The I Can’t Muscle

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

What comes to mind when I say, “muscle memory”? 

 It’s one of those ability gifts that we often don’t pay much attention to but is a significant attribute designed into our bodies. One example that comes to mind is learning to ride a bicycle. If we learn to do that as a child, we learn not only the technique but also balance and movement. If we never get on a bicycle again until adulthood but rode often as a child, our muscle memory will help us ride again even if we are a bit rusty the first time. I think of that one because my mother never learned to ride a bike as a child and tried as an adult fairly unsuccessfully. But I learned as a child and didn’t ride again until sometime in my mid-twenties and had little difficulty getting back to it again even though pregnant at the time.

Our muscle memory is found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding bikes, driving motor vehicles, playing ball sports, typing on keyboards, entering PINs, playing musical instruments, poker, martial arts, swimming, and dancing.

Sound simple?  Well, science now tells us there are two types of muscle memory. One is neurological and stems from recall of a learned activity like riding a bike, driving a golf ball down the fairway, knowing various martial arts moves, and more. The second type is identified as physiological memory and related to regrowth of muscle tissue that relates to regaining lost muscle mass due to inactivity related or injury. 

Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

Of course it’s not so much your muscles actually remembering but what happens in the central nervous system made up of your brain and spinal cord when an activity is learned and neural pathways form that now can send signals to whatever part of the body needs them. When we have learned them well, they become automatic, and we largely don’t even need to think about them because of those neural pathways.

But there are other things that it seems can influence this process that falls in the psychological memory aspect of us. If we get messages in childhood that may seem incidental that give us the sense that we cannot do something in one area or especially when it is more than one, we start believing we cannot. The “I can’t muscle” can grow stronger over time so we don’t feel competent or confident in those areas and even become generalized across all areas of the person’s life.

Recently, I used this illustration to describe myself in a conversation with my husband. He grew up pretty independently without a lot of instruction about anything and as a result, he became a problem solver who figured out to do whatever he needed to do and grew in trusting he could even when it was new or a challenge. He just knew he needed to figure it out and did. 

Photo by RDNE Stock project from Pexels

He sometimes is puzzled that I don’t always operate similarly even all these years into adulthood. My family background gave me a different message though I am sure it was not their intent. Instead of it resulting in my believing I could do something, I believed I likely couldn’t, and it grew my “I can’t” mindset when faced with a new skill or task. Perhaps it came from my difficulty understanding math in middle school due to some ineffective teachers. I struggled with math homework and what I heard from my mother was “I was never very good at math either and could not do well with it.”  I soon believed I was in some way deficient, and my parents hovered over every homework assignment with no real helpful instruction that little-by-little cemented the belief in my memory. The result was that I continued to have challenges with any area of math throughout my school career. Math finally began to make more sense to me when I became a teacher and had the benefit of the teacher’s manual that not only gave me answers but also instructions about “how to” do the problems.

This sense of lack of ability or competence spread to other areas as well and with it grew a sense of fearing failure, so it was better not to try. I was shocked when I would win a superior rating in a music competition and earn a spot on the honor roll (despite math). The sense of growing up thinking my family did not think I could, became a muscle of “I can’t.” Over time I was blessed with some very discerning teachers who began to give me other messages and when I met my husband early in college, he never failed to believe I could. He saw potential, strength, and possibility to overcome the old messages.

How did God fit into the picture? I began to see how He pursued and used so many who did not appear to be the best choice. Some had messed up miserably and He still chose them, and they became leaders and models. For me, I became a champion for every student who came into my classroom of believing they could be more and do more than they thought, and I watched with excitement as they grew “I can” muscles. That translated again when I finished graduate school and became a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and met for 25 years with persons whose lives were upside down and they also believed “I can’t” and without a doubt I believed with God that they could.

As I grow older, there can be a sneak attack of the old “I can’t” that creeps in even now but I have experience to combat that negative system even though my first impulse might occasionally revert to that. The truth is that I will never forget what I have learned about this and how God can use it for good as I pass along messages to others of “I can.”  This is not the memory that should guide us in the last quarter of our lives when we reflect on the life we have behind us.

“The fact is that every life is simply a series of lives, each one of them with its own task, its own flavor, its own brand of errors, its own type of sins, its own glories, its own kind of deep dank despair, its own plethora of possibilities, all designed to lead us to the same end – happiness and a sense of fulfillment.

Life is a mosaic made up of multiple pieces, each of them full in itself, each of them a stepping-stone on the way to the rest of it.”  

Joan Chittister

Photo by Marcus Aurelius from Pexels

7 thoughts on “The I Can’t Muscle

  1. This is such an encouraging message for anyone who is going through moments of self doubt whether from life’s conditioning or life’s challenges. Thanks for sharing with us, visiting from #10,11, & 12 SSPS #280

  2. There will be many of us who will be able to relate to this post, me included. This description of your husband is beautiful > “He saw potential, strength, and possibility to overcome the old messages.” May we all be like him, encouraging others to become all God intended.

  3. Hi, Pam.

    I had a similar experience with math and an elementary teacher solodified my sense of “I Can’t”. I finally enjoyed a math class in college and discovery I have an acuity for remembering numbers. I try to pass along the same messge with my students that you do. I know they can–even if it’s challenging.

    1. Hi Tammy! Very sad when teachers or others set us up that way. Reading your response reminded me that my husband commented when he proofed this post that he thought more than a few would relate to this. Thanks for sharing! I miss you💕

  4. Your story brings to mind a teacher that told me I had no ability to try learning to play the violin. I concluded that I have no music ability.
    I am delighted to see my grandchildren playing variety of instruments, enjoying music instruction.

Leave a Reply