Monday, September 5, 2011

Muscle memory

I was sitting in an office with one of my fellow managers. We were about to get on a conference call. I was fairly new to the company, and she was helping me finish up my training. I asked her if she needed me to look up the number, and she said not to bother; she had it memorized. It wasn't the first time I'd offered to help with something just be turned down because she acted like she knew it all and I was a distraction, at best. When it came time to dial the number, she didn’t even look at the phone while her fingers quickly danced on the keypad. A moment passed and then over the speakerphone came the following words (or something like it), "Hey sexy! Looking for some hot one-on-one chat?" I looked at the other manager as she quickly disconnected the call. "This darn phone," she said, "it's old and the numbers are always getting stuck. When she redialed the number, I did notice that she did so more carefully, and this time she referenced something from her rolodex.

                To be fair to her, there are some numbers I call often and they only way I can remember them is to actually dial the number and watch as the muscle memory in my hand keys it in. The concept is pretty wild to me--that my body can be trained to do something and it will do it without me really having to think about it.

                Like what? Well, driving, typing, walking and chewing gum at the same time. . .

                I'm certainly no expert on this subject, but I would say that is why musicians practice so much--they are training the memories in their muscles to react a certain way when they want a certain outcome. The old saying of "Practice makes perfect" definitely carries some weight.

                My wife has carte blanche to decorate the house as she sees fit. The two areas I'm allowed to have a say are my side of the bed and my desk in our home office. At least I have those. And, I'll be the first to admit the house looks very nice because of this agreement.

                One thing in my office is a trophy I won several years ago. I'm tall at 6'3" and back in the day, I was fairly athletic. I never did try out for any of the sports teams in High School, but we had something that took its place. It's sort of like city league softball, except it was done within our church. Growing up in Utah, there are a lot of Mormon congregations, or "wards" as they are called. The young men in our ward be on a softball team. The church would set up a season schedule followed by a round of tournaments.

                Back when I was a teenager, we played outside a lot. One of our favorite games to play was called "Indian Ball". I have no idea where the name came from, and I'm pretty sure it isn't Politically Correct, but there you have it. It was basically softball with only four players--two on each team. I won't go into the details, but playing it helped us practice all the skills of hitting, throwing and fielding. I was a pretty fast runner, so I liked to play the outfield.

                We would play this game for hours upon end, often playing until it got too dark to see. But in doing so, I really developed some pretty decent skills. I learned how to switch hit (meaning hitting both left and right handed) as well as become a darn good outfielder if I do say so myself.

                When the softball season rolled around my senior year in High School, we had a really good team. We won the regular season and went on to win the next several rounds of tournaments. I'm not sure how many we won, but we ended up in the "area" championship game. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say there was roughly 400 teams in this area, so it was a big deal getting there.

                Before the last game, our coach brought in a hitting instructor to help us tune up for the final game of the year. After watching me hit, he said, "You have more power from the right side--you are more of a slap hitter from the left. You should hit from the right side."

                For the whole year, I had basically hit from the left side because I could cross up the defense and get on base a lot. I'd only really hit from the right side if we needed a deep fly ball to sacrifice a runner home. But, the hitting instructor was pretty adamant I hit from the right side.

                How did things go for the last game? Well, my first at bat was a deep fly ball to left that was caught right in front of the fence. My second at bat has the same result. The game was uncharacteristically low scoring, so I only got one more at bat. I went to step into the left hand batter box but was told to hit from the right side. I went to the right side and tried to do more of a slap hit to get on base, but I grounded out to short instead. My muscle memory simply hadn't been trained for what I was trying to do that last game.

                The good news is that we ended up winning--though I had my worst hitting game of the season. I often wonder how I would have done that last game if I didn't try to be something I wasn't.  

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