Is it possible to talk about all that you know?

There is a very powerful argument that we cannot articulate all that we know. The verbal knowledge that we have develops after we start exploring the world as babies and toddlers. So, there is validity in the view that verbal knowledge sits on top of our non-verbal knowledge, and that this is so complete we suffer the illusion that all knowledge is verbal. This leads to the misunderstanding that anything that we can experience is possible to be talked about or written about.

Our minds do not   the answers. The interesting thing for athletes and others is that there are ways of knowing about the world and ourselves that operate beyond the mind. Sometimes what your mind knows might not be enough, and what it does know might even get in the way of what you want to do.

Some tasks involve very well structured and regulated verbal behaviour, like how to do an effective Google search to find out about a certain topic on the internet. But how can we demonstrate the limits of conscious thought and verbal knowledge? What about learning to play a musical instrument, or how to play a new sport?  Have you ever tried explaining how to play cricket to anyone? That certainly tests the limits of verbal knowledge!

What about other examples where verbal knowledge may actually interfere with what you want to do? Performance anxiety, such as ‘choking’ in a sporting context or perhaps interruption during sexual activity, often comes from an overwhelming sense of self-awareness and unhelpful verbal background chatter of the mind such that it disrupts your experience of the moment.

Can you remember how you learned to ride a bike? There was probably some combination of getting on the bike, trying to find your balance, falling off, getting on, falling off again, and then getting on and trying again.

Did someone else telling you to try to ‘find your balance’ help you? Did someone telling you to ‘stay balanced now’ teach you how to stay balanced? 

At some point, developing certain skills depends upon getting engaged with the activity you are involved with. Theoretical, verbal knowledge and reading instructions will only get you so far. Some things can only be learned and known by doing them. Don’t worry though – the consequences will shape your actions and you will learn by doing. Falling off a bike tells you that your balance is not quite right yet, and your body will learn to compensate and try different things to minimise the likelihood of falling off again – through mechanisms that aren’t verbally accessible for you to describe. But you do it anyway. Remarkable.

Now, get out there and do it.

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