The Chunking Challenge

by | Feb 28, 2019 | Change, Ideas, Learning |

Bedtime is always an adventure in our household as antics always occur, some of which are hilarious, some not so much – usually the category the antics fall into is largely dependent on how tired I am or how much of a hurry I’m in. Brushing teeth is a classic challenge. Brushing is used liberally here as most often toothpaste is put on the toothbrush and the kids run out of the bathroom to wall with the mirror, stand in front of it and make faces while they suck the toothpaste off the brush. Very little brushing happens. Often I find myself making brushing noises and saying “bottom rights, top rights, middle, bottom lefts, top lefts”. Sometimes I even sing.

It’s likely that when brush your teeth, you don’t need instructions, songs, or sounds, you just do it with little conscious thought. You move through the motions without consciously thinking about putting up the toothpaste, taking the cap off, finding your toothbrush, squeezing the toothpaste tube, moving your toothbrush to the tube, and so on. In her book “Disrupt Yourself“, Whitney Johnson refers to this as chunking. It is something our brain does – it takes patterns or sequences of actions and creates a ‘chunk’.

This is our brain being efficient, which is super helpful. We do this in all areas of our lives, not just in brushing our teeth. We have processes in our work lives that we do without thinking about them; they have become as natural as brushing our teeth. And it’s very hard to remember what it was like when we didn’t know, what the individual actions are that our brain ‘chunked’ together. However, we must break it down and apart again if we are to teach others, if we are to scale, and if we are to change the actions.

It may not be fun, but then again, it may remind of some childhood songs we used to sing. When I wake up in the morning, it’s quarter to four, and I hear a BIG knock at my door, I brush my teeth, ch ch ch ch ch ch chhhhh


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