Body practice for brain improvement

I’ve added a new piece to my morning/evening routines — when I am about to brush my teeth, I pull my toothbrush out of the holder and toss it from hand to hand. Sometimes I flip it around and try to catch it. Sometimes I can, sometimes I miss… drop it, and have to wash it thoroughly before I brush my teeth.

But I have noticed my hand-eye coordination improving. And my response times improve, as well. Also, I have noticed that I have been able to catch things that I start to drop more easily than ever before.

Like silverware falling out of my hands and headed for the floor — I have caught them several times.

Like a travel mug full of coffee that tipped over, and I was able to right before it spilled all over the place.

There have been a number of situations where my eye-hand coordination is definitely better than I can remember it being for a while – perhaps if ever. I was very active as a kid and played a lot of ball games, but I was a little spastic and had trouble coordinating my movements.

And I was convinced I could not juggle, because I was so “dorky”. I was convinced I was a lot of things (not all of them flattering) because of my coordination problems. My issues were probably a lot less than I believed they were, but because they didn’t match what I was expecting, I considered them terrible.

And I kept myself from doing a lot of things, because I figured, “Well, that’s just how I am, and I have to live with less as a result.”

Sad – pretty much of a waste.

Now things are different. Now I’m not convinced that anything I believe about myself is actually true. I’m questioning it. Trying new things. And discovering more things about myself than I ever did before.

Juggling helps me. Even just tossing around a pen is beneficial.  How?

  1. It improves my eye-hand coordination. I am getting better at catching things I toss from one hand to another. And when I spin the thing(s) I toss, it challenges me. I have dropped a lot of things, but I am getting better.
  2. It improves my self-control. When I drop things, I typically get very upset and start to blow up (inside mostly, sometimes outside). This is very disruptive. Knowing that I am practicing keeps it chilled out for me. Tossing a non-essential object, dropping it, and then practicing self-control and not flying off the handle, is helping me in my everyday life, when things go wrong unexpectedly.
  3. It improves my sustained attention. I can focus for longer and longer periods of time. I notice that I drop things when my attention wanders. Focusing on the object I’m tossing from hand to hand for a few minutes… then a few more minutes… then a few more minutes… is helping me to stay focused longer.
  4. It teaches me to block out distractions.  This is different from sustaining my attention. It’s one thing to lengthen the amount of time I can focus single-mindedly on something. It’s another thing to know how to block out sudden distractions that pop up into my field of view, or come to mind. Most of my distractions actually come from inside my head. I’ll start thinking about something else… and then I’m toast. I drop what I’m trying to catch. Or I toss something in the wrong direction. Practicing tossing things from one side to another — and most of all practicing not getting my attention pulled away — has actually helped me a great deal.

Recently, a reader posted a comment:

I saw a documentary on the brain and neuroplasticity and heard that juggling tennis balls can improve executive function.
I think it worked:
It only took the (uninjured) guy in the movie one practice session to be able to juggle several tennis balls.
It took about 2 months for me to be able to consistently juggle one ball.
I could only do a few minutes once or twice a week because it used so much of my brain energy.
After a few weeks I noticed my thinking seemed faster and switching between tasks was easier. There was also a measurable jump in my typing and reading speeds.

Now aprox 3 months later; I still do a few minutes, two times a week, but can use 2 balls. I just tested my typing speed again and it is aprox. twice as fast it was when I started the juggling exercise.

It’s worth a try: low cost, no side effects. Be aware that it took lots of patience and really used up a lot of brain enery when I started (so plan accordingly), but it got easier.

This is WAY cool. As they said, it is low cost and has no side effects — other than improvement in important areas.

It also takes a lot of brain energy at the start — I can also attest to that, because when I started tossing my toothbrush from hand to hand, first thing in the morning, I dropped it a lot, and spent a lot of time rinsing it off. (Why did I used my toothbrush? Because tossing something important raised the stakes and forced me to pay close attention.) It was very challenging when I started, to tell the truth.

But bringing in a tennis ball has expanded this — and it’s something I can do just about anywhere, just about anytime. In fact, I sometimes take a break at work to go to a quiet room and toss a tennis ball around. I may just add another ball to it and practice juggling.

Now, it’s all very well and good to learn how to juggle. It’s fun. It aids neuroplasticity. And it will be an accomplishment, if I ever manage it.

But the real benefit is not the juggling ability alone. It’s the psychological, experiential, and behavioral benefit I get from it.

Having better eye-hand coordination can reduce the number of “clumsiness events” in my life that not only drive me crazy but make me feel stupid and dim.

Being able to catch a tipping cup of coffee — that I can’t afford to spill — is a huge boost to myself-confidence. And it also spares me the internal storms of anger, range, frustration, and self-recrimination. It’s also good for my self-image, which can use a lot of help.

Being in better contact with the world around me, and having a more fluid interaction with my physical environment can offset the effects of my dizziness and the times when I am “off” — for one reason or another. Developing my coordination, my muscle memory, my ability to skillfully adapt to sudden changes in my environment… it’s all good, and it only helps me.

Overall, the strangely wonderful side-effects of tossing objects from one hand to another are helping me feel better about myself, feel like less of a klutz, and make me more relaxed and at-ease with the world around me.

And that’s a good thing.

So, onward…

 

 

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The most magic 30 minutes of my day

Yeah, that’s the ticket…

Yesterday I had a nap. I stepped away from my desk for about half an hour to recharge my batteries. I walked 5 minutes to my car, which was in underground parking quite a ways from my office, put the seat back, put the headphones on, made myself comfortable, and I did my progressive relaxation.

I even got about 15 minutes of sleep in the process.

And when I woke up (which was 2 minutes before the alarm I’d set), I felt amazing. Refreshed. Alive. Human.

Then I collected myself, walked the 5 minutes back to my office, and I got on with the rest of my day.

I have heard it said that naps can disrupt your sleeping pattern, and it’s better to keep yourself awake and go to bed early. They obviously do not push themselves to perform at the level I do, from the moment I wake up in the morning. From the moment my feet hit the floor, I’m in GO mode. I have to be, because getting myself up in the morning is a monumental task that takes everything I have, some days.

Anybody who thinks I can make it through my day on a night’s worth of sleep has obviously never experienced the kind of exhaustion point I get to, around 2:00 p.m. each and every day. It is pretty brutal. By the time the afternoon rolls around, I’ve been going full-tilt-boogie for 6-8 hours. I can continue push through, sure, but I am good for nothing, the rest of the afternoon. Seriously, good for nothing. Even the things that I love doing — and that I push myself to do — turn out to be a waste of time.

Wheels spin. But they get no traction.

But if I can sleep… that is another story.

Knowing that I can sleep later on, and that I’ll be able to recharge my batteries, also makes it possible for me to push harder at the beginning of the day. When I think I’m going to have to pace myself… that my energy stores from a night’s sleep are going to have to last me all day, I hold myself back in the mornings. I’ve just now realized this, actually. When I wake up tired

Today is a completely new day — or so I keep telling myself. I’m a little tired this morning, to be honest. It’s been a long week, and I’m tired already at 7:00 a.m. I will pick up speed later today, when I am working. I’m not going into the office, so I have more time to focus on working, and less to spend driving. I also have more time to spend thinking about my own projects and making some good progress on them — without the pressure of daily performance of way too much work in way too little time.

So, there is hope for me today. I don’t have to be subjected to the upset and uncertainties of all the people around me (I came back from my nap yesterday to find my teammates huddled in a corner bitching and complaining about working conditions.) I can set my own pace and do my own work, without others interfering with their emotional incontinence.

It’s a relief not to be at the office, because the environment there is pretty depressing. It’s just a constant pressure cooker of uncertainty and chaos. When I say “chaos”, I mean there is a total lack of recognizable patterns to anything that happens. That is to say, there is no regular cadence, no regular pace, not much that’s predictable at all, from a day-to-day standpoint. It’s constant interruption and constant uncertainty. It’s not like I need any guarantees in life. But it would be nice to be able to not have everyone around me intent on interrupting my train of thought to ask me questions they can answer themselves.

It’s almost as though they are just stopping by to feel a little relief from their uncertainty.

As a matter of fact, I think that’s exactly what they’re doing — just stopping by to get a little boost to their self-confidence and sense of belonging. Because that’s what I bring to the table — respect for others, the ability to calm people down when they are all worked up, and a certain sense of calm in the center of the storm.

On the bright side, it’s great that I’m able to do this for people. On the downside, it doesn’t help me get my work done… and it’s actually keeping me from making progress in my own workload. Other people not being able to manage their own internal state, is probably the biggest hurdle to my own productivity. It’s not that their frame of mind is upsetting me. They are literally keeping me from doing my work, because they keep running to me and interrupting me and hijacking my workflow, to answer questions they never should have had to ask.

Sigh.

Anyway, in another 13 weeks, this is going to cease to be my problem. Oh, hell — if I can get things wrapped up before then, I’ll be free to go even earlier. I don’t have to be locked into a specific timeframe. I have had this July deadline in my mind, because that’s when I’m scheduled to be done with my big-ass project. But I might get things done even before that.

So, there’s some leeway there. And I’ve just thought of a way I can speed things up — some of the stuff I’m depending on others to do for me, I can do myself. They’re not experienced (or actually smart) enough to figure it out. Plus, they friggin’ hate my guts for reasons that are all about their crappy self-regulation, their incompetence, their jealousy, their brown-nosed politicking (which cannot stand the glare of objective scrutiny), and their sad work ethic (or lack thereof — I actually expect them to do their jobs, ogre that I am)… as well as shoddy management which just lets them get away with anything they damn’ well please.

So, the inmates are running the asylum. In a very big way.

And I have less than no confidence in them.

But the happy and sane part is, it doesn’t matter. They can be all pissy and pitch their hissy fits from their corner of the corporate cosmos. I can just work around everyone, and actually get sh*t done. I don’t have to be dependent on them to get their acts together, in order to move forward. And on top of that, I can be sharpening some excellent skills of my own in the meantime.

This task is a huge opportunity, but those idiots are not seeing it. I can see it plain as day, and I can hear the trumpets from heaven loud and clear. Their ineptitude is opening a door for me to step through, and that makes me incredibly happy, now that I think about it. For that matter, I can spend my weekend working on this, and actually get it all done in time for Monday — AND have it be an excellent investment in my future.

So, that’s good. And it’s giving me a big boost. It’s not all a waste of my time. It’s not all an exercise in futility. Far from it. It’s actually a positive thing, and turning it around in my mind to see the opportunity and the door opening a little more to my fantastic future is the first step in the right direction.

As long as my head is clear about this, and I’m rested and energized and keeping my batteries charged, it’s all good.

Later today I will have my nap. My magical 30 minutes to recharge my batteries. But for now, it’s…

Onward.