By Scott G. Halford

Excerpted from the book, Activate Your Brain, by Scott G. HalfordActivate Your Brain

Heuristics is the word used to describe activities that help us learn through experience and trial and error. It’s a form of problem solving and decision making that allows intuition, common sense, experiential learning, and other pieces of information to come together in a matter of a few seconds or less to allow us to make decisions.

Your area of mastery or expertise is often a consolidation of skills, experience, and many other small bits of data that add up to profound knowledge. Over time, we develop a sense about an activity that allows us to make quick assessments that are often accurate but difficult to explain. Many call it a form of intuition.

We get better at intuition the more opportunities we have to see and experience things clearly and slowly. If we’re running around with our hair on fire all the time, it’s going to be very difficult to sort out feelings, much less make decisions about those feelings. If we get to practice things slowly, in a controlled way and with focus, we eventually get to that heuristic quality.

Daniel Coyle writes about the idea of getting quiet and going slow to develop talent. Coyle writes in The Talent Code that one of the things that highly talented individuals do is something called “deep practice.” It’s displayed in two facilities he visited that have a high output of “best in the world” performers—one in tennis and the other in classical music. Both places use deep practice as a way to ingrain difficult skills in the neural pathways of the brain. They both have students practice at hyper-slow rates. You might not even recognize the song they are playing or the game they are playing if you were with them; that’s how slowly they practice. The idea is to get quiet enough and achieve enough control in the motion that the neural pathway is built impeccably and the action is executed perfectly when brought to real speed. Coyle is describing the ability to consolidate skills in a neural pathway that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. Once learned, it happens so quickly that it almost looks like magic to those who do not have the skill. It looks like intuition.

Your to-do: Figure out where you’d like your area of mastery. Do what you have to do to break down into its most granular bits. Take more classes. Expose yourself to more opportunities to understand the complexity of your chosen area. Absorb your brain in articles. Get into debate and discussion about your area of mastery. Even if you have a heuristic capability in your area of mastery, you can make it even finer.

Bottom line: People with who can grab quick, intuitive insights and offer them up become more valuable in our complex world.