A favorite Aunt(-in-law-ish) just gave me a book for Christmas that was a fun read and extended my knowledge on some great brain science.  The book was called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and the aunt was Alison.

The talent code, as I understand it from this book, is this- you need to practice your skill a lot to build the brain matter that insulates the neurons so the skill happens really fast. Your practice also needs to be a deep practice; know where you want to be, break it down, work hard to get yourself there, constantly dissecting what you are doing and working to make it better.  Build myelin.


A neural pathway that is used is wired and then insulated by deep practice. This myelin insulation will increase the speed and efficiency of the skill.


As I was reading this book, I took time after each chapter to write a one sentence summary (in the back of the book) to use when I went back to the book.  That could be a whole post it and of itself, but here I want to focus on using motivation to build skill.  When you look at the above picture, from smart tribes institute, the important stuff for talent is the grey part.  The more folds you have have of myelin around the axon acts to insulate the signals being sent, the signal travels quicker and your reaction is faster for the skill you are building.  A strong skill base allows the movements to happen without thinking via muscle memory. Your brain after all is a muscle, it needs a workout too.

When you are utilizing this idea that its not just the brain circuits that we are building when we practice, but the insulation too, then you can see how important our language is when motivating people. When we are working on insulating these neural pathways and it takes repetition, many thought about and corrected mistakes- basically lots of trying to get it just right.  How does one keep another working towards something when they know mistakes are inevitable and necessary?

Repetition is what makes us great. It is also what makes some vistas magnificent, how nature can create so many beautiful flowers and dazzle us.

Repetition is what makes us great. It is also what makes some vistas magnificent, how nature can create so many beautiful flowers and dazzle us.

Lets be real, not all things we mean to be motivating are. How do we find the words to encourage others to dig deep, make the mistakes then redo it a better way. The fact is, without the mistakes, there will be no greatness. If we don’t see the gap between where we are and where we want to be and be constantly moving towards that in a back and forth momentum, then we will be like the dancers who try out on So You Think You Can Dance, who clearly can’t dance.

Some say it takes 10,000 hours to master something. That is a lot of hours, blood, sweat and tears. To be a great coach, not only do you have to master the practice, but you also have to put in the same amount of time in learning to coach the thing, we are talking another 10,000 hours. Truly great coaches know what they are talking about, they could mostly likely do it when they were younger and know how to teach it as well. They can also read people and know how much of what a person needs to be able to succeed.

So how can we talk to our own kids, the kids we coach for little league, the high schoolers we teach, the college students about to graduate, our employees who haven’t had a vacation in 3 years?  We need to choose our words based around effort and acknowledge the struggle needed to build these skills.  First off we need them to find some reason to feel motivation; do they want to be part of something, do they really enjoy something, has something happened that awakened them did something just amaze them?  Any of these could stoke their fire somewhere in their reptilian brain, tap into their motivational depth.  Now where do our words come in?

On page 135, Coyle describes this experiment by Carol Dweck where children are given a test and half are told “you must be this smart” and the other half are told “you must have worked really hard.”  During a second testing period, they were asked if they wanted a harder or an easier test, of the group praised for effort 90% chose the harder test, while few did in the group told how smart they were. After all taking a harder third test, they took a test similar in difficulty to the original test.  Here the effort group saw a score increase of 30% while the praise group score decreased by 20%.  This was all based on words they heard.

It goes to show how if we want others to work hard and push through, then we need to talk about their effort not praise them.  As they struggle they are increasing the wraps of myelin on their neurons that will insulate their skill and talent. Our language needs to reflect this process and not be just empty praise.

This is actually not easy.  In working with young children, I find what comes out of my mouth first are the praise phrases, I need to think more about the real things I want them to hear.  I want them to hear, “keep trying to open that cheese, you can do it,” or “you covered the paper in red paint,” or “you are almost there,” and certainly “you did it!”  We need to train our brains to say these things instead of the stuff we were told growing up.  The fact is, nothing is easy the first time.  We need to acknowledge the effort and provide experiences for starting the fire of self motivation.

Dweck calls this mindset.  A fixed mindset would have outcomes similar to the praise group, if I’m called this then I should stay that way and not risk make a mistake.  A growth mindset would be like the effort group, no matter what it is important that I try and work hard.  There was a story on this in the New York Magazine where labels of “smart” can be what causes our children to underperform.  Imagine that.

Going back to talent, if you want to see your child in the finale of So You Think You Can Dance, you need to see if they are interested in dance, proved them with experiences to explore and to see themselves doing it, and talk to them about effort as they put in their 10,000 hours of practice.  You might need your own iPod during this time, as their song will be on repeat.  This will be the time where they grow and build the myelin that will help their movements become fluid, personal and from their passion.  What else could a parent want?  To see our kids doing something they love with such intensity because they need to do it to be who they are.

If the chosen skill is a physical one you might want to invest in some pure peppermint essential oil, it is energizing and cooling or some soothing muscle rub.  If the skill is intellectual you could try a focus blend in a handy roll on bottle.  Hey there is no harm is giving people tools to be successful since you are substituting out their praise.

What are your thoughts on the language of motivation?  What would be some sentence starters?

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