Are you afraid of forgetting? Tips to help you memorize your course without obsessing over it!

August 29, 2013 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

Have you ever noticed just how many people obsess over course maps? I’m not talking about just taking a quick look to figure out where the course goes, or planning your gamble strategy. I’m talking about the people that literally plan every little thing out on paper and actually worry about the results before they even happen!

Imagine if you only had two minutes to look over a course map before you were expected to walk the course. To clarify, I’m not talking about strategy games such as snooker and gamblers, but let’s say a typical standard course. Would you panic? Feel like you will most certainly get lost? Worry about your handling choices?

If this is you, I want you to ask yourself a very important question.

Why? What advantage does that piece of paper really give you?

Now of I know some of you are thinking that the course map is your chance to memorize the course, figure out your handling, and make decisions, and that may be true.

But here are a few things to consider:

1. The course map is a two dimensional representation of what you will really be running. Have you ever tried to give someone directions and realize that you’re giving them landmarks and not actually street names? Why? Because your mind thinks in dimension of what’s around you…what predicts where you need to turn. If you wait to see the little sign telling you where the street is, you likely just drove past it!

The walk through is 3-dimnensional experience. The course map is just a general representation of where the course goes. Your brain is hardwired to focus on landmarks…not street signs!

 2. Courses usually set up differently in actuality than they do on paper. So if you spend all your time pouring over what the course is supposed to look like, you are memorizing something different than what you’ll actually be running! Have you ever looked at a course map and said “I’m going to put “x” handling here” and then when you got out on course changed your mind? This can make your brain have to backtrack and re-memorize your handling choices!

 3. People create problems that may not even exist. Sometimes I think people just want an excuse to worry about things. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen into this trap numerous times myself by thinking about what will be a problem before I even get onto the course. The truth is that worrying is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why? Because if I tell you not to think of pink elephants you can help but picture it in your mind! By thinking your dog is going into the off course tunnel or that they will stop and bark at you at the gamble line, you are focusing on what you DON’T WANT to happen instead of what you WANT to happen.

Here’s an experience some of you can probably relate to. Have you ever had a place on course you were really concerned with? Maybe it is getting to a challenging front cross or keeping your dog out of an off course tunnel. Then when you run it you get through the hard part that you were worried about only to go off course immediately after? In my years in agility this has happened to me numerous times! Why? Because I’m only focusing on what I figure is going to be a challenge and not paying attention to the course as a whole! You come off the course kicking yourself for messing up the easy part of the course.  How frustrating is that!?

So how do we remember the course, avoid re-memorizing handing decisions, and stop the maddening worry???

Here are some of my tips for memorizing a course:

1. Instead of staring at the paper…look at the actual course before its open to walk. Now I often don’t watch much before the course has been tweaked by a judge because it will change! Again I don’t want to have to re-learn something that is already in my head.

2.  Recognize that remembering your course is SUBCONSICOUS. If you have to think about remembering then you are already in trouble! Try to go through the handing motions outside the ring while you visualize the course. Where are the jumps? Where do your crosses go? This will help put the 3-dimensional course strongly into your subconscious mind. Don’t try to THINK about where the course goes…try to FEEL when it goes.

3. Practice being able to memorize patterns quickly. One of the exercises that our coaches Kim and John Cullen had us do for the past world team was to write the numbers down on blank course map to make sure we knew where the correct obstacles were. I thought this was a brilliant idea and actually started to use this strategy in my own mental prep! People often tell me that they have trouble memorizing but don’t actually do anything to practice it. Try getting out some old course maps and seeing how much time you need to memorize it successfully. Need an added challenge? Try to do it an hour later and see how much you’ve retained!

4. Don’t dwell on difficult places in a course. Come up with a confident plan of how you are going to handle it and visualize yourself doing so successfully.  As with many things, confidence is a definitely advantage!

5.  Chunking: In the words of Tony Robbins, our brain tends to look at things as “One, Two, Three…Many.”  This means if you are going to try to remember every obstacle individually you are likely going to feel overwhelmed. If this is a problem for you, try breaking the course into a few “chunks” that relate to one another. An example could be the weave pole section, or the tunnel threadle section. If the whole course seems tough to remember, try focusing on the pieces first then put them together in your mind.

Memorizing doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Let your subconscious do the work and it can require no active thought at all! So next time you are tempted to grab your course map and spend half an hour going over it with a fine tooth comb, ask yourself if it’s really setting you up for success or just becoming another thing to worry about.

Happy Training,

Jess Martin

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