Why you never forget how to ride a bike?

Have you ever wondered how you can never forget how to ride a bike? Almost all of us learn to ride a bike during our early years of childhood. Back then, it is the prime attraction. Every kid wants to ride a bike, and they are ready to learn with a lot of enthusiasm. But, as you grow, a majority of the people will stop riding their bikes, until they come across it lying in their shed, or a sudden urge occurs to buy one and take a try.

Did you notice that you are just able to get on the bike, and start riding it without even a break in your activity?

Most people believe that most of the stuff that we learn in our early ages cannot be forgotten, and because most of us learn how to ride bikes in our early years, it is something we can never forget. But, that is not true and cannot be classified as a psychological explanation. So let’s discuss the reasons which contribute to our permanent understanding of how certain things work:

Basically, your long term memory is divided in to two portions: declarative memory and procedural memory. Primarily, declarative memory is the portion of your brain which keeps track of what is what, it is the part of your brain that ‘knows what’. You can consciously recall parts from your declarative memory; it helps you recall events, facts and every other memory that is associated with your life. Primarily, psychology states that you cannot forget anything; memories which you are unable to recall are basically ones that have subsided in to the subconscious, and are not beyond recollection. Declarative memory is also known as the explicit memory, generally because it refers to information that has been explicitly stored within your brain, so that they can be retrieved easily.

However, the type of memory which understands the ‘how and what’ of things is the procedural memory, which is basically attributed with keeping a ‘know-how’ of things. It is an unconscious memory, which helps you understand how stuff works. For instance, once you learn how to ride a bike, you can never forget it because it gets stored within the procedural memory, making it impossible to get out. Primarily, procedural memory consists of the use of objects, as well as movements of the body. For instance, if you learn how to play a musical instrument, for instance a guitar, you will not be able to forget it.

Even if you pick up a guitar after a considerable amount of time, it will not take you very long to learn how to be able to begin playing it. Granted, your fingers might feel a bit stiff at first, and it will be difficult to be able to get the same level of effective playing as before, but your mind will still remember how the guitar basically functions, and it will be the limitations of your body which cause you to play slower than before. Same is the case with riding a bike. Your mind remembers how the pedal functions, how to keep your body balanced while riding and how to steer the handle. However, if your feet keep slipping off the pedal at first, it is just because your body isn’t accustomed to the movement as yet.

Whatever is stored in the procedural memory gets embedded so deeply inside our brains that we are not aware of them at all, and instead consider them to be ordinary motor actions. These memories remain embedded within our minds throughout our existence, and are used in our daily life as well, although we fail to recall when we actually learned these memories. For instance, once you learn how to use the keyboard and mouse, you are not going to forget it, ever again. Granted, your speed of typing might get significantly slower if you start using it after a significant gap, but that will be due to the restraints of your finger muscles, and not your mental capacity.

The skills that we can forget over the passage of time, if not kept in to practice, are known as perishable skills. There are several perishable skills that a person can learn, and forget over time. For instance, shooting is one of them. Once you learn how to shoot, you need to keep it in practice in order to be able to maintain your aim and to keep your hand steady. Your mind needs to adapt to these skills and maintain attention in order to be able to retain that skill. Common perishable skills include:

- Driving,
- Skiing,
- Skateboarding

If not kept in practice, your mind will begin to lose track of these skills and you might even have to learn them all over again. Perhaps some people will not qualify it as a skill, but creativity is also something that you can forget over time if you do not keep your mind in constant practice.

On the other hand, there are lots of skills which are classified as durable skills, or ones that we become so familiar that they become automated; we fail to realize that this is something we learnt. For instance, riding a bike is the prime example. If you hold up your bike on it, your mind will automatically register your body’s balance and you will be able to ride it easily. You do not have to recall how to work things around when riding a bike; it is just a continuous action that takes place in an automated manner. Similarly, there are a number of durable skills that we learn throughout our lives. For instance, have you ever forgotten how to tie your shoe laces? It is something that we learn in our very beginnings, and yet we never fail to forget such things. Common durable skills include the following:

- Holding a pen
- Using scissors
- Walking
- Swallowing properly
- Clapping your hands
- Standing on one leg

These are all the durable skills that we learn throughout our lives. Most people think that some of the skills mentioned here are the ones we are born with. Instead, the skills we are born with are breathing, swallowing and blinking your eyes. Everything else, we have learned throughout our lives, and because most of these actions become so automated through our lives, we consider them to be so common that our mind fails to discern whether they are explicitly stored in our memory, or are related to actions that we have learned.

Declarative memory and procedural memory are both stored in different parts of our body, and also undergo different processes. Now, let’s talk about discrete and continuous actions. Discrete actions are the actions which your mind registers as different, unique. For instance, turning on a computer is a discrete action. Every time you come across a new computer, you do know that you have to turn it on. And so, you look for a power button in order to turn it on. Basically, discrete actions are ones that your mind registers separately. Another example can be the operation of a computer. You know how to operate a computer, how the system works and all, but your mind still has to take note of the things that are on the screen, before you are able to operate it efficiently. There are several discrete actions that a person understands in his daily life:

- Using a mobile phone
- Learning how to operate different electronic equipment
- Cooking
- Learning how to drive a vehicle, etc.
- Learning a new language.

Learning a new language is a discrete action. Most would say that a new language gets stored in the procedural memory, but in reality, it doesn’t. Unless you keep practicing in the language that you have learned, it becomes difficult to recall works and make changes over a significant period of time. You can’t totally forget a language that you have learnt, but parts of it will become difficult to recall for you if you do not keep it in practice. Creativity can also be referred to as a discrete ‘action’, even though it is totally within your mind. However, unless you keep working your mind and keep the creative juices flowing, it will be difficult for you to maintain your creativity levels.

On the other hand, continuous actions are those which you understand and comprehend, and integrate in your daily life. For instance, turning the key in your lock is a continuous action. It is a common action that a person understands, and learns throughout their daily life. Continuous actions are the ones that a person repeats so often in their lives that they become automated, hence, known as continuous actions. These actions are registered in the procedural memory of the brain, and you can’t ever get rid of these memories.

Hypothetically, this means that even if you come across a door after a decade of never seeing one, you will be able to open it without any difficult. Same is the case with riding a bicycle; if you find one after a significantly long period of time, you will be able to begin riding it without much of a problem. Here are some of the common continuous actions that you learn throughout your life:

- Opening doors
- Walking
- Talking
- Riding a bike
- Running
- Whispering
- Balancing yourself on one leg
- Using scissors, etc.
- Tying your shoes

When it comes to continuous actions, your mind does not have to register them separately, since they are so deeply embedded in your brain. Such processes are very resistant to change, because your mind does not want to relearn stuff like reading and writing, etc. However, if you have learnt a continuous action in a wrong manner, you will find it very difficult to perform it correctly, and you must pay close attention before you are able to perform the action without any trouble. Involuntarily, you might still perform it in the wrong way. For instance, an example can be holding a pen. Most people don’t know the correct way of holding a pen; they just hold it the way they feel comfortable in doing so. Those who do wish to learn how to hold a pen in the right manner have to pay close attention so as to alter the concept in their mind about the whole process.

Why you never forget how to ride a bike2

Source: Kim Newberg

Hence, this is the psychological reason due to which your mind remembers certain things and procedures so vividly, while others are so easily forgotten if not replayed over and over again. The mind has a registration of everything we learn, and the reason why many people claim that whatever we learn stays with us for the rest of our lives is because of the fact that our mind develops while we learn such things, and because we keep continually practicing and repeating such actions, they remain with us, without ever forgetting. For instance, you can never forget how to read once you learn, because there is always something you are reading every now and then, and your mind does not even register it as a discrete action because this activity has become so deeply embedded in your mind that it does not discern itself. Reading is like breathing; something that you continually repeat throughout the day without ever realizing that it is a separate action in your brain.

Your mind stores different memories in different areas of the brain, and that is why memories that are procedural are stored and encoded in a different manner, hence making it easy for the brain to remember them forever, while declarative memories are the ones that you can forget with the passage of time, unless continually practiced. Psychologically, we can never ‘forget’ anything; it just sinks in to the subconscious. And so, that is why you never forget how to ride a bike.

Useful reading:

http://explorable.com/procedural-memory.html
http://blog.steveskojec.com/2011/07/13/perishable-skills/
http://www.human-memory.net/types_declarative.html
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21774923
http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic951144.files/sleepStatesMemoryProcess-smith.pdf

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