Reading time: 3 minutes

As I am typing these words, I’m leaning on the fact that I have learned how to type blind at the age of 10. That’s why I’m still working on a “Belgian” laptop with an azerty keyboard (ed. in the Netherlands it’s querty). You should see a Dutch typing on my keyboard… Muscle memory.

And as I have started playing the piano again after many years, my hands are making music that is nowhere to be found in my head. It’s very strange. I look at the music sheets and do not know what to do. And then I close my eyes and stop thinking, and still play the same sonatas I’ve played years ago. Pure muscle memory.

Until I start thinking again and I go all wrong.


The pros

This muscle memory is a good thing. Isn’t it? Think about riding a bike. Driving a car. Entering your pin-code. Playing an instrument. Me typing this blog. But don’t you think there is a downside to it?

This muscle memory must be influencing our overall behaviour without us being aware of that. After all, even our heart is a muscle. Based on that, could it be that what we call habits (bad or not) are purely physical inevitabilities? Products of a life long and partially unconscious repeated practicing? Some of it improving our proficiency. Nevertheless some of it preventing us to get ahead.


The cons

I’m thinking of smoking. Over-eating. Drinking. Yelling. Going into defence mode. Not listening. Hurrying. Over-thinking. Worrying. And I can go on.

The question is, how can we – consciously – practice the right behaviours, so that we – unconsciously – repeat those when needed? How can we replace bad habits with good habits?


Your “muscle memory inventory”

First of all we need to make up the inventory. Our own “muscle memory inventory”. Strengths and pitfalls. Good and bad habits. Behaviour that is facilitating you and behaviour that is limiting your progress. As I’ve written before, often those behaviours that brought you the success you have today, are the same behaviours that prevent you from reaching new goals. Behaviours that slow you down in the further development of your career.

A 360 maybe?


Reprogram – Practice – Assess

Knowing all that, how to manipulate the DNA of your muscle memory in order for it to work with you instead of against you? If you ask me, there’s only one answer to that.

1. First, reprogram. Decide on the specific behaviours you will continue or start doing. Choose maximum 3 at a time.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice.

3. Use after-action assessments to evaluate your progress. From unconscious incompetence to conscious in/competence. How did I do today? Why did I fail? What triggered my old behaviour? In which situations am I succeeding? What are the benefits of that new behaviour?


Upgrading performance

The funny thing is, when I am playing the piano today, I am still making the same small mistakes I used to make many years ago. I even hear my old piano teacher shouting in my ear “no, no, noooo”. But seen the fact that I focus on the conscious part of my play again, and re-learn to play based on reading my piano sheet, I get to eliminate those old imperfections as well. Upgrading my performance.


Food for thought

My question for you: Do you have a clear view on your own “muscle memory inventory”? Are you aware of which behaviours to stop and which behaviours to continue (or start) in order to be (even) more successful. And maybe even more happy? And if you are, are you consciously practicing some of the new behaviours that are beneficial to you?

I don’t want any answers, I’m only hoping to give you some food for thought. And as always, don’t hesitate to contact me if you are looking for an objective and honest soundboard in all of this.

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I’m off to Italy. Muscle memory ;-)
Enjoy the Summer !


Sofie Varrewaere is the founder of and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach. After studying a Master in Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, she ogled into the magical world of Recruitment, Selection and HR Services. Working for the world leader in HR, she has always been in an advisory role in relation to the larger goals of several multinational organizations. In 2013 she started her own company in International executive Coaching. Doing what she is good at, challenging others as well as herself.