burn of “almost, almost”— is the sensation of constructing new neural connections, a phenomenon that the UCLA psychologist Robert Bjork calls “desirable difficulty.” Your brain works just like your muscles: no pain, no gain.

The concept is not new. In several articles about “being in the zone” and “being in the flow” you are at the edges of your capacity – not too hard, not too easy, just  stretched a bit. There is no need for intensity. A regular daily practice snacks  help.

With deep practice, small daily practice “snacks” are more effective than once-a-week practice binges. The reason has to do with the way our brains grow—incrementally, a little each day, even as we sleep. Daily practice, even for five minutes, nourishes this process, while more occasional practice forces your brain to play catch-up.
As a teacher, I am experimenting with these right chunks for each student. They are different for each student. The biggest challenge is to motivate them to make it a daily habit.

The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle  is an amazing read.  You can view the 52 tips from the book in this Slideshare presentation. I would urge you to get the book and read it. It is a keeper and will teach you a lot about developing talent whether you are a parent or a teacher.

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