What Does Swimming Have to do with Mastering Learning? ll By Brenda Bomgardner

I can tell you from personal experience it really stinks to jump into the deep end of the pool and not be able to swim. True story. When in elementary school I was dared to jump into the deep end of a pool. I thought, “Self you can do this swim thing.” My heart was filled with multiple fears. Fear of drowning. Fear of looking dumb in front of other people. Fear of rejection. I almost drowned. I thought I was prepared. Really! Serious foolishness! Why did I think I could swim? I looked at pictures and read directions in book titled something like….learn how to swim in ten easy step or basic swim strokes. Anyway I don’t remember the name of the book. I do remember I read all the content and looked at all the pictures and fully understood what I was supposed to do. I had full comprehension. I even watched a 20-minute video. I was ready! Opps. I missed something very important. The DOING part of learning how to swim. 

Has this ever happened to you? Maybe not swimming, but what about a new way of doing something. A new way of golfing, bowling, communicating, or how to better relate to your teenager. All this can be just like swimming skills. In the field of study in understanding how memory and learning work there are different way of learning.  There are multiple ways to learn and to retain the learning in your memory. The type of learning I needed to engage in to be able to swim is called procedural learning or experiential learning. I had to “do” it to learn it. This was how we (all humans) learned to do most everything when we were youngsters. The skills it takes to walk, run, ride a bike, drive a car are mastered by doing. The cool thing about this type of learning is it sticks with us in our procedural memory. It, the new skill, is there even when we don’t know it’s there.


Procedural memory holds both cognitive and motor skills in our long-term memory. There is implicit memory and explicit memory. Implicit memory is without conscious awareness. Think about how you drive a car today. Do you tell yourself, “open the door, and turn on the key, step on the gas, look in the mirror?” Or do you hop in the car and head off to the grocery store while thinking about what you are going to cook for dinner? Do you remember when you first learned to drive? I remember I had to think hard about what my body was doing. I recall that both my brain and my body were fully engaged in mastering my driving skill. Explicit memory is when you make an effort to recall something like a math formula or the time of your dental appointment for next week. With explicit memory it is easy for you to access the information in your mind and explain it to someone else. Explicit memory is often referred to as recall. To be more technical explicit memory is called declarative memory.


Our brain and body are designed to learn in multiple modes such as verbally, numerically, visually as well as kinesthetically, and auditory. Let’s focus on habits as memories. Habits are behaviors we have learned and are held in long-term implied memory. Habits are hard to change without engaging purposeful practice of chosen behaviors. For example, learning a new golf swing or how to engage in a new way of communicating in conflict. It needs to purposeful behavioral choices. Purposeful is with awareness and focus when you mindfully turn your attention toward a desired behavior. One of the opportunities to create desired change is with therapy or coaching. Being with a coach or therapist when learning new ways of being with yourself and others is a unique relationship that allows for you to be in a situation to have purposeful practice in new behaviors. You can practice doing something different through experiential learning.


As a lifelong-learner and committed to improving my skills as a coach and counselor I make a point to participate in educational opportunities where I can ‘do’ the new skills with another person. Reading books is great! The ‘doing’ is what leads to mastering the coaching and therapeutic skills I read about. Sure observational learning is real and helps so watching videos is great. I still need to engage in the behaviors. Believe me, I do want to jump off the diving board and drown me or anyone else. What are your plans on learning and mastering a new skill? Being effective is a value I hold dear to my heart in committing to the people I serve and the people I love and care about. Procedural learning as a doing behavior is not a new concept. Aristotle stated, “One must learn by doing the thing, for though, you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.” Roger Carl Schanks is a leading expert on artificial intelligence, wrote, “Life requires us to do more than it requires us to know, in order to function. There is only one effective way to teach someone to do anything, and that is to let them do it.” To master learning by doing is to do it again, again and again. There you have it, 3 steps to master learning by doing, doing, doing.

To learn more about Brenda visit her About Me page

Brenda Bomgardner is in her encore career. One of her greatest joys in her career is seeing people move beyond life’s roadblocks toward a fulfilling and meaningful life. She believes each person has a purpose in life waiting to be realized and that purpose continues to evolve over a lifetime. The path to reaching your life’s purpose is as unique as each individual. We all have dreams. Step by step she will walk with you on uncovering how to bring your dreams to fruition.  Brenda is a counselor, coach and clinical supervisor and specializes in practicing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is a cutting edge evidence-based process. This means there is scientific research to show ACT works. Before becoming a therapist and life coach, she completed a successful 17-year career in Human Resources at a Fortune 500 company. On a personal note she loves the great outdoors, ATV riding, adventure travel and family.