I’ve always been envious that my husband Howie is ambidextrous. He can write with either hand, holds chopsticks with his left and plays racquet sports with his right. I suppose it comes from being forced to write with his right hand as a child, even though he was naturally left handed.
I have always considered myself to be right-handed to a fault. My left hand has played a purely accessory role my whole life as the weaker, clumsier side. But I recently realized that relying completely on my right hand just means I’m staying in my comfort zone. Intentionally challenging myself by using my left hand can actually promote my brain’s neuroplasticity..
It makes sense if you think about it. If you have ever injured your right hand or worn a cast for any length of time, you know that we learn to adapt pretty quickly to holding a fork or combing our hair with the “wrong” hand. And that’s because our brains aren’t hard wired to only do things just one way. We become accustomed to doing what feels comfortable and automatic, but actually our brains are meant to adapt to our circumstances.
Whole brain training
We tend to think of cognitive or brain training activities in terms of crossword puzzles and sudoku. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Wordle or Lumosity game as much as the next person, but these exercises tend to utilize a very narrow part of the brain function, which is probably why research hasn’t supported their benefits. It’s like going to the gym and only doing bicep curls for your whole workout.
The reward of persevering is a gift that keeps giving
What we want to do is challenge the brain’s neuroplasticity by engaging many different areas. For example, when we learn a musical instrument, we are figuring out how to control body parts to produce a certain sound, while also reading or maybe memorizing music.
Learning languages is particularly complex as we try to memorize vocabulary, understand and produce sounds, and string together complexities like context, grammar, and verb conjugations. The kind of awkwardness and discomfort that comes from learning new languages makes it seem daunting for most of us to consider; of course we would rather stay in our comfort zone.
But the reward of persevering is a gift that keeps giving. As you become more familiar with the new instrument or language, you’ll find it gets easier to learn, and you enjoy being able to connect with others using your new skill.
So maybe you’ve always wanted to paint, knit, speak Italian, or row a dragon boat. Don’t allow your mind to shut down the idea or tell you it’s impossible. It’s definitely possible to learn new skills at any age.
Perhaps now is not the best time, because you are already stimulating plenty of neuroplasticity by learning how to communicate with your kid in the language unique to teenagers. Or you may be navigating the complexities of elder care.
If you don’t already have a Perhaps List, now’s as good as any time to start one. Some people call it a Bucket List. You can come back to it when you’re ready.
Meanwhile I figure I can handle a little bit of awkwardness, so I’m working on using my left hand to brush my teeth and hold my spoon. Even if I will never be able to call myself ambidextrous, I know I’ll be glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a bit.