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  • Writer's pictureMichael Chan

Habit Series 3: Myelin & the Biology of Habit

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

2. Myelin: Biological Evidence for Habits

How neural pathways are strengthened by myelin (Biology IGCSE, A-Level, IBDP) ‘The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle describes a theory - backed by science - that what separates an average person from exceptional talent is the ability to learn difficult things repeatedly, over and over again.

As mentioned at the end of point #1, spending time studying half-heartedly could potentially be dangerous. Perhaps, doing so strengthens the neural pathways for inefficient studying. Who wants that?

More importantly, let’s talk about good study habits. When you work hard and ignore boredom, what happens on a biological, cellular level to those who habitually focus and persevere get comfortable with boredom. They get comfortable with not know the answers. And by doing that, they get comfortable with finding the answers. They enable themselves to learn. What happens when they learn?

Our Summer Course students will know that the brain (and nervous system) is made out of roughly 86 billion neurons - tiny nerve cells that form connections and synapses within our brains. We think by conducting electrical impulses through the neurons that communicate with each other in a vast network.

As outlined by Daniel Coyle in ‘The Truth Code’, our neurons (or brain cells, so to speak) - form special pathways that can become increasingly strengthened by a myelin sheath (a layer of fat that protects the neurons). Whatever we do habitually repeatedly becomes strengthened in our neural pathways, and the myelin forms a fatty layer around these neural pathways to protect them and let them work more efficiently.

Now since whatever we occupy our brains with repeatedly thinking about, the more the correlated neurons fire, and the thicker the myelin sheath becomes. In that way, studying effectively is really like taking our brain to the gym.

Heres a thought experiment: if you were to spend the same amount of time studying for exams anyway, would you rather study with good habits (lift heavy weights and find the answers effectively) or half-heartedly with bad habits (spend time sitting around at the gym without ever achieving a meaningful result)?

If we strengthen the myelin sheaths around good neural pathways - we attain a level or understanding and mastery over a subject that makes us average. And then studying becomes easier.

Soon, studying becomes easy. And then we eventually become above average. Like, A for above average, meaning A for A grade; enough to beat thousands of other university applicants touting B’s.

Enough to bridge the gap between study struggles and the exam confidence to get a placement the university of your dreams.

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