The Body Remembers What the Mind Forgets: Why skills learned properly never leave you
Updated: Apr 28
If lockdown has taught me one thing, it's that I'll do anything to stay active after sitting all day. Even cartwheel across the grass unsuccessfully!
I hadn’t skied since I was 10 years old. And even then - I don’t really remember “skiing”. I remember sitting inside the cosy ski school, eating chicken nuggets and watching The Wizard of Oz, while a blizzard of Oz blew gustily over the peaks of the Falls Creek ski fields. The most skiing I probably did was the Home Run, positioned under the bridge of one of my parents' sets of legs as we pizza-wedged our way back to the car parks after a single day on the slopes each season.
Yet there I was, 14 years later, on a work ski trip, scooting down the beginners slope with ease after a two hour group lesson. It was the strangest sensation... how was it possible that my body remembered what my mind had long, long forgotten? By the end of the day, I was on Blue runs. Maybe not the most style and grace, but skiing fairly well nevertheless a decade and a half since my last whirl down the snow.
The body remembers
Body memory is a curious thing. As an NLP Practitioner, I know that the unconscious mind:
stores, organises and represses memories;
runs the body and preserves the body; and,
maintains instincts and generates habits
Amongst other things.
And it’s for this reason that we can drive our cars, while having a conversation with a friend, and changing the song on the radio, without missing our next exit. You’re not driving. Your body is.
And brings back the words
And then just this week it all came flooding back when my partner and I played handball on our garden terrace. For the first time in, like ... 2 decades! Not only did the handball skills come back within 20 minutes (even my partner was able to hit the tiny rubber ball back to me under his legs “tricksy” style), what also crept back was the language. I accused my opponent that his last hit was “on the full”, a phrase I haven't used since probably I last played handball! And even “tricksy”... which trust me, I don’t use in every day life, either! The ease with which my body, and then curiously my mind, fell back into flow, was so surprising and exhilarating that I couldn’t stop laughing. My body remembered, my mind then remembered, and even my spirit remembered.
Immersive experiences in a post-COVID world
I’ve spoken before about the importance of immersion when training staff during organisational change - of creating immersive experiences that switch on all five senses. Because what our bodies feel and learn, they remember forever. As evidenced by both my skiing and my handball.
But with time, comes change. And COVID has brought a big shift as the digital experiences of tomorrow grace our doorsteps (and screens) today. Even my incredible Change Management program for restructuring teams has turned into a digital offering, moving from a 2-day live program, to a 4-week online course. But digital doesn’t mean we have to lose the experience completely, and I still sing from the rooftops about the "Reimagine Remote" guides I popped up on my Passion Pioneers website at the start of lockdown to turn training, workshops, conferences, and networking into in-body experiences.
What goes around comes around
So, along with skiing and handball, I’m also trying to teach myself how to cartwheel again. Problem is - I wasn’t actually the most athletic or graceful of kids, so I’m not sure I ever actually did do a cartwheel successfully in my life. Maybe that one’s not body memory... maybe that’s just teaching an old dog new tricks. At least there’s a lot of laughs every time I fall flat on my butt. And that... I do remember.
I'm Lata Hamilton - the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, a Change Management consultancy specialising in digital transformation, operating model changes, and new ways of working and leadership.
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