The Muscle Memory Trap


My five-year old daughter recently started taking piano lessons. I’m so proud. She is learning a great skill that will hopefully give her a lifetime of joy. After watching one of her lessons, I was inspired to get out some of my old piano pieces and see what I could play, even though I hadn’t played some of the songs in YEARS. To my surprise, I found that I could muddle through large portions of the songs without too much difficulty, or really even reading the music carefully. Why? Because my fingers had retained the muscle memory that had developed through persistent practice all those years ago.

According to Wikipedia:

Muscle memory has been used synonymously with motor learning, which is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. Overall, long-term musical fine motor training allows for complex actions to be performed at a lower level of movement control, monitoring, selection, attention, and timing.

So despite the fact I hadn’t played in a long time, I could still pound out much of my piece without a lot of thought because I had practiced so much in the past. My fingers had essentially memorized the movements. You know the phrase, “Going through the motions?” That’s what muscle memory allowed me to do.

I found the same thing when I tried jogging this week. I’m about 3 weeks post-partum and hadn’t been for a run in about 5 months. When I tried a slow, easy stride, my body fell quickly into  rhythm because I’ve been a runner since college. The breathing techniques, the gait, the pacing myself…it all came back naturally. Once again it was because I had had consistent training over many years.

Muscle memory is useful for playing musical instruments or for physical activities, but in other areas of life it can be inhibiting. Relying on going through the motions does NOT work so well when it comes to relationships. When my mind and heart are not actively in engaged in the time I spend with my husband, kids or God, the relationships become stagnant.

In my post baby state, I’ve been kind of in a fog when it comes to my people. I’m tuned in to breastfeeding, my baby’s cries and figuring out how to get enough sleep. Let’s face it; if there is a time in life that we need to give ourselves grace (there are many), it’s after having a baby.

But I’m starting to realize…I can’t go on like this forever. Especially when it comes to my relationship with the Lord. It’s life giving, and I need it. I can’t rely on verses I’ve committed to memory, or prior moments of closeness with Him. Or that I used to pray more. Unlike the benefits of muscle memory, if I try to coast without concious effort in my Christian walk, it’ll be stale. Because God is not an activity, He’s a being. And He says,

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with ALL your heart.” ~ Jeremiah 29. I am not actively seeking Him with all my heart by just going through the motions.

Are you just “going through the motions” in your faith walk? Let’s press on through the things that are clouding our hearts and minds and seek the Lord with everything we have today.