Practice is an important part of becoming skilled at anything, which may be why there are so many axiom’s like “practice makes perfect” floating around common parlance. But what’s happening in the brain when we practice?

Researchers believe that practice helps build up the protective layer of myelin, the fatty substance that protects axons in the brain. Axons move electrical signals from the brain to our muscles and when they are better protected by thick myelin they move more efficiently, creating an “information superhighway” between the brain and muscles.

To get the most out of practicing it must be consistent, intensely focused, and target the edge of one’s ability. That’s why educators target the zone of proximal development in every learner. There are several things individuals can do to make practicing more effective:

1. Focus when engaged in practice
2. Minimize distractions
3. Start slow and increase speed later
4. Practice repeatedly with frequent breaks
5. Visualize the skill to help reinforce practice

By Katrina Schwartz. Read the original article on KQED’s education blog, MindShift.