By Carissa Weber
Have you started to notice some repetition in my posts? If you have, thank you for noticing! But why do I repeat myself so much? There are many reasons why I preach (and not because I have nothing better to say or do) repetition and practice: IT’S TO HELP YOUR BRAIN! Our brain is just like the other parts of our body and needs repetition and practice to grow, heal and remember what we need to do. This post will go over the science behind why our brains love repetition and how to use practice to improve your mental health.
Many people understand the science behind practice. Whether it is in sports, musicality, homework, hobbies, or basic life skills, practice helps us complete the following:
- Becoming proficient in our knowledge of a skill
- How to properly execute that skill
- commit that skill to memory
Practice is all about developing a new set of skills that we can use to gain confidence in ourselves, improve our motivation to complete a task and create new relationships so we can share that skill with others. Right there, can you identify the parts of the brain we are using? Can you say what neurotransmitters are being released? Hopefully by the end of this post you will be able to.
When it comes to practice and repetition, the brain stores it in two different ways: intellectually and behavioral. What’s the difference? Let’s look at the example of management at work (oh boy). When you are at work you know your job, right? Right. You know your job and how to do your job. You how to handle situations that pop up every now and then. That right there, is behavioral practice. You know your job inside and out and not just as a job description. Essentially you are living your job and really don’t have to second guess what you need to do because you do it all the time. Now, think about that stereotypical manager (Please note, not all managers are like this! This is purely an example and no way, shape, or form representative of all managers). How many of them know the job description and can tell you what they are looking for out of you, but actually cannot do the job? That is what intellectual practice is. They know everything about the job but cannot functionally do the job.
Another great example of intellectual practice is judging sporting events such as gymnastics. How many officials know what to look for in jumps, flips, or even how to score the elements of a routine? All of them one would hope. Now, how many of those officials and judges can do those same elements? Most likely none of them. That is a great example of intellectual intelligence. The judges and officials know exactly what to look for and how things are supposed to be done, but they don’t necessarily know how to do the activities themselves.
A fun example of behavioral practice are people who can play music by ear. These gifted individuals can play a song just by hearing it. No sheet music and no excessive practice, nothing. Their ability to “just play” shows how that darn amygdala can connect with the hippocampus and just let the music happen. This is a behavior that their brain just knows. It comes from years of practicing basic music skills, perhaps lessons, and playing their instrument on a regular and consistent basis.
Why is understanding these two different forms of practice important to repetitiveness and our brain? This practice allows us to activate different parts of the brain. Intellectual intelligence activates the prefrontal cortex region of the brain and helps turn that practice into facts. The behavioral practice helps that darn amygdala turn it into an automatic habit. In turn, it comes together to create memories and support the hypothalamus and hippocampus in storing them.
Remember in my post, Why your Brain Needs a Routine when I talked all about why your brain thrives on knowing what to expect? That plays well into repetition because routine engages both intellectual and behavioral practice (say what?!). What about my post Depression and all that Jazz, and when we learned about SMART goals? Setting up SMART goals enable us to identify the steps needed to gain the reward of a dopamine release, which helps the hippocampus store information about what we need to do in the future to feel good. Heck, even in my post, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Why it Works we talk about how practice rewires the brain. There is a purpose to my madness!!
So the next time you say “I get it Carissa! You mentioned this in your last 20 posts!” Remember that your brain likes repetition! Using practice and repetition will help your brain form healthy habits (that is if it’s something healthy that you are repeating and practicing).
- Long, Jennifer (2016). The Importance Of Practice – An our Reluctance to Do it. Retrieved from https://www.harvardbusiness.org/the-importance-of-practice-and-our-reluctance-to-do-it/
- Grill-Spector, Kalanit, et al (2006). Repetition in the Brain: Neural Models of Stimulus-Specific Events. Published in Trends of Cognitive Sciences, volume 10, Issue 1, pages 14-23. ISSN 1364-6613. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1364661305003232