Muscle Memory and Learning Habits

As I get into the task of turning the components of 2Time into a training course, one of of the challenges I have is a common one – how does someone teach themself to learn a new habit?

In other words, once they determine that they want to learn a new habit, what is the environment they need to create that will result in the new action becoming an unconscious one? Furthermore, how is this environment created when the user is at different belt levels for the different components, and therefore at different levels of self-awareness?

There is enough theory to understand that people are different, and respond to different things.

I hope to create something like a menu of options for a user to choose from. These options could include:

  • audible reminders
  • visual reminders
  • on-line or paper tracking
  • group support and reinforcement
  • coaching conversations
  • rewards either privately or publicly administered
  • reminders of costs and benefits

Hopefully users will be able to construct the right blend of options to help them change habits at will.

Once a new habit is in place, my experience is that it operates a lot like muscle memory  – after continuous repetition, it becomes an unconscious action. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Ronaldinho spent hours performing the same actions over and over again, perfecting simple and basic actions until they are ingrained in their muscles. Obviously, the same goes for a martial artist performing their kata.

Less obviously, is the working professional who is learning a new 2Time component like “Capturing“.

We all start as White Belts or Novices, thinking that we can remember every time demand that needs to be remembered. At some point we decide to begin Capturing, and must teach ourselves to ruthlessly write or record time demands as soon as they arise. In the beginning, this habit (like any other) must be practiced over and over with conscious intent until it starts to become a reflex.

Then as it becomes habitual, there is often a lapse that occurs, where the user thinks that the action is more habitual than it is, and they are liable to lapse by not paying sufficient attention to it. If they continue working on it, however, they get to the point where they become absolutely reliable, and at the same time they are continuously seeking to practice and perfect the habit, even when others see no need.

Here is a very rough idea of how habits are learned by belt level:

  • White Belt or Novice: Unaware of the habit. Any actions taken are haphazard.
  • Yellow: Aware of the habit and taking conscious efforts to implement it
  • Green: Unreliable, even though the habit may have started to become unconscious. May lapse at this point.
  • Orange: Absolutely reliable in performing the habit, and continuously working to perfect the habit through practice