Body Memory and Safety
The evidence for Muscle Memory and Body Memory is extensive (Chapter 1. The phenomenology of body memory ; Body Memory and the Unconscious ) and dispels the crazy brain-as-computer metaphor. The human mind (brain) is not the Human Mind. The idea that the body is somehow dis-embodied from the brain is one of the grand delusions of behaviourism and leads to crazy ideas of ‘re-programming’ and ‘programming’ behaviour, further retarding an holistic pathway to safety.
The metaphors we use are powerful symbols that shape the way we think. In a similar way using the metaphor of a camera applied to how the human eye works is also nonsensical. Human perception and vision is nothing like the workings of a camera, so chuck that silly metaphor away too. We shouldn’t be using mechanistic metaphors to explain ecological phenomena. Neither should we be using the notion of constructed systems as if they are the same as ecological systems.
The foundation of all habitual/heuristic decision-making is the embodiment of actions in the body. 95% of all we do is unconscious. So little of what we do is the outcome of slow rational thinking. Unless Safety can jettison this crazy idea that decision-making is rational and conscious it will continue to seek solutions to tackling risk in the wrong place. So much of what we do and why we can do it efficiently and quickly is because of Muscle Memory and Body Memory. This is the foundation of what we know as ‘auto-pilot’. Once something complex like driving a car becomes Body Memory we can do it without thinking.
So many of the inductions I see about are a complete waste of time because they operate under the delusion that information has been fed into the computer. Information is not learning.
The process of learning is often slow. It takes some time to be efficient at something. We observe this as we teach children habits and heuristics so that they can do things without thinking. There is no thinking fast and slow as Kahneman suggests. There is plenty of in-between and lots of it doesn’t involve the brain.
It is when in the in-between stage of learning that we gradually develop heuristics to build actions into Muscle Memory and Body Memory. This is why it is so hard to reverse decisions committed to habit. A habit is defined as something one does without thinking. This is why the silly aphorism ‘make safety a habit’ should be rejected. Surely we don’t want people to do safety without thinking?
The purpose of many safety processes is to help workers stop, think rationally, review the task and apply rational thinking to the risk. However, even here we have major problems like ‘tick and flick’ and ‘get it done’, again learned heuristics. Humans commit 95% of all tasks to heuristical doing so that they don’t have to use the rational mind. Just imagine if this was applied to incident investigations!
Once a task has been turned into a habit or heuristic all rational thinking stops and most of the time we keep things safe unless the context changes. Stopping for a toolbox talk, conversation or paper-based thinking exercise is meant to interrupt habits and heuristics for a review. So, the last thing we want is for habituation to be connected to safety. If so, the only time you will be safe is when the context remains the same, which is not very often.
The model of One Brain and Three Minds (https://vimeo.com/106770292) is an essential tool in the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) and helps people understand why people do what they do. It is not a perfect model but rather a helpful metaphor for better understanding the many unconscious ways humans tackle risk. Nine times out of ten in SPoR we find that incidents are most often a mis-match between context and heuristic. When we understand the difference between rational cognitions and automatic heuristics it changes the whole way we tackle risk.