A major part of prepping is “keeping sharp” on those skills that you have earned over time.  Like any set of muscles, they are guaranteed to deteriorate over time.

You have three skill areas to be concerned with:

  • Mental skills:
  • Physical skills
  • And mixed skills

Let’s run through some of them and see how fast they may deteriorate.

Perishable Mental Skills

Mental skills get lost over time because your personal information database between the ears keeps getting bigger.  When you’re a child, it’s easy to have lightning-fast reflexes.  That’s largely because – as with any computer  – the “smaller the program, the faster it runs.”

By the time you pass 60, or thereabouts, every time you learn a single new fact, you need “integration time” because the brain and mind work cooperatively to tie-in all the possible connections to past knowledge.  This is why it’s so rare to find genuinely great young writers.  They simply haven’t lived long enough to have a humongous (almost limitless) fount of knowledge from which to draw.  Oh, sure, they can be good, but outstanding?  Seldom.

So, that’s one way to keep the brain limbered up…something as simple as a bout of Trivial Pursuit against Alexa if you’re using it as extensively as we are.

That only handles the recall portion of the mind’s operation.  Elaine recently decided to get back to the top of her game and since we’re both in our 70’s, she knows that puzzle and problem-solving are key, as well.  As a result, she has been doing everything from “hidden picture” puzzles to “find the word” puzzles and is eyeing crosswords as another exercise.

The last point to touch on is interpersonal mental skills.

My (enjoying his two weeks of fame) son, George_the_Uber_driver explained it recently after coming back from  a four-day stretch of mid-winter outdoors adventuring in the snowy Cascade mountains with friends up in the Leavenworth, Washington back country.

You know, dad, it’s interesting when I get back on the grind after taking time off…takes a couple of days sometimes to get back to being able to instantly tune-in on people’s feelings and moods…”

Which is exactly right, but it gets us to a skill that most people don’t focus on too much:  Listening is a skill.  There are all sorts of levels to it, but it’s a continuum that runs from the barest of word comprehension all the way up to the finely-honest listening arts employed by symphony conductors and top-of-game mental health professionals.  Even expert cops get that way because they hone their inputs by listening and looking in unexpected, differently framed ways.

Physical Skills

Because I’ve been working on a product launch this week, ijt’s been non-stop, back-to-back work bouts.  10-minutes an hour of walking around, but no hour-long sessions in the gym.  Surprisingly, I can already feel the decline in physical prowess.  It materializes as a tense shoulder, an arm ache there, and missing the release of hormones that comes with a good workout.

Endorphin addiction is a healthy thing, as all fitness buffs know.  And once they’re loosened up, the other physical skills become easier.

Take shooting, for example.  Not enough workout time, too much coffee, and not keeping my “head in it” results in a terrible grouping at 100-meters (peep sight).  On the other hand,, when I’ve been working out for a while, not so much coffee (I’m on a “half-caf” blend of several brands now) the grouping tightens up.  An interesting phenomenon, to be sure.

Mixed Mental/Physical Skills

The F.A.A. requires all pilots operating with non flight crew passengers aboard, maintain currency.  Three take-offs and landings in the type aircraft being used to carry passengers.  The reason is accident records show after 90-days of getting stale, piloting skills deteriorate.  Interestingly, though, it’s in the “mixed-modes” perishable skills that people are hugely different.

For example, when we bought our airplane what’s now seven or eight years back, I needed to “get current” and so I went up in a small plane of the same sort I’d flown before.

“It’s been so long, why don’t you do back-to-back 180-degree turns.  Give me 45-degrees of bank and hold your altitude as best you can.”

Did my “clearing turn” and then rolled left and went around counterclockwise and then rolled out, then right into the clockwise turn.  And held altitude within 50-feet.  Needless to say, my instructor was impressed.  One of my personal strengths (offsetting a much longer set of weaknesses) is that once I do something, I don’t forget.

EXCEPT, that since I’m busy and don’t always have my head in the game, there were many times over the course of aircraft ownership where those 90-day currency landings were not as perfect as I would like.  And that’s the point.  Even though we may be technically competent, we are losing the “sharp point.”

Another place where it comes up is in ham radio with Morse Code.  No, code is no longer needed to bag a license, but at my peak I was able to copy (using a mill/typewriter) at 40 WPM and send that fast as well.

Over the past 54-years since I was a speedster, the pace came down to only about 25 words a minute, with a pencil.  And surprisingly, the challenge at 25 WPM isn’t catching the letters and decoding them.  It’s the art of writing the received letters down on a piece of paper.

The way this is done – and it takes practice that is “perishable” is to “copy behind” a bit.  While one part of the brain is actively decoding the letter (and word) coming in, another part of the brain is writing down what came in a second (or 2) earlier.  Hence the old brass-pounders will talk about “copying behind” to keep things rolling..

The physical side is the sending and there, I’m stuck in the 30-words per minute range.  My sending error rate goes up much over 30 WPM anymore.  That’s a far-cry from flawless at 40 when 17-years old.

What About that Bike-riding Saying?

Oh, you mean the nonsense about how you “never forget how to ride a bike?”

That’s one of those convenient urban myths that people pass around that’s only partially true.

Here’s the no BS, take it from me facts:

When I was young and could ride a bike 50-miles a day as no big deal, I also evolved an acute sense of balance.  I could roll my old three-speed English Racer to a stop, balance for 3-4 seconds and then pedal off.

I tried the same thing on my 10-speed mountain bike recently.  No way in hell could I do it.  What  I could do was come to a full-stop, and then instantly resume.  But unless I make getting good at balancing on a bike something I’d have to practice for a while, that ship has crashed onto Perishable Shores.

Which Skills Are Your Losing?

Everyone loses skills over time.  Elaine played a violin once-upon-a-time in high school.  But, since they require “keeping up callouses” she let that skill go a long time ago and has never looked back.

On the other hand, we have a few other musical instruments around here (piano, synth, drums, guitars (more callouses!) and so forth.  Yet, for now, we’re not devoting the time to keep any of the beginner-level talent active because we’re both engaged in writing books and “imagineering” our home so it does a better job of “transporting” us to new mental realms while writing.

Even things like the pending kitchen make-over will require my getting my “woodworking eye re-calibrated.”  After not doing anything finer than a chainsaw (“close enough!”) for several years, getting back to setting up jigs, wood stops, and how to align the laser guide just so to the line on the 12″ miter saw requires frequent use or my projects turn out poorly.

Just this week, I began my “tuning up” process by building a putter rack and antiquing it as we turn our sun porch into a “golf clubhouse.”

My personal list of perishing skills is long (and depressing!)..

Two days after Skip[ Barber racing school at Laguna Seca, was I a better driver than now?  Truth?  Yeah, not as sharp on heel and toe now…haven’t needed that skill in how long?

In 1984 it was “no big deal” to go scuba diving with friends in the Cayman Islands.  Would I do a reef dive down to 100-150 feet today?  What?  Am I nuts?  Perishable skill.  Can’t remember the dive tables..but remember don’t come up faster that Ure bubbles…

Language skills?  The smattering of Spanish learned in 8th grade was long-ago lost to the mental sands of time.

Art?  Elaine’s art of today is different than that of past years.

But that’s how we’re all built and wired, you see?

And that’s why even if you can’t buy 23-tons of freeze-dried foods, you can still up-armor your personal perishable inventory.

The muscle groups and the storage yard between the ears.

Write when you get rich,


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