The Myelin Model – A Piece of Genius By Author Daniel Coyle

Myelin Model of Skill Development

Whether you are interested in increasing your skills of memory or any other interest Daniel Coyle's book "The Talent Code" is something that just may help you....

In the book Daniel Coyle quotes Scientists who say that all “talents” are the result of myelination of the nerves of the brain.   This "Myelination" is a process that neurons go through to wrap the transmitter part of the neurons in insulation that allows the neurons to fire faster and more efficiently.  And the faster and more efficiently they fire - the more skill you have.

Alaskan Author Daniel Coyle is a deep thinker but he is not a scientist, he is a remarkable conductor, giving people mental representations of complex models they might never stumble across if they do not tend to read published papers in scientific journals.  Coyle was trying to understand skill and in the area of helping others understand skill he has done more to develop a workable and lucid and salient model of how skills are developed than any other author in the last twenty years.  

Daniel Coyle puts forward a deeply vivid model that is easy to grasp of what myelin is, what it does, why it is there, how it grows, why it grows, how to ‘grow’ it yourself, and how to put myelin growth at the centre of a model of skill development and 'ability' (AKA Talent) that anyone can grasp in a few minutes.

So what is the Myelin Model?

Coyle’s Model of myelination is just that – a model – just as music theory chords are a model or the standard model of [particle physics allows people to grasp highly complicated concepts.  Myelin is the same substance that seriously funded researchers are examining in relation to Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s.  

OK What is a model?

Scientific modelling is a scientific activity, the aim of which is to make a particular part or feature of the world easier to understand, define, quantify, visualize, or simulate by referencing it to existing and usually commonly accepted knowledge.

So what does Coyle Say?

Coyle explains in his book that much of the new research about talent revolves around the brain, specifically a substance called myelin. He calls this the "Myelin Revolution". 

Here’s what you need to know.

Myelin is an insulator (you might recall the term “myelin sheath” from biology class). This refers to its function of wrapping the wires of our brain in exactly the same way that electrical tape wraps around an electrical wire: It makes the signal move faster and prevents it from leaking out.

For the past hundred years or so, scientists considered myelin and its associated cells to be inert. After all, it looked like insulation, and it didn’t appear to react to anything.

Except the early scientists were wrong. It turns out that myelin does react—it grows in response to electrical activity, i.e., practice. In fact, studies show that myelin grows in proportion to the hours spent in practice. It’s a simple system, and can be thought of this way: Every time you perform a rep, your brain adds another layer of myelin to those particular wires. The more you practice, the more layers of myelin you earn, the more quickly and accurately the signal travels, and the more skill you acquire.

“What do good athletes do when they train?” asks Dr. George Bartzokis, a professor of neurology at UCLA. “They send precise impulses along wires that give the signal to myelinate that wire. They end up, after all the training, with a super-duper wire—lots of bandwidth, a high-speed T-3 line. That’s what makes them different than the rest of us.”

A few other facts worth knowing:


• Action is vital. Myelin doesn’t grow when you think about practicing. It grows when you actually practice—when you send electricity through your wires.


• Myelin wraps—it doesn’t unwrap. Like a highway paving machine, myelination happens in one direction. Once a skill circuit is insulated, you can’t uninsulate it (except through age or disease). This is why habits are tough to break (see Tip #46).

• You can add myelin throughout life. It arrives in a series of waves throughout childhood, creating critical learning periods. The net amount of
myelin peaks around age fifty, but the myelin machinery keeps functioning into old age, which is why we can keep learning new things no
matter what our age.

Studies have linked practice to myelin growth and improved performance in such diverse skills as reading, vocabulary, music, and sports. The research is still in its early phases, but it is threatening to rewrite the old saying. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect.

For more information, read The Talent Code.

*A few years ago, writing in another place I wrote an article entitled “The Most Important Chapter In The Most Important Book.”  Chapter 2 of The Talent Code. 

That article has disappeared into the internet archive now, but here’s a modified version….

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