Monday, January 23, 2012

Hack Yourself with Your Other Hand

Which hand do you use the most? You know... the one you use to open doors or to write, or to do that thing that.... yeah, that hand.

I have recently started working my way through How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness, and thus far it has been an adventure with some unexpected benefits which don't have anything to do with either mindfulness or being embarrassed when your mother walks in. They have to do with boosting creativity.

But first let me roll back a bit and
explain how I got here.

The book is composed of a series of exercises designed to help you focus on mindfulness, slowing down, all that good stuff, and it's great on that count. I'm loving it. So anyway, for the first exercise they propose a challenge. You are to use your non-dominant hand for all the ordinary tasks you normally do through the day, and it does slow you down, make you think etc. etc.

But, I also discovered this exercise came with a whole other set of revelations that go well beyond the prescribed lesson. I suspect these neat benefits come from the quirky nature of brain itself. For example, you really do have two minds, your brain is divided. Called hemispheres, it is constructed of two sides which split some of the thinking jobs, and all of the work of controlling your body. The right side of your brain controls the left side of your body, and so the reverse for the other sides. When it comes to thinking chores it's not quite so clear cut, but our minds do loosely separate some thought processes, with the left half focusing on things like exact math calculation, fact retrieval and the like, with the right hemisphere concentrating more on estimates, adding emotional inflection to speech and understanding context. (So far as we have currently learned.)

Brains are also flexible. As we have see through the struggles of Gabby Giffords, the brain has a tremendous capacity to heal and rewire itself when the need is called for, with healthy brain areas taking up the work that a damaged part used to handle.

Enter the handedness switcheroo. By using my left hand to brush my hair and hold my fork, I was forcing my right brain hemisphere to do work it was not used to doing. As I progressed through the week I found myself with a flood of ideas, for blogging, writing, knitting, even painting and I don't paint. I think I am generally a pretty creative sort (people certainly tell me that I am), but even for me it was a noteworthy uptick. My suspicion is that using my non-dominant hand triggered the development of some new connections, growth if you will. 

Is this a scientific assurance? Well of course not, but if I could tearfully beg my way into HHMI I would be all over setting up a lab to study this. Since I'm still working on that (you listening HHMI?), for now I'll share this idea with you. I encourage you to try it for yourself. Notice anything?

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