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Psst! Myelin could make you rich

Jay MacDonaldPssssst -- lean in a little closer to your computer screen. I've got a hot investment tip.

One word: myelin.

What's it do? It can turn your child into a superstar, who would then support you for life in a style to which you could easily become accustomed. You don't even have to be a Lohan.

How's that for a return on investment?

What's more, hardly anyone knows about myelin yet, except for a few hundred neuroscientists. And they don't get out much.

Daniel Coyle
Daniel Coyle, who recently toured the world's far-flung talent hotbeds to figure out what makes superstars, tipped me to this wonder stuff.

I had hoped it would remain our little secret, since Dan lives in Homer, Alaska, which is about as far into nowhere as you can wander and still be visible from Sarah Palin's skeet deck.

But no -- he's gone and written a book about it titled "The Talent Code."

So move fast before the neighbors start mass-producing their own little Maria Sharapovas and Jonas Brothers.

What Dan discovered left him gob-smacked: World-class talent, it turns out, is not born, as we've been led to believe. It's grown by using myelin, the white matter in our brains produced by the same omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil.

Here's the myelin prospectus: When we practice anything -- be it the cello, our golf swing or singing "Mamma Mia" in the shower -- we create a circuit of nerves in our brain. The more we practice, the more free-floating myelin wraps itself around that neural circuit like football players around a Kardashian.

The more myelin the circuit attracts, the stronger and faster its signal strength becomes. It turns out that myelin, not the nerves, is what builds the speed, precision and timing that creates superstars.

The difference between Tiger Woods and me? He's built a broadband around his golf swing; I've got chicken wire around mine.

"We've been looking in the wrong place in the brain," Coyle says. "This stuff is the physical manifestation of what our mothers all told us: Practice makes perfect."

What Mom didn't know is that only the right kind of practice turns myelin into money. Slow, focused, deliberate practice -- in which you stop, contemplate and correct every error -- slaps the myelin on as thick as house paint. Dan calls it "deep practice."

"That's what is happening in these hotbeds, which really don't make sense in other ways," he says.

Indeed:

  • At the Brazilian soccer hotbed in Sao Paulo, the game's most dominant players become superstars by playing "futsal," or "soccer in the room." It is played with a ball half the size but twice the weight of an ordinary soccer ball.
  • At the Meadowmount School of Music in Westport, N.Y. -- which produced Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell -- students are instructed to practice so slowly the music should be unrecognizable to passers-by.
  • At the Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow -- which from 2005 to 2007 produced more top 20-ranked women players than the entire United States -- students swing slowly without hitting a ball. They don't even play in a tournament for the first three years.

Biologically, our bodies produce wave after wave of myelin when we're young and need it. Although production drops off beginning in middle age, there's always some of it available.

“The difference between Tiger Woods and me? He's built a broadband around his golf swing; I've got chicken wire around mine.”

Yes, Virginia, you can teach old dogs new tricks -- just ask any geriatric Wii enthusiast. It just takes longer.

The key to converting your child's myelin into your living, breathing 401(k) is passion -- theirs, not yours.

Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck says parents need only do two things correctly to ignite future superstars: watch what they fix on visually to discover their passion (the eyes never lie) and praise their effort, not their talent.

Dan is putting his findings to work with his own son and three daughters, any of whom could one day put Homer on the world stage.

Me, I'm scarfing fish oil like a fur seal and trying out for the Mets next spring.

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