Walking The Talk, And Stumbling

My Real-Time Experience With Neuroplasticity!

I’m once again reminded that I’m DRIVEN’s best client. Over the past several months, I’ve been leading lots of DRIVEN to Wellness workshops for organizations who want to support their employees as the uncertainty of the workplace continues. Learning to manage stress, build resilience and incorporate mindfulness in the workplace (and in life) fits the bill as a smart investment.

My favorite experiential moment of this three-part series is a playful exercise to illustrate the concept of neuroplasticity. The activity usually leaves people laughing, AND they’re given the first-hand experience of creating new neuropathways in the brain.

During these action-oriented workshops, participants are invited to strategize in real time in order to make ONE small change: a baby step toward living their aspired life. If you’re sneering and thinking, “ONE small step to live the life of my dreams? That sounds like a pipe dream!”, consider this: If you want the future to be different, the only place you can stand and work with it is here and now.

Back to neuroplasticity. DRIVEN’s approach to leveraging it begins with participants detailing the “What, Why and How” of the practice they’d like to anchor into their lives. They come up with a plan and ideally, a month later (give or take depending upon the desired habit), they have a new habit or have changed the way they do something.

It was shortly after my latest session that I pulled a muscle in my upper arm. Ouch! This was not only physically painful, but it was an emotional blow. You see, it’s still kayaking season, and that arm is crucial. So I’ve decided to apply DRIVEN’s “What, Why, How” exercise to my own situation.

  • The What: My goal is to protect my injury and recover before it’s too cold to paddle.
  • The Why: My motivation is STRONG. Kayaking brings me immense joy, a great workout, and it opens up a part of my brain that allows for creativity. Paddling brings me into “flow”.
  • The How: I will use my other arm for – well – everything I can. When I do need to use my injured arm, it will be deliberate, so I only progress my healing.
  • The Declaration: It is October 23rd, one month from my commitment and my shoulder is feeling strong! My ability to shift activities to my right hand has been a great lesson in patience and has paid off. It’s a gorgeous day, and I’m going to take a lovely paddle-out!

This plan, in a nutshell, is an act of creating new neuropathways in my brain. At day 5 I had decided to share this story because this has been more challenging than I thought it was going to be! I’m struggling with the remembering part as well as the patience part.

Those first days were both amusing and enlightening. Comical as I “forgot” my commitment to using my right arm and continued to do things that I’ve been doing for decades with my left arm. This sort of slapstick self-imagery transported me to a time when I actively worked to omit the word “Sorry” from my vocabulary.

Not all has been frustrating. There have been success stories! For example, I unloaded my bounty from the farmers’ market by taking two trips instead of one to save my left arm from further damage. A younger Deborah would have powered through instead. But this time it’s different, with my motivation to kayak.

Other attempts have fallen short of success. I found myself at the peak of frustration last Saturday, during a gorgeous Mt. Taurus hike, no less. I kept putting my backpack on, right arm first. Each time, I was rudely reminded of my commitment to change, as my left arm screamed OUCH! I was laughing at myself as I literally re-learned how to put on a backpack!

The backpack debacle was a gateway to my awareness. I didn’t realize how much I depended upon my left arm! It has become apparent that this is my dominant side. I reach up for the microwave oven with my left arm, hold my water bottle in my left hand when I walk for exercise, and even pour my coffee using my left hand (which makes me wonder why I pour wine with my right).

Twelve days out, I am just now becoming alert to instances where I can literally switch it up. I’ve been catching myself more frequently BEFORE using my left arm, and can observe a muscle memory becoming embedded when I stretch my right side toward that high pantry. The first time I put my backpack on, left arm leading, I said “atta girl” out loud!

I’m also trying to reframe my impatience as curiosity. I’m beginning to observe other instances where my assumptions fall into question. After all, I’d been deemed a right-handed person since birth. What else have I always assumed about myself that’s not quite true? And, how can I apply this experience to instances when I want to change as opposed to having to change?

Besides, my reframing of impatience, while necessary on my path toward wisdom, is a much heavier lift. My injury is only 3 weeks old at this point. But my tendency toward impatience has been around for decades!


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