How to improve your coordination with the Weber-Fechner law

Imagine you’re holding a large rock in one hand, and a feather in the other. If your eyes were closed, and a fly landed on the rock, would you notice the change in weight? Probably not. The rock already weighs quite a bit, and a fly barely weighs anything. But what if the fly landed on the feather in your other hand? This time you’d probably notice the fly landing. A feather barely weighs anything, so the change in weight would seem much more dramatic.

Scientifically, this is described by the Weber-Fechner law.

The Weber-Fechner law states that a person’s ability to sense a change in some kind of stimulus (such as the change in weight when a fly lands) is proportional to the starting value of the stimulus (in this case, the original rock or feather).  Since a fly’s weight is insignificant compared to the weight of the rock, the change doesn’t register for your body. But since the fly weighs almost as much as the feather, you will be able to perceive that very subtle change when the fly lands. Starting out with a tiny, seemingly insignificant input makes the change in that input much more obvious.

The same principle applies to improving coordination.

When it comes to improving coordination, less really is more. When you make relatively large, quick movements, you’re doing the movement equivalent of holding a rock. The starting input is very large, so any subtle changes in quality will be easy to miss. But making very small, slow movements is the equivalent of starting out holding a feather. Since the original input is much smaller, any subtle changes will be much easier to sense. As with the fly landing on the feather, starting out with a tiny, seemingly insignificant input makes the change in that input much more obvious. If you incorporate this principle into your learning strategy, you’ll see dramatic improvements in your coordination.

So how do you put this into practice?

While you wouldn’t move this way all the time, it’s fairly easy to incorporate this principle into your daily learning. Here are two examples:

1.   WEIGHT TRAINING or YOGA:  For the first set of each exercise, try doing about 25-50% of what you normally would. If you do each rep. very slowly with this reduced intensity, you’ll be be better able to sense the subtle imbalances in your alignment and the “weak spots” in your strength range. This allows you to correct the small problems that usually go unnoticed, before moving on to your usual, more intense strength routine.

2.  EVERYDAY TASKS (e.g. washing dishes):  If you wash the first few dishes very slowly, it will be easier to notice habitual patterns of tension. (Shoulder or neck tension, perhaps? Or little “speed bumps” in how your arm moves?) Once you’ve noticed these subtle inefficiencies, you can allow yourself to relax so the tension doesn’t build up as much.

So next time you’re doing some kind of “normal” physical activity, remember the Weber-Fechner Law.

Your ability to sense a change in stimulus is proportional to the starting value of the stimulus. So the more slowly and gently you move, the more you’ll notice tiny changes in how you’re moving—just like it’s easier to feel a fly land on a feather than a rock. The more gently and slowly you move initially, the more sensitive you’ll be to changes in sensation, and the more you’ll be able to refine the way you coordinate the movement.

Now pick an activity that you do pretty regularly. 

For the next week, each time you do this activity, remind yourself to spend at least the first 1 minute slowing down and moving gently, so you can pay attention to the subtle glitches in your coordination.  And let me know how it goes!

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