Brain Waves

by Sandra Sunquist Stanton

“I will praise You, because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.” —Psalm 139:14

“Practice makes perfect!”

Do you ever wonder why teachers and coaches want you to do homework, practice soccer drills or play a musical instrument every day? God has given you a unique set of skills and an assignment to become the best you can be. Your brain is designed to make that happen—if you’re willing to work at it.

When you try something new, a connection begins to form between your brain’s neurons. If you could watch a specialized scan of your brain, you would see a brand new trail blazing from one cell to another. That trail is weak at first but gets stronger with each use.

To picture what’s happening inside your head, imagine someone walking across fresh snow to a cabin in the woods. The first footprints are not connected to each other. Later, someone else follows the steps and begins to fill in the spaces, making the path easier to find. Once the pathway is used over and over—which is like practicing—the way becomes obvious.

Eventually, the route becomes as solid and well-defined as a highway. It could even grow as complex as a large city interchange with many different ways to arrive at the destination.

If your brain has been getting enough Omega 3 fats—the healthy oils from fish, nuts and vegetables—it will build a protective cover around these new, fragile connections. It works something like the rubber coating on an electrical cord. Safe in that fatty blanket, called myelin, the message travels from one brain cell to another faster and more directly, without scattering and getting lost.

Practicing, or repeating something over and over, like finger positions on a trumpet or the proper release on a jump shot, adds a picture in your mind and makes it easier to do correctly. You can also learn something by saying it out loud or writing it down repeatedly to create a mental image.

Information in your brain starts out very weak. A thought may only last for about three seconds in your short-term memory. When another thought pops up, the first one may simply disappear. But if you keep thinking about the same thing, using the information or practicing a skill, it soon becomes strong enough to pass into your long-term memory. And once it’s there, it’s yours to keep—perhaps for an entire lifetime. (That’s why your great-grandmother may still be able to sing a hymn from church that she knew as a teenager, even if she hasn’t sung it for years.) Practicing something gives your amazing, God-created brain what it needs to hold and perfect what you’ve learned.

Go ahead and work hard to get the most out of your brain. Pray about it. Keep trying new activities. And never stop learning. Who knows, you may even find the talent that God is calling you to use for Him.


Science Meets Scripture

Repetition helps your brain to learn and remember. God designed it that way and uses repetition in Scripture to make it easier for you to remember. The Bible repeats important phrases—often three times—for emphasis. In Matthew 10:26-31 Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” three times. There’s something special about messages grouped in threes; we see it many times throughout the Bible. God must have wanted us to understand and remember that His protection is enough. He gave us three chances to “get it.”

The Bible also repeats stories from Christ’s life. Some of the same stories show up with slightly different perspectives throughout the Gospels. Hearing a story from another point of view makes it more interesting and helps it stick in our minds. Each time we hear a story, our brains can find new ways to apply the principles in our lives.

For the really tough stuff, like forgiveness, Scripture tells us to practice endlessly—Matthew 18:22 says 70 times seven!—until we get it right. Each time we forgive someone else, our own brain and spirit feel better.

With a little practice, anything is possible—whether it’s earning a good grade on a math test, improving your soccer game, perfectly playing a solo or forgiving someone who treats you badly.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2011 by Sandra Sunquist Stanton. Used by permission; Photo © Jens Christian Fischer/, used under Creative Commons license.