As a teacher of Mindfulness, I spend much of my time thinking and talking about how to get out of ‘auto-pilot’ and into the present moment.
Yet, in other areas of my life and work, I keep bumping into this concept of muscle memory; the idea that our muscles ‘remember’ certain actions and practices… that we can train our ‘auto-pilot’ to be smarter, quicker, stronger, better.
If you engage in any physical exercise, you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. I’m frequently reminded when I perform Yoga, that my body has to be trained to activate different muscles in certain positions until it becomes the norm. Pulling your stomach muscles in and sticking your pelvis out when you’re first learning a handstand seems completely counter-intuitive and damn right awful at first…. but after you’ve practised and practised and practised…. your body does this without you even having to ask. And it even activates these muscles in other positions and moves. Cool right?!
Perhaps, on a surface level, this is more your daily actions and behaviour. In Jiu Jitsu – for example, it currently seems to be an automatic response of mine to ‘play guard’ from my back, which isn’t really doing me any favours position-wise. This pattern though is so set in my muscle memory that people barely have to tap me and my back goes to the ground – my brain thinks that this is the norm. In fact, it doesn’t even try to get up or question whether it is possible. It’s all good though… because now I know what my brain is doing, I can disrupt this pattern by forcing myself to “GET UP!” whenever this happens. I’ve every faith that after maybe 100 or 1000 repetitions of getting up here, my brain will do this automatically. My auto-pilot just needs re-training. “Drill to kill,” as we say!
Through my teaching business, Skills with Frills, I teach children about the power of Growth Mindset. We embrace the science of Neuroplasticity, taking comfort in the knowledge that we can grow and change the landscape of our brains through practice and persistence.
And this is what it’s all about right?
Whether it’s teaching your body when to use certain muscles, getting up as soon as you’re down or changing any automatic response that you feel isn’t currently working for you…. it’s all possible with awareness and persistence.
Seriously – even for HUGE things. Like having an issue with lack of confidence in social situations, for example. This isn’t down to one habit – it’s potentially down to hundreds or more. As soon as you become aware of what your body has learned as its ‘normal behaviour,’ you can begin to disrupt these patterns and habits, one by one.
So pay attention to what your body and brain muscles are doing whenever your auto-pilot is on.
And if you don’t like what you see, maybe it’s time for some re-training.