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Kayaking

Hayes Valley, San Francisco, CA

It wasn't too long ago that I got rid of everything and moved to California. I left a lot behind in Rochester to move to the land of fruit and nuts, but one things that I didn't leave behind was something very valuable that I had learned.

It wasn't something directly related from the discourse at RIT, it was something I learned outside the classroom.

One of the most valuable things I learned was when I went kayaking down the Genesee with Rob. It was one of the last days in Rochester and also one of the most valuable.

It was my first time kayaking outside of a pond. Rob is an expert kayaker and was surpassing me with fewer strides. Every time I dipped my paddle in the water and stroked towards the aft, the bow of my kayak turned one way or another. After many more strokes, I was going diagonally. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to know that the most efficient route between two places is a straight line.

I asked Rob several times how he's able to go so fast and straight down the water. After all, he was the expert and it was a simple answer once we got to the bottom of it: tons of minor adjustments made solely based on the last move. If I started angling to the right, I'd pull a little less hard on the left and vise-versa.

These minor adjustments had become muscle memory in many other things that I've done. Whether it be playing ice hockey, working with computers, or brushing my teeth, they all had faded into my life naturally.

When I started realizing that I needed to consciously make minor adjustments, then I allowed myself to go in a straight line with less effort. Over time, it's become natural. It faded away into muscle memory.

These sorts of minor adjustments are paramount when trying to get better at something new or old. When I started paddling, I was taking the mechanical and inefficient brute force method. I kept cranking away hoping that things would change and my muscle memory would kick in, but I kept moving diagonally. When I was able to realize that most things in life aren't mechanical tasks that you can simple brute force and crank away at, I began going in a straight line.

It works for so many different things, too. Cooking, learning, sleeping, self improvement, getting young kids to listen to you, programming, driving, and so much more.

The next time you're driving a car or riding a bike, pay attention to how your hands and body automatically steer yourself hundreds of times per minute even when going in a straight line. You'll be amazed – just as I was – of how much your sub conscious does things naturally when they're in muscle memory.

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P.S. If you don't believe that small changes can make a difference, watch this TED Talk.

Thanks to Andy and Mary Kay for reading versions of this.