Recently, due to some automotive bad luck, I’ve had to change cars. The “new” car is an old, rather loud, manual transmission. My skills with a manual transmission are suspect at best. The only reason they are not non-existent is due to a trip to Rent-a-Wreck one bored weekend during my college days. The basic idea is clear to me; use a 3rd(!!) pedal and a stick to do what regular cars will do for you automatically. Initially I went about trying to (re)learn this skill with the help of a friend who actually drove such a car. As we all know experts always make great teachers, particularly for these sorts of physical tasks. Faster! Slower! You just need to do it better, like me. It was clear rather quickly that explicit instruction wasn’t going to be that helpful. Much stalling ensued.
From novice to expert performance: Attention, memory, and the control of complex sensorimotor skills. In A. M. Williams, N. J. Hodges, M. A. Scott, & M. L. J. Court (Eds.), Skill acquisition in sport: Research, theory and practice
Every once and a while I’ll browse a paper like this, usually after reading a popular press story about sports psychology; Tiger working on a new swing, major league pitcher can’t hit side of barn. Sensorimotor sills, kinesiology and such. I know very little about it, but find it interesting. And perhaps, useful. Once free of my instructor I tried to make use of what I at least thought I’d read in these articles. Focus on how the motion feels. Or focus on not focusing too much. Don’t think about what you’re doing, but pay attention.
Consider the following quote from a research lab:
Broadly speaking, work in our lab investigates the cognitive and neural substrates governing the learning and performance of complex cognitive skills and complex sensorimotor skills (e.g., golf putting). We are interested in understanding the attention and memory processes that support task execution, as well as how high-pressure or high-stakes situations impact performance.
I’ve seen plenty of sporting events. Bottom of the 9ths, triple overtimes. Quite certainly few of these situations match the high-pressure of a novice driver waiting for a light to turn green, on a steep hill, with dozens of morning rush hour commuters behind him.
It had been some time since the last time I even successfully learned a new motor activity. There was walking, biking, swimming. And that’s right, I ran hurdles back in high school. Not very well, but still whenever I walk towards something between 36 and 39 inches in height I can feel the neural pathways whispering “You sure you don’t want to hurdle that?”
Beilock, S. L. (2007). Choking under pressure. In R. Baumeister and K. Vohs (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social psychology.
It didn’t take too much work to get beyond the “can’t even get going” zone, into something more like the “can get from point A to B but it aint pretty”. That is where I remained for some weeks. Driving to and from work everyday. There was still quite a bit of stalling. Every time I had a good no-stall morning I’d crash and have a 4 stall afternoon. I even figured out a new route home to avoid hills likely to have traffic.
Shadmehr R, Smith MA & Krakauer JW (2010). Error correction, sensory prediction, and adaptation in motor control. Annual Review of Neuroscience,
When paying attention becomes counterproductive: Impact of divided versus skill-focused attention on novice and experienced performance of sensorimotor skills. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 8, 6-16
I’d almost given in to a life of stressful, error filled driving. Practice didn’t seem to be helping any further. Even the :”air gearing” while sitting at my desk seemed for naught, asides from curious looks from office mates. During my desperate search for some sort of, learning mechanism, I decided the issue was not in my arm that switched the gears too slowly, or my legs that didn’t get the clutch quite down. It was my eyes. I’d been looking at the RPMs a lot. Early on I’d asked my friend when to switch from 1rst to 2nd gear. At the time I though it was a good question. He’d given me some answer and I was trying to stick to it. That was a mistake.
Something new might work. I abandoned the prior directive and went in another direction. Sound.
Just keep it casual. Switch when the engine sounds like it should be switched. Don’t look at the RPMs. Don’t look at the gear shift.
Worked like a charm. I don’t have a convincing posthoc explanation. My overgrown explanatory powers came up with something that sounded like what I might have read in one of those motor learning articles “It’s easier to hear differences than see them. When I shifted based on the RPMs I was always late. The auditory signal is quicker and easier to keep in might with the motor pattern, which works better when you aren’t looking.“.
I don’t think that one holds up to much scrutiny.