Creating change creates awareness
23 February 2020
A few years ago my little girl and I were painting the back door of the house. Most parents are familiar with their kids “helping,” which is more about spending time together and teaching them a potentially useful skill than actually getting help from them. As I’m sort of a closet DIY guy, I set the bare minimum for both of my kids to have experience fixing things around the house and on the cars, with tools, so they would less likely feel afraid or uncomfortable with anything like that as an adult, and maybe, just maybe, actually be able to change their own oil when they grow up.
But on this particular summer day, the the door actually did need to be painted, and I watched as she eagerly muddled through applying the paint – some on the door, some on the floor, and a good bit of it on the brush handle. I watched the paint pool and run, and gently tried to give her tips, trying not to calculate how much time it was going to take me to fix the job after she “helped.”
Different can be a challenge
Trying to teach something definitely tests the limits of one’s knowledge, and I found myself at a loss trying to figure out why she put the entire brush, handle and all, in the the can, or why she couldn’t just apply even pressure to spread the paint.
And then it kind of struck me – if I was asking myself why she couldn’t just do it, then that probably meant I was just doing it, and not thinking about it. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, my effort was automatic, and without thought.
If I wanted to relate, so that I could really help her, I needed to experience what she was experiencing. So I switched the brush to my non-dominant left hand – and then, magically, there were now two eight-year olds slapping paint around, streaking, puddling, and dripping. From a tradesman’s point of view, it was nightmare, but for the parent-child learning experience, and for my own sense of understanding and awareness, it a great way to relate to her and help.
Now I had to think and struggle not to get my own hand covered in paint – and because of that, I was more aware. I could feel the newness of how the brush felt in my hand, experience the frustration of watching the paint not go where I wanted it to, and I had a whole new way to explain to her what to do. I also had to shift my body, think differently, and my brain had to adapt. In short, I no longer could ignore, thoughtlessly, what I was actually doing.
Change can increase awareness
This insight led me to create awareness by doing some other things differently – brushing my teeth with my other hand, putting on my clothes differently, even using the trackpad on my computer. It was often frustrating (like an 8 year old trying to paint for the first time) and sometimes comical: I nearly suffered a self-inflicted tonsillectomy the first time I tried brushing my teeth with my left hand.
Studies of people who have trained themselves to use their non-dominant hand show that different parts of their brain have higher levels of activity during the effort, and this can only help our attempts to become more aware. There are also claims about learning to use your non-dominant hand increasing creativity and brain activity.
Intentionally changing your pattern is a great way to stimulate awareness, and with increased awareness, we are able to discern more about ourselves, our colleagues and our community. The goal is not to sign your name equally well with either hand. The goal is to be more aware of everything.
For now, perhaps consider a simple shift of mechanical habit to develop awareness. My little girl has moved on to a 12” miter saw, biscuit joiner and has mixed her own motor for a tile floor.
And the door? It came out fine.
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