Muscle Memory…For Our Brains?

Most of us are familiar w the term “muscle memory.” 


I may go 10yrs without shooting a basketball. When I first step on the court, the first many shots are gonna be rusty & I’m gonna keep missing. But, after a little warm-up, my brain-body connection kicks in, & that motion of “feeling the rim,” bending my knees, following through, all come back to me, & it’s as if I feel like I never left the court for so long.


Question for you all – do we have the same “muscle memory” type of mechanism for our emotions/feelings/excitement? I’m no doctor so I’m copying “Crazy” friend & neuroscientist, Dr. Kristen Willeumier to correct me/slap me on the wrist if I say anything wrong below – as I offer my own opinion on the answer to the question above. 


Doc will hate me for saying this, but I’m not so convinced science/technology has progressed enough to the point to say definitively what is happening to the brain when it comes to “emotional memory” coming back, so hey – a person w lived experience who knows just enough about the science to be a lil’ dangerous should be able to take a stab at a hypothesis.


This topic came about bc I went to dinner w four of my best guy friends from college, most of whom you see here in the pics, two nights ago. As you can see, we weren’t a quiet bunch…always giving each other a hard time, but always having a blast together.


Well going to dinner, that day, leading up to it, I wasn’t feeling “it.” I had driven to my family friend Dina’s funeral in NJ early in the morn. I’d driven back to LI to see my folks & drop their car off. Had a ton of work to catch up on, & the spot chosen for the dinner was back in NYC, on a humid day, a good trek from any close subway. Still, I went, bc getting all together these days is not so easy w kids & work & travel.


While things started off how they usually do – quick catch-ups & pic sharing…before we knew it we were ripping on each other for the same things we have been for 20+ yrs now…we were sharing stories of past ridiculousness…we were remembering ppl we hadn’t thought about for a while. 


About 15 min in, it was like I “got my shot back.” My equivalent of my muscle memory for my brain/emotions returned, & I felt like there was no other place I wanted to be than right there, at that moment.  It felt like 1999 all over again…& it felt good!


So is this a “thing”? Do we have emotional memory? Should we get ourselves up to do the things we used to do & enjoy, even if in the moment/for months, we haven’t been feeling “it.” Based on my experience – two nights ago & countless other times, I’d say yes. We let our lives get so busy that we don’t feel as in the mood to make those efforts, but when we do, we’re so happy we did. 


Why does this happen? The little I know about science: we have thought & feeling tracks. Synapses that fire together that make us used to saying certain things & feeling certain ways, bc we have done them so often in the past.  A protein called myelin forms around those synapses & form a super highways for those thoughts & feelings – myelin sheaths. Those highways are why we can do things like leave the same vmail greeting all the time, without a script. 


Why do we sometimes stop using them? It’s like long grass in a yard, where you have mowed rows into it, but then you don’t mow for a while & the grass starts to grow back. The rows are still there, but it takes you going back over with the lawnmower to create as clean a path as was once there.  That’s what we do when we go back to the things that used to bring us joy – we help mow those rows/paths in a cleaner & clearer way.


So even when you’re not feeling it, take out the lawnmower, & get moving. The beauty of the clear paths will be worth the reward of the extra work!

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