To this point, we have focused on just one aspect of mindfulness, that of bare attention in the immediate moment. However, as mentioned earlier, another translation of the word sati is memory, and there is a very good reason for this. Paying close attention to your immediate moment and environment sounds like a beneficial practice, and for the most part it is. However, there are times where paying too much attention can be detrimental and force you into mistakes. If you have ever been told or told someone else not to over-think a situation, this is a good example where bare attention can be detrimental. In fact, a recent study has found that a mindful state can be detrimental for certain kinds of learning.
When you learn to ride a bicycle, for example, you pay less attention about the process and feel of yourself pedaling. Instead, much of the learning occurs subconsciously in what is known as muscle memory. Muscle memory is one example of a special kind of memory called implicit memory. This type of memory occurs through practice. For musicians who read music, for example, at a certain point in practice, they no longer consciously think about what the squiggles on the page actually mean. In fact, reading in general relies primarily on implicit memory. If you tried to be really mindful of what you were reading, by focusing on the shape of each letter or the makeup of each sentence, you would likely miss the overall meaning of a written passage, and it would take a long time to do it.
Mindfulness is helpful in tasks that make use of another kind of memory called explicit memory. This type of memory is helpful in learning new things and in memorization. However, when you wish to develop a habit, the combination of mindfulness when you are consciously willing yourself to do or notice something and scaling back your awareness as you allow the new task to be taken up in your unconscious mind through implicit memory is the ideal way to go.