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Repetition is key to building muscle memory

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Repetition is key to building muscle memory

Scott Miker

Studying the systems and habits approach to improvement, I have learned quite a bit about the importance of muscle memory. 

I have been reading a book by a Marine who was leading his men into battle.  In the book he details the task and talks at length about how he worked with his men to prepare them for life and death situations.

The book is Joker One: A Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood.  The author is Donovan Campbell.   

The book presents a fascinating look at the life of a soldier but one section really resonated with the idea of using habits to improve and prepare for unpredictable situations. 

“In our world, basic tasks have to be repeatedly rehearsed in conditions mimicking predicted combat scenarios as faithfully as possible.  For example, you can never be sure which small detail might mean the difference between exiting a vehicle caught in an enemy ambush kill zone in two seconds or in ten.  That kind of time differential can be fatal.  Where is the door handle on the seven-ton truck?  Do you have to pull it up or down to get out?  How far is the drop out of the truck bed, and where exactly do you need to put your feet before you hurl yourself out the door?  Once all the little questions have been answered, those answers must be practiced again and again until they become muscle memory.”

It may seem like common sense that the military uses these types of training to build the right habits and movements for soldiers, but combat isn’t the only place where it makes sense to work on muscle memory and crafting our responses so precisely. 

What if we took this approach to our everyday lives?  Can we start to craft our morning routine with the same attention to detail?  Can we change the way we drive our car to notice potentially hazardous situations earlier and to respond quicker?  Can we slowly and systematically improve the way we communicate at work with our boss or at home with our spouse?

I have found that it is incredibly beneficial to take this approach with everything.  It forces an introspective approach and a learning mindset.  It starts to identify the meaningful from what others perceive is meaningless.  And when we start to hone our ability to craft the systems and habits in our lives in the most beneficial way, it opens up a world of possibilities. 

From the outside it looks insignificant.  But what happens is that slowly we start to improve and grow.  We start to accomplish more and more and reach new levels of success.  But because it is such a slow process it tends to go unnoticed.  It doesn’t result in sudden fame and riches, rather it results in confidence and personal growth. 

Campbell says in Joker One, “I knew that the little things we learned during this endless repetition might very well make the difference between life and death.”  

In our daily lives we don’t have this same distinction between life and death but we can take the same approach to develop the habits in a way where we slowly improve and put us in the best position to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.  In order to improve we have to keep doing it over and over again until it becomes muscle memory.