Flexing your muscle memory

Mar. 05, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

Today I want to talk about a really neat and useful “tool” we humans possess.. that being something called muscle memory.

Now, you may have heard the term mentioned before, as I had, but never really dove into what it actually is...well, that’s the plan today.

I would like to attempt to offer a little insight on the subject and possibly strike up a few intriguing thought points as to how this skill can benefit you when used correctly.

Let’s begin with what is muscle memory?

First off, you’ve already been using it your whole life, whether you knew it or not.

Basically muscle memories are memories stored in your brain that specifically relate to frequently enacted tasks for your muscles to carry out. At their core they are considered to be a procedural memory in which the performance of particular types of actions, through repetition, are recorded in the brain to be accessed below the level of conscious awareness.

The repetition of specific actions begins to build new neuron connections within the brain that in turn, allow the subconscious mind to quickly control muscles instead of relying on the slower conscious mind.

Once these connections have been established, a person can complete the desired actions almost instantly, without having to think about making each individual motion.

From riding a bike, learning to type, playing a sport or mastering a musical instrument, there are countless skills out there to be learned which utilize muscle memory as a core component of insuring their proficiency.

My personal focus of use, is that of art. Only through drawing, after drawing, after drawing, do I finally feel that I am “getting it down.” For artists, muscle memory lends itself to what is usually defined as style. Over time the act of drawing a certain way becomes what is considered to be “natural.”

This however leads into a very important caution to be taken about muscle memory.

If a specific skill or approach to doing something is at first performed wrong and subsequently allowed to continue to repeat, with the mistakes intact, then unfortunately the muscle memories created for how one completes said tasks will also be flawed, on an unconscious level.

This is why, when beginning to learn a new skill or practice a talent, it is suggested to take it slow and pay close attention to what and how one is doing things. Ensuring that the actions being repeated represent those that are correct as opposed to incorrect.

In the event unwanted actions have been instilled into muscle memory, there is a way to undo or fix things.

This corrective process will involve a conscious effort to realize when incorrect actions are being preformed and require the individual to make the appropriate changes to override them with a new set of memories.

As an example, this became very clear to me in college when I began to, through classes and observation, learn the correct way to draw the human form. Studies in proper anatomy lessons coupled with the actual act of drawing in a new way, was something that I at first felt conflicted with.

Mostly due to fact that the new “correct way” clashed with the way I had already locked into my muscle memory, thus requiring me to unlearn the way I had done things for years and re-apply it to make it my own in an efficient and comfortable manner.

I wouldn’t call what I was doing beforehand wrong, it just needed more improvement and structure. It was a real challenge at times to remind myself to “not do it that way.”

This shift did not happen overnight, and to this day continues to be an evolving process on many levels of my art as I take on new inspirations, interests and tastes.

It’s through this approach to learning and committing the necessary skills to memory that one will find the improvement they desire along the way.

One little extra tidbit to note, is that a person’s brain cannot inherently tell the difference between imagination and reality. This allows for a neat trick that can work at times when one may not be physically able to practice their task.

At times, a person might reach the point in which they can remember how to do something with such visual clarity that practice could be possible just by imagining the motions in their mind.

Athletes use this method often as a form of mental training to insure that when the time comes to preform, they can do so with noticeably quicker reaction and efficiency.

So to all of you out there struggling to learn a new skill or longing to improve upon a desired one, keep at it and trust in the fact that your mind is working right along with you whether you realize it or not.