Pro Versus Novice: Muscle Memory and Speech Production
Recently, I listened to a podcast interview that Brené Brown conducted with neuroscientist, David Eagleman. Eagleman recently wrote a book on the brain titled ‘Livewired,’ and during this conversation, he spoke about many topics that I felt were relevant to my practice as a speech language pathologist.
A few years ago, I was taking a yoga class with my instructor, Abir Alzenate of Abir Yoga Academy. We were working through a series of poses which would ultimately lead to an advanced posture. Abir taught us that we did these basic poses often, and over and over again, to create “muscle memory” as this would lay the foundation for the more challenging poses (i.e., headstands, splits, etc.) ahead.
In that moment, this form of practice resonated with me and my work with my clients. Part of what I do every day is teaching my clients to produce speech sounds and word combinations that are considered simple for most, but complicated and advanced for them.
From that moment on, I made the decision to conduct my treatment in a very similar way to my own yoga practice. I would teach my clients from a place of repetitive speech tasks, in order to create the muscle memory necessary for successful and challenging speech patterns.
So, when Eagleman presented this idea of rethinking the term "muscle memory" and instead offered this idea of the brain burning skills down to the unconscious, I was immediately drawn in. He used the analogy of a Pro athlete versus a Novice athlete playing a sport, and then asked the question, “who puts forth more brain power to perform the skill?” It’s the Novice of course, because the Pro has burned the set of skills into the unconscious and the Novice is working overtime to learn and master the skill!
When something becomes part of the unconscious brain, you do not “consciously” access the information any more, says Eagleman. Another “aha” moment for me! It’s not just muscle memory I am trying to achieve, I am trying to burn the motor-speech pattern into the unconscious so that my clients can produce correct speech patterns spontaneously and without effort. I need to teach them to become a Pro so they are no longer a Novice when it comes to their own SPEECH!