The other day at Starbucks, the shift leader was explaining her methodology to a barista trainee. She described how she set up the espresso bar exactly so – with flavorings in precisely the same place on the left, chocolate sprinkles on top of the machine, just to the right, and various spoons and jugs all in their place on the right counter.
Her goal was to be able to prepare the next mocha or latte quickly and efficiently, without having to think about where to reach for her tools. She told the trainee she reached for each implement with “muscle memory”, saving time and wasting little effort. The shift lead was taking time to coach the junior barista so that he could serve Starbucks customers with the same speed and precision.
Muscle memory, or motor learning, involves committing a specific action to memory through continuous repetition. Over time, the task can be performed without conscious effort. We experience this phenomenon every day when we drive, text (not at the same time…), or play the piano.