Why is change difficult?

Why is changing your golf swing so difficult? Why does it take lots of time, lots of effort and lots repetition to make a change? People often talk about muscle memory, but muscles don’t have memory. Muscle memory is really going on inside your brain in the form of myelin.

Some quotes from Daniel Coyle’s excellent book TheTalent Code on Myelin.

"Myelin is the key to talking, reading, learning skills, being human.

“All actions are really the result of electrical impulses sent along chains of nerve fibers. Basically, our brains are bundles of wires - 100 billion wires called neurons, connected to each other by synapses. Whenever you do something, your brain sends a signal through those chains of nerve fibers to your muscles. Each time you practice anything - sing a tune, swing a club, read a sentence - a different highly specific circuit lights up in your mind, sort of like a string of Christmas lights. The simplest skill - say, a tennis backhand - involves a circuit made up of hundreds of thousands of fibers and synapses.”

“(1) Every human movement, thought or feeling is a precisely timed electrical signal travelling through a chain of neurons - a circuit of nerve fibers.
(2) Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed and accuracy.
(3) The more we fire a particular circuit, the more Myelin optimises that circuit, the stronger, faster and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.”

“Getting good at piano or chess or baseball takes a lot of time and that’s what Myelin is good at.”

What do athletes do when they train? 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.

“Skill is Myelin insulation that wraps neural circuits and that grows according to certain signals.”

“Q: Why are passion and persistence key ingredients of talent?
A: because wrapping Myelin around a big circuit requires immense energy and time. If you don’t love it, you’ll never work hard enough to be great.”


So your golf swing is what happens when the myelin insulated neural connections - as they exist right now - fire inside in your brain, commanding your muscles to move. It is not your current knowledge of the golf swing - otherwise everyone would be able to play equally well left handed. You don’t just watch some video on YouTube and suddenly improve. Your golf swing is not theoretical.

To make a change to your golf swing, you must form new myelin to insulate new skill connections, so much so that you overwrite your old skill connections. It takes time to build new myelin and time for the old skills or old myelin to diminish. Thousands of repetitions are required to make just one change. If you have 20 changes to make in your 2 second long golf swing, then you better get working on those reps until you achieve automaticity. Of course it helps if you are working on the right moves and not further myelinating bad skills. You have come to the right place at Advanced Ball Striking cause we do thousands and thousands of reps in our module drills.

"Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect.


More from Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code on automaticity

"The more we develop a skill curcuit, the less we’re aware we’re using it. We’re built to make skills automatic, to stash them in our unconscious mind. This process, which is called automaticity, exists for powerful evolutionary reasons. (The more processing we can do in our unconscious minds, the better our chances of noticing the saber-toothed tiger lurking in the bush.)

It also creates a powerfully convincing illusion: a skill once gained, feels utterly natural, as if it’s something we’ve always possessed.

These two insights - skills as brain circuits and automaticity - create a paradoxical combination: we’re forever building vast, intricate circuits, and we’re simultaneously forgetting that we built them. Which is where myelin comes in.

I need to take the time to read this. What you are saying here rings true from the excerpts.

Yeah, l think you would really enjoy it, but as a professional sportsman most of it will already be obvious to you. It is us amateurs who don’t know what hard work and dedication is.

The book is not just about myeliation though.

Its very ABS. He talks about chunking it up (practice) into bitesize chunks. Spliting golf training into Modules obviously springs to mind.

The biggest interest for me though was the concept of “Deep Practice”

Daniel Coyle on deep practice.

“The people inside talent hotbeds are engaged in an activity that seems, on the face of it, strange and surprising. They are seeking out the slippery hills. They are purposely operating at the edge of their ability.”

“Struggling in certain targeted ways - operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes - makes you smarter.”

“Experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors and correct them - as if you would if you were walking up an ice covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go - end up making you swift and graceful without realising it.”

“The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help.”


He could easily be describing an ABS student working on one-armed module drills - which is much more difficult than it needs to be with 2 hands - then analysing their work and improving their technique. Then building up myelin by doing thousands of reps once they get the technique.


That all sounds right…

It’s strange that golfers somehow think that there is a simple trick or secret that will quickly make them better golfers… or ballstrikers.

I just don’t think golf is any different than anything else you might learn. I play guitar and drums as well, and it takes a lot of work to master those instruments. Guitar can put your fingers into some of the most twisted and awkward positions… and then require you to move into another equally twisted and awkward position quickly… then another and another and another. Then learning individual note scales to connect them. It’s a lot of practice… over and over… but eventually the body gets it and it becomes automatic. Just like the golf swing.

I like to teach golf in pieces just like guitar chords. Get the pieces down, then use real motion drill training… impact bags are great, and abbreviated swing actions into finish really help tie it all together over time.

I practice with a 1 iron because it is the hardest club to hit. If I can hit a 1 iron a 4 iron or 6 iron is kids play.

I enjoy golf because it’s hard… not because it’s easy. You have to love the challenge of it… and enjoy the process of pursuing excellence.

I love salmon fishing in the fall around here… it’s hard! really hard… but I could have just as good a meal picking mussels off the rocks steamed in butter and white wine with some garlic and a pinch of parsley… but feeling the strike of a 20 pound salmon hitting your spinner out of nowhere and then fighting it for 10 minutes is a bit more of a memorable experience.

I feel a lot more of an accomplishment shooting 66 on a tough narrow classic persimmon track having to play off sidehill lies all day and even a bit of wind thrown into the mix and doing that with a small persimmon headed driver and some blade irons… that’s just the best… not to mention the inquisitive nature of the folks you played with that just can’t believe what they saw. Most are convinced that golf can be bought with a credit card and a new high tech driver or space age looking putter… but we know that’s not true.

Great post !
I agree with the drills correlating with “Deep Practice “ ! I know for me, that I can get joyfully and intensely lost in the movements of the drills. It’s amazing to focus deeply on the movements and not get negatively distracted by a golf ball. I can get singularly focused on the movement and I know that through each mindful/intentional rep, I am building something absolutely special. I’m certain that’s part of the process of deep practice. The joy is in the process and this is a good one ! Cheers

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