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Neuroscience Has a Lot To Learn from Buddhism - The Atlantic

Ricard: That is what a study conducted by Julie Brefczynski and Antoine Lutz at Richard Davidson’s lab seems to indicate. Brefczynski and Lutz studied the brain activity of novice, relatively experienced, and very experienced meditators when they engage in focused attention. Different patterns of activity were observed depending on the practitioners’ level of experience. Relatively experienced meditators (with an average of 19,000 hours of practice) showed more activity in attention-related brain regions compared with novices. Paradoxically, the most experienced meditators (with an average of 44,000 hours of practice) demonstrated less activation than the ones without as much experience. These highly advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less effort. These effects resemble the skill of expert musicians and athletes capable of immersing themselves in the “flow” of their performances with a minimal sense of effortful control. This observation accords with other studies demonstrating that when someone has mastered a task, the cerebral structures put into play during the execution of this task are generally less active than they were when the brain was still in the learning phase. Singer: This suggests that the neuronal codes become sparser, perhaps involving fewer but more specialized neurons, once skills become highly familiar and are executed with great expertise. To become a real expert seems to require then at least as much training as is required to become a world-class violin or piano player. With four hours of practice a day, it would take you 30 years of daily meditation to attain 44,000 hours. Remarkable!

How Exercise Might Increase Your Self-Control - The New York Times

Most of the women gained a notable degree of self-control, based on their questionnaires, after completing the walking and jogging program. (In this experiment, they were told they were training for better fitness.) But the increases were proportional; the more sessions a woman attended or the more her average jogging pace increased, the greater the improvement in her delay-discounting score. These gains lingered a month after the training had ended, although most of the women had tapered off their exercise routines by then.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect - The New Yorker

In one study, for instance, Hambrick looked at pianists and measured their working memory, or the ability to keep chunks of information in mind and accessible for short periods of time. In the past, working-memory capacity has been found to be heritable. In his sample, it predicted success even when you accounted for the effects of practice; pianists with better working memory were better at sight reading—and increased practice did not alter the effect. When he looked back to one of the most frequently studied groups in expertise research, chess players, he found that, in addition to working or short-term memory, three more components of cognitive ability—fluid reasoning, comprehension knowledge, and processing speed, all abilities that are, to some extent, heritable—were related to performance. This was especially true of younger and less experienced players. If you’re naturally better, you don’t have to practice quite as much to get good.

This Is Your Brain on Writing

As the scientists report in a new study in the journal NeuroImage, the brains of expert writers appeared to work differently, even before they set pen to paper. During brainstorming, the novice writers activated their visual centers. By contrast, the brains of expert writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech.“I think both groups are using different strategies,” Dr. Lotze said. It’s possible that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice.When the two groups started to write, another set of differences emerged. Deep inside the brains of expert writers, a region called the caudate nucleus became active. In the novices, the caudate nucleus was quiet.The caudate nucleus is a familiar part of the brain for scientists like Dr. Lotze who study expertise. It plays an essential role in the skill that comes with practice, including activities like board games.When we first start learning a skill — be it playing a piano or playing basketball — we use a lot of conscious effort. With practice, those actions become more automatic. The caudate nucleus and nearby regions start to coordinate the brain’s activity as this shift happens.

The key to great practice: avoiding ingraining mistakes

The researchers note that the most striking difference between the top three pianists and the rest, was how they handled mistakes. It’s not that the top pianists made fewer mistakes in the beginning and simply had an easier time learning the passage. The top pianists made mistakes too, but they managed to correct their errors in such a way that helped them avoid making the same mistakes over and over, leading to a higher proportion of correct trials overall.
Dennis Miller told me: “You don’t want to kill too hard, Spudley. It throws up a red flag. You don’t want to be a polished road act.” And I go: “Well, I’m certainly not that. There’s no danger.”