Awareness + Learning + INTEGRATION = New Improved Skill
I adapted this ‘improvement equation’ from a presentation given by TI Coach Dinah Mistilis at the TI Coach Certification Course this week in Coral Springs FL. I’ll explain it below, giving special attention to the key step of integration.
Improving a skill starts with becoming aware of the error you’d like to correct–moving from Unconscious Incompetence–not recognizing your technique error–to Conscious Incompetence. From there–perhaps with guidance from a TI DVD or Coach–you progress to Conscious Competence. In this stage, it takes constant vigilance to resist the pull of old, ingrained habit.
A critical brain adaptation that allows the improved skill to ‘hardwire’ is to integrate the new neural circuit that guides it with existing circuits. Those include both cognitive circuits–how you think about and experience the new skill; and motor circuits–instructions from your brain to your muscles. Here are three ways to aid the process of integration.
Develop a ‘Personal Vocabulary’ to Describe It
The act of putting new thoughts and sensations into your own words–especially to articulate them to someone else–forces you to refine your concepts about the new skill–why and how you do it, and how your swimming feels different as a result. Try these:
1. Explain it to someone else. Or even better, bring a friend or family member to the pool and teach it to them.
2. Write it down. The best place to do this is on the TI Discussion Forum where others who are working on the same skill can share their process and insights with you. The Wisdom of Crowds is more powerful than that of any one individual. Check out this site (in English) by a woman in Japan who only began swimming three weeks ago but has already set up a blog, and made numerous posts recording and reflecting on her experiences and what they’re teaching her.
Visualize when not swimming
Learning researchers have observed that the brain’s firing patterns are nearly the same when you think about a skill as when you actually perform it. Indeed, the more brainpower you devote to the skill, the more the brain recognizes it as a ‘high value’ activity, and will continue encoding the movements while you sleep. If you find yourself dreaming about swimming, that’s your brain accelerating your learning process. Here are ways to encode consciously.
1. ‘Meditate’ away from the pool. When you have some quiet time, imagine yourself swimming–as vividly as possible –in the new way, at times. With practice you should find that your visualizations become stronger and more realistic.
2. Breathe and Visualize before practice. Yoga classes often start with sitting cross-legged, doing breathing exercises and reviewing your intentions for practice. I sometimes do the same prior to swimming. I sit at the end of the lane, direct my gaze down the lane, breathe slowly through my nose (stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, making you more receptive to suggestion) and visualize my first length. When I begin swimming, I ‘find my groove’ immediately.
3. Visualize between repeats. While resting at the wall between repeats breathe slowly, and keep swimming mentally, until you push off. Stay in your mental groove full time during sets.
Increase awareness as you swim.
1. Practice wrong – then right. When working on a new technique, intentionally start a length with the wrong technique, then correct. Start a lap with your head too high; halfway down release its weight and notice how your entire body feel better supported. Or start a lap intentionally over-reaching, then slip your hand through the Mail Slot. All it takes is a few repetitions to gain a stronger sense of the right technique–and why it’s beneficial.
2. Close your eyes. Whenever I practice an especially elusive technique, one that requires a high level of sensory awareness, I find myself involuntarily closing my eyes to feel it better. When people lose their sight, of necessity their other senses become much keener. Turning off visual input will increase your sensitivity to sensory inputs.