Think about something you’ve learned. For example, how to manage meetings, make effective presentations, write well, play tennis or golf. How to be a good listener, a great salesperson, teacher, parent or surfer. Whatever you know how to do today, you’ve learned it by degrees. I call it learning in layers.
The first layer of learning is mental and mechanical. Intellectually, you understand the concept and can execute it – kind of like paint-by-the-numbers. With practice, the process begins to feel more natural. But, the action still requires thought. With more repetition, it becomes second nature, requiring far less energy. Once you’re able to perform the task with ease, you’re at the layer I call body-knowledge. You’re competent and able to function without a second thought. The ‘how-to’ resides in muscle memory in the cells of your body.
Athletes – professional, amateur and weekend warriors – get better with time and practice. When the stress on the playing field is highest, they rely on muscle memory and thinking that has evolved into instinct after practicing the same play over and over and over again.
The same rules apply to every-day skill building for you and me. When stepping up to new challenges, be patient with yourself, as well as with the people you lead and love. Seek out opportunities to practice the desired skill. And, invest sufficiently in rounds of repetition until improvement is evident. Remember, we learn in layers.