In our quest for steno perfection, we spend countless hours practicing. After all, “practice makes permanent.” It’s been oft said that multiple hours of practice creates “muscle memory”; making our writing automatic.
While reading the book, “Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power Of Sleep And Dreams” By: Matthew Walker, I came across the following interesting passage that explains why the term “muscle memory” is a misnomer:
“The term ‘muscle memory’ is a misnomer. Muscles themselves have no such memory: a muscle that is not connected to a brain cannot perform any skilled actions, nor does a muscle store skilled routines. Muscle memory is, in fact brain memory. Training and strengthening muscles can help you better execute a skilled memory routine. But the routine itself- the memory program- resides firmly and exclusively within the brain.”
This video describes what muscle memory is and how it is created. This is all very relevant to how we learn stenography.
In his book, “Brainblocks,” clinician Dr. Theo Tsaousides discusses the brain’s natural give-and-take tug-of-war of speed vs. accuracy. His expert rendition of the brain’s conflict between speed and accuracy makes what we do as stenographers seem even more amazing! Here’s what he had to say:
“Your brain can process things fast or it can process them accurately. These two qualities, speed and accuracy, are always is competition. As one goes up the other goes down. You can do things fast or you can do them well. Under normal circumstances, it is impossible to increase both your speed and your accuracy.
Efficiency is the ideal balance between speed and accuracy. It refers to the highest speed at which you can process information without making mistakes. Imagine that you’re reading an interesting article in your favorite magazine. Efficiency is the length of time it takes you to finish reading the article and to also understand the content. If you read it faster than your brain can process, you will miss some of the information in the article, you will not pick up some of the details, and you will forget it faster. If you slow down and read it at a more leisurely pace, you will process, understand, and remember the information in the article much better. But you may be late for work!
Impatience happens when you favor speed over accuracy. Instead of taking your time, you choose to do things quickly. Instead of waiting for things to fall in place, you want things to happen faster. But inevitably, doing things faster increases the chances of making more mistakes, which you have to go back and fix.”
After reading that passage, how amazing is it that we train our brains to master both speed and accuracy?! Awesome!
Under a sub-heading entitled, “Time Your Breaks,” the March 2015 issue of Money magazine states: “Research shows your brain losses focus on a task after about 90 minutes.”
Based on this information, it wouldn’t hurt to take a 5-minute break after an hour and a half of practice to get a focus reboot.
“Brain cells consume oxygen and glucose (a form of sugar) for fuel. The more challenging the brain’s task, the more fuel it consumes. Therefore, it is important to have adequate amounts of these substances in the brain for optimum functioning. Low amounts of oxygen and glucose in the blood can produce lethargy and sleepiness. Eating a moderate portion of food containing glucose (fruits are an excellent source) can boost the performance and accuracy of working memory, attention and motor function.
Water, also essential for healthy brain activity, is required to move neuron signals through the brain. Low concentrations of water diminish the rate and efficiency of these signals. Moreover, water keeps the lungs sufficiently moist to allow for the efficient transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream…
Many [people] do not eat a breakfast that contains sufficient glucose, nor do they drink enough water during the day to maintain healthy brain function…The current recommended amount is one eight-ounce glass of water a day for each 25 pounds of body weight.” -From, “How The Brain Learns” By: David A. Sousa
“Practice does make permanent, thereby aiding in the retention of learning. Consequently, we want to ensure that students practice the new learning correctly from the beginning…If they unknowingly practice the skill incorrectly, they will learn the incorrect method well! This will present serious problems for both the teacher and learner later on because it is very difficult to change a skill that has been practiced and remembered, even if it is not correct. If a learner practices a skill incorrectly but well, unlearning and relearning that skill correctly is very difficult. The degree to which the unlearning and relearning processes are successful will depend on the:
1) Age of the learner (i.e., the younger, the easier to relearn),
2) Length of time the skill has been practiced incorrectly (i.e., the longer, the more difficult to change),
3) Degree of motivation to relearn (i.e., the greater the desire for change, the more effort that will be used to bring about change).” -From, “How The Brain Learns,” By: David A. Sousa
“For practice to improve performance, four conditions must be met (Hunter, 204):
1) The learner must be sufficiently motivated to want to improve performance.
2) The learner must have all the knowledge necessary to understand the different ways that the new knowledge or skill can be applied.
3) The learner must understand how to apply the knowledge to deal with a particular situation.
4) The learner must be able to analyze the results of that application and know what needs to be changed to improve performance in the future.
Teachers help learners meet these conditions when they do the following:
1) Start by selecting the smallest amount of material that will have maximum meaning for the learner.
2) Model the application process step-by-step. Studies show that the brain also uses observation as a means for determining the spatial learning needed to master a motor skill.
3) Insist that the practice occur in their presence over a short period of time while the student is focused on the learning.
4) Watch the practice and provide the students with prompt and specific feedback on what variable needs to be altered to correct and enhance performance. Feedback seems to be particularly important during the learning of complex motor skills.” -From, “How The Brain Learns,” By: David A. Sousa
“Practice refers to learners repeating a skill over time. It begins with the rehearsal of the new skill in working memory, the motor cortex, and the cerebellum. Later, the skill memory is recalled and additional practice follows. The quality of practice and the learner’s knowledge base will largely determine the outcome of each practice session.
Over the long term, repeated practice causes the brain to assign extra neurons to the task, much as a computer assigns more memory for a complex program. The assignment of these additional neurons is more or less on a permanent basis. Professional keyboard and string musicians, for example, have larger portions of the motor cortex devoted to controlling finger and hand movements. Furthermore, the earlier their training started, the bigger the motor cortex. If practice is stopped altogether, the neurons that are no longer being used are eventually assigned to other tasks and skill mastery will decline. In other words, use it or lose it!” -From, “How The Brain Learns,” By: David A. Sousa