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Two Crucial Aspects to Unlocking 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.  

Two Crucial Aspects to Unlocking Muscle Memory

Scott Miker

The more we train and prepare to reach a goal, the more we rely on the systems and habits in our lives.  Many times this involves muscle memory. 

“Muscle memory is not a memory stored in your muscles, of course, but memories stored in your brain that are much like a cache of frequently enacted tasks for your muscles.  It’s a form of procedural memory that can help you become very good at something through repetition, but in exactly the same way it can make you absolutely terrible at that same thing.” (reference)

Any time we want to learn a musical instrument, start an exercise routine, learn a new dance move or even learn to drive a car, we are relying on muscle memory.  In the example of learning to drive a car, we have to consciously control our movements initially but over time the actions to drive a car become automatic.

There are two key aspects to muscle memory that you should consider when you are working to reach a new goal.  

1.  Repetition is the key in the beginning. 
Whatever the goal that you want to reach, there are actions and behaviors that need to be crafted.  Learning to drive a car requires brand new movements for our legs, hands, eyes, and bodies.  Only by practicing and going out time and time again do we start to develop the ability to effortlessly drive a car.

2.  Without a focus on quality improvement, you will only reach a set plateau.
This is very important.  Most people that I know have not continuously improved their driving abilities.  Our initial growth is fueled by the new behaviors associated with a new action.  But this isn’t enough to continue to grow.  We need to shift over to a focus on quality improvement in order to overcome the typical plateau associated with muscle memory.

Another example that I see involves exercise.  For years I tried to form a new exercise habit and failed.  I was so focused on quality that I spent too much time making sure everything was perfect instead of making progress and forming the reflexive recall needed to keep going.  

Once I shifted my perspective to making progress instead of on perfection I was able to start a new exercise habit.  I worked to maintain that habit and spent 4-5 years relying on that habit to improve my health.  

But I noticed something interesting.  I hit a wall.  I spent years trying to improve and just couldn’t seem to make any real progress.  I continued to exercise daily but wasn’t seeing an improvement in my weight or physical abilities.  It wasn’t until I shifted my perspective that I saw incredible growth.

Because I had the habit ingrained, I could then put all of my attention into improving my exercise routine.  I didn’t do this drastically.  I started adding and adjusting pieces of it until I started to see some progress.  Then I spent some time solidifying those habits.  

Over time this has helped me to grow beyond the plateau associated with blind repetition.  

Taking the example of playing a musical instrument, we see the same characteristics.  If we want to learn the guitar we have to train our hands to form the right chords and strum the right rhythm.  But if we only play the same songs and don’t challenge ourselves to improve, we won’t continue to grow.

The greatest musicians all have the muscle memory associated with playing their instrument at the highest levels and have worked to improve the quality over time.  Together this provides an incredible platform to grow a habit and reach a goal.

Understanding muscle memory is important because it can help unlock areas of our lives where we can start to grow a new habit or overcome the plateau associated with a longstanding habit.  

So what areas of your life can you apply these traits of muscle memory to reach a goal?