Rewire

Neuroplasticity refers to the various ways our brain can reshape itself as a result of growth and experience. Neurons form a dense interconnected network where certain links are reinforced as a result of stimulation, creating well defined pairs of stimuli-response. That is a fundamental component of learning and habit formation, which determine to a great extent how we behave, how we react to what we experience.

We've all felt neuroplasticity in action when we learned fundamental skills. Say you are learning to ride a bike, that learning curve of hitting the ground over and over again is the result of your neurons finding the right way to connect. At some point in time, you reach that blissful moment of "I get it!"; you found the right wiring. From that moment on, those paths will be reinforced to the extent that they will end up hard wired in your brain. At that point, the skill is impossible to unlearn. Or is it?

In the following video you will find an interesting experiment. Someone built a reverse bike, a bike geared in a way that, when steered right, it turns left. It was a prank to challenge anyone under the premise: nobody can stay on this bike for more than 3 secs. And it seems to be right! Now there's this other guy. He won't give up that easily. Borrows the bike determined to do whatever it takes to learn it. Spends months -months!- but he finally gets it. Extreme demonstration of brain rewiring. Impressive. Now comes an interesting turn: what would happen if he picks a regular bike after he's relearned the skill? Will he fall?

Interestingly, he does... but only a few times. After that he's back on track. His brain still remembers the wiring required to ride a normal bike. Now back to the reverse bike: he switches easily! His brain has managed to create two different sets of connections that now allow him to switch from normal mode to reverse mode easily. Fascinating

Learning fundamental skills is frustrating and captivating at the same time (tell any golf player!) I myself like to submit to voluntary torture from time to time. When confronting the development of my new app (yes, I'm still working on it) I decided to learn not one but two new programming languages even though there was no need. I also purchased a new keyboard with a US keymap. It took days for my brain to wire properly, but now I switch easily from a Spanish keymap to a US one without any effort.

The last initiative/experiment I'm going through is relearning handwriting. My handwriting is awful (as most people's) mainly due to that skill being learned at an age when we have no patience and no respect for well crafted stuff (more prominent in boys than girls, I believe). I'm ashamed every time I review my notes. The relearning process is extremely hard. I'm relearning to write mostly at the same speed as my 6 yo child does. Repeating every letter form over and over. Working on junctions. Marveling at the subtleties of typography, and understanding why someone decided to curve letters that particular way (a wonderful combination of maximizing legibility and speed). I'm far from reaching peak, but I will persevere on my ascend.

Rewiring yourself maybe just as important for your well being as working out or eating healthy. Not only do you acquire new capabilities but you train your tolerance to frustration, your perseverance and your patience. You also develop a positive mindset: I can do whatever I resolve to if only I try hard enough. In a very literal way, your sanity depends on it.

So there you go, jump out of your comfort zone and rewire. Have a nice weekend!

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