The Importance of Muscle Memory in Christian Case Making

08Police officers spend a lot of time training. In fact, training opportunities are regularly scheduled into our deployment calendar. We train every month, especially when it comes to the use of our weapons. Officers are required to visit the pistol range so we can “qualify” with our handguns and rifles on a regular basis. Our range masters take these opportunities to run drills in an effort to ingrain important principles. One of these exercises is known as a “failure drill”. The range master inserts a “dummy round” into our handguns in a position within the magazine that is unknown to each shooter. As we begin to shoot through the exercise, each of us eventually comes to the “dummy round” and the weapon misfires or jams. It’s at this moment that each shooter must employ a series of steps in order to clear the jammed “dummy round”. Each of us is familiar with the required steps because we’ve been doing this drill for many years. When our weapons fail, we instinctively know how to clear the jam and assess the condition of the weapon because we’ve repeatedly trained through the required steps. In fact, we don’t even need to think about what we are doing anymore; the steps required to clear the weapon have become a part of our “muscle memory”.

When you repeatedly perform the same physical process over and over again, your actions become a matter of muscular “habit”. Without thinking, you simply find yourself performing the actions you’ve performed so many times in the past. Your body almost seems to be working on its own, responding from muscle memory rather than reacting to mental commands. Muscle memory is important to police officers, because real gun battles are quite scary and often involve jammed ammunition. Gun battles typically consume all your mental energy as you focus on the threat and try desperately to control the adrenaline rushing through your system. The last thing you want in a situation like this is the mental distraction of a weapon failure. If you can relegate the resolution of this failure to muscle memory (rather than mental effort), so much the better. That’s why we conduct failure drills often; we’re simply trying to become so familiar with the process that we won’t have to think about it when it happens in a real-life scenario. We’ve learned an important principle:

When the pressure is on, you end up resorting to training

Read that again. It’s an important truth. In chaotic, high stress situations (like gun battles), you’re going to resort to your training rather than attempt to “think through” each situation anew.  When the pressure is on, it all comes down to muscle memory, and muscle memory is a product of repetitive training.

That’s why the best Christian Case Makers are the ones who continually engage the culture and respond to the challenges levied by unbelievers. The best Christian Case Makers see each opportunity to engage others as an act of training, if nothing else. It doesn’t matter how small the opportunity. You may be in a brief “one on one” conversation with a co-worker, or you may be talking with a waiter about issues in the culture; whatever the situation, the more you engage, the better you are at… engaging! The more you initiate conversations, the better (and more comfortable) you will become as a conversation starter, and it won’t be long until you’re involved in a number of important conversations. As we engage the people in our world, our Christian Case Making becomes a matter of “muscle memory”. We begin to respond fluidly and instinctively rather than lurching through each situation as though we’re navigating it for the first time. Not many of us will get the opportunity to address hundreds of people at once, but if we do, our training opportunities in smaller settings will help us to respond in the larger context. Our performance in these larger opportunities will become a matter of muscle memory.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene

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