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How To (Hopefully) Become Ambidextrous

clumsy man

Me

Note from Josh: I just got another shipment of The Knot. If you’d like a signed copy, here’s how.

In September of 2009 I made a major shift in my strength training. After training for a week in scenic Minot, North Dakota with performing strongman Adam T. Glass (Here’s Part I of an interview we did last year), I agreed to start experimenting with Gym Movement and biofeedback-based training.

One of the results of this has been increased body awareness. I’m constantly reminded of how asymmetrical I am. That’s to be expected. We’re not machines. I’m not talking about strength, though.

Clumsyman

I’m talking about how clumsy I feel when I try to do anything with my left hand/side. Can’t write. Can barely manipulate a fork. Can’t brush my teeth without endangering my eyes. Kicking a ball with my left foot is a delightful comedy of errors, and throwing with my left hand leaves me looking about as masculine as Nancy Drew.

The end. Or is it?

Left and right

Every book I read about creativity mentions right- or left-brained thinkers learning to access the other hemisphere. I want to do that with my hands and feet.

So over the coming weeks, whenever possible and convenient, I’m going to be writing, eating, and doing whatever else I can think of with my left hand and on my left side. I have no idea what kind of changes I expect, if any.But the better I move, the better I feel. Possibly this will be a way to move even better.

But as James Thurber said, is it better to ask some questions than to have all the answers.

If you’re interested in playing along, please give it a try and we’ll compare notes as the experiment progresses. Unless you’re already ambidextrous, in which case I’d prefer that you just give me the secret so I don’t have to practice.

How to be ambidextrous? Let’s find out.

Josh

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Blaine Moore June 29, 2010, 5:04 am

    I used to be a professional juggler, and that’s basically what I did to become more aware of my body and to be better at doing things with my off hand and foot.

    I found the easiest thing to learn to do with your off hand is open doors. Great place to start because it’s a simple task that is hard to fail at but you still need to be aware of yourself at least enough to remember not to use your dominant hand.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:48 pm

      Do you still juggle? Why did you give up the pro circuit?

      • Blaine Moore June 29, 2010, 2:58 pm

        I went to college. 🙂

        Which is funny, since I learned my toughest tricks in college, as well as started juggling torches then, but haven’t done it for profit since high school. (Base rate used to be $75/hour, although I only charged $20/hour for some local organizations I supported and would do it for free for the local library or Lions Club.)

        I haven’t done any serious juggling for years at this point, though.

  • Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave June 29, 2010, 5:51 am

    There are a bunch of us who went to first grade in the dark ages when being a “leftie” was somehow unacceptable. We were all “encouraged” to be normal. The result is ambidextrousness. I didn’t think about this until my bartender days when the day shift complained about my being left-handed. All the pour spouts were pointed in the wrong direction.

    It does come in handy. During a steel sculpture course, I began feeling something like carpel in my right elbow–I was able to just switch gripping hands.

    My suggestion to you is to have your child “practice” with you–they think it’s fun, and are wonderful coaches!

  • Jodi Kaplan June 29, 2010, 6:03 am

    When I was a kid, I could write with my toes.

    Just tested it, and still can (though not well), but I’m right-footed.

    My left handwriting isn’t too bad. A bit wobbly, but legible.

    @Julianne, your story about the pour spouts reminds me of when my aunt (a lefty) gave my grandma something in a bag with a twist tie. Grandma (a righty) was having a terrible time opening it. Then she realized the tie was twisted the “wrong” way.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:48 pm

      I imagine your toe-writing looks better than my left-handed writing currently.

  • jean sampson June 29, 2010, 6:09 am

    I took a workshop a long time ago in which we drew and wrote with our non-dominant hand. The point of the workshop was to access our inner child. It was awkward and weird and it did just what the woman said it would do —-I got in touch with a very sad and angry kid whose dog had been taken away from her at 6 (allergies) and she had never gotten over it. My left hand kept drawing pictures of dogs and writing “I want a DOG!” There was a lot of emotion all tied up in the process, too. Consciously, I don’t want a dog—but my angry, sad child still did. After that workshop, I tried using crayons and my left hand to write poems. They were very simple and interesting, but not very good poems. I also spent a year doing figure drawing with my left hand after an injury to my right hand. I liked the very alive line I got and the non-picky quality to the drawing. I still do them occasionally to loosen up.

    Oh another funny thing from the W/S—-one guy was a vegetarian and his inner kid was really pissed off because he wanted to go to a baseball game and get a hotdog. Boy, was he mad! Hope he got his hotdog with chips and a soda. He waited a LONG time!

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:47 pm

      I love hot dogs. I would be intolerably fussy without them.

  • Eric | Eden Journal June 29, 2010, 6:22 am

    Like Julianne, I had simlar experiences in school. Being a lefty in a right handed world leads to ambidextrousness. I once had a teacher that criticized my cursive writing because it leaned the wrong way (which was actually the right way for a lefty.) I learned to use right handed scissors because the lefty scissors sucked or were often unavailable.

    So, I think you’re on the right track, just practice with normal daily tasks. Opening doors, holding a fork, drinking, using the mouse, and talking on the phone (left ear.)

  • Michelle June 29, 2010, 6:58 am

    I’m in. I’ve been wanting to be ambidextrous for a while, and sometimes I try to do things with my left hand just ‘cuz. But I’ve never made a concentrated effort. So here goes…

  • Carol Brenneisen June 29, 2010, 7:20 am

    Hi there! I’ve been considered left-handed all my life, and I remember in first grade I told my teacher “I’m going to learn to write with my right hand!” and she said “that’s nice, just don’t do it in school.” Passion and curiosity! Squelched!

    Anyway, I agree that being a lefty in a right handed world forces some ambidextrosity (word??), and I also have another theory.

    I think the hand can be different from the arm…OR maybe detail work different from strength work.

    When I was younger, everyone thought I was left-handed because I wrote with my left hand, so they put everything in my left hand. But as I grew up, I noticed that with certain things I just gravitated to using the right. For example, my parents dutifully gave me left-handed scissors, but I didn’t like them, I liked right-handed. I think now that’s because the scissors are more about the forearm than about the hand.

    So, things I do with the left hand:
    -Write
    -Use an x-acto knife (a lot like writing)
    -Crochet and “knit”
    -Use a fork, spoon, and chopsticks
    -Clasp jewelry (preferable with left, but not difficult with right)

    Things I do with the right hand are:
    -Racquet sports (first time I learned tennis, I used the left. Then I switched to right)
    -Golf (I don’t actually golf, but if I ended up at miniature golf or was forced to take a golf lesson, I’d do it right-handed)
    -Chopping vegetables (definitely an arm motion, though when I first started cooking I used to put the knife in my left hand by default and didn’t understand why it just felt a little off)
    -Use a knife to cut food/spread things (no switching hands at the table!)

    Other things:
    -I use a computer mouse with my right hand and switching would be…interesting. (funny: I used it on the right because in 1989 I didn’t know you could put it on the left)
    -I “play” guitar right-handed b/c of the pain of stringing and learning it backwards. I still feel ambivalent about this choice. Left-handed felt natural when I knew nothing, right handed felt natural after I practiced a little bit for a little while. Left-handed still doesn’t feel out of the question.

    So I guess I have 2 points:
    1. It’s totally possible to teach yourself to use the other hand for stuff. Have fun! and…
    2. Maybe explore the hand vs. arm question. Or the detail work verses strength work question. Or the “for whatever reason individual activities are different” question.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:46 pm

      Carol, I like it, thank you. I should use your comment for an entire guest post:) Details to follow!

      • Carol Brenneisen June 29, 2010, 3:12 pm

        I’m into it! And can expound if that would be desirable.

        • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 3:14 pm

          Absolutely. Send me an email through the contact form and we’ll talk more.

    • Hessiess June 30, 2010, 10:28 am

      Hi Carol, i’m basically exactly the same. I write and draw left handed, but use scissors right handed. When I say that I write left handed, its more of a messy collection of lines that nobody(including myself) can read.

      I don’t use a mouse at all if I can avoid it, the damn things give me horrible hand ache regardless of which hand I use them it. Instead I just have everything configured in a way which allows it to be used productively with only a keyboard (Not that hard to do on Linux, nigh on impossible with everything else). The only exception to this is a graphics tablet for drawing.

  • Heather June 29, 2010, 8:21 am

    Add Jealousman to your list, dude. . . I am somewhat ambidextrous, and have been since childhood. It wasn’t until I was in 2nd grade and Mrs. Andersen, my teacher and all-time awesome woman extraordinaire, said that I had to pick which hand to write with. I surveyed a few people before I did this though. She is right-handed. I noticed that many of my classmates were right-handed. Both my parents are right-handed, but my mother told me when she first learned to write, her teachers made her SWITCH from her left hand to her right hand, so she wouldn’t smudge the paper, so my mom re-taught herself how to write with her right hand. My dad, though right-handed, always threw a baseball with his left, so when my brother and I later played ball, we would always use Dad’s glove (right-handed) and thus learned to throw left-handed. My only suggestion—take it slow, and maybe try ballet, where you have to get everything as balanced and symmetrical as possible.

    Oh yeah. . . Clumsyman should be a new kind of anti-super-hero. He inadvertently fights crime and foils bad guys by tripping over stuff and bumping into people! 😀

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 12:45 pm

      Added. Design a logo for me and I’ll make a cape.

  • Brad June 29, 2010, 12:01 pm

    Great experiment.

    I did things with my left hand for a while. I switched my mouse over to the left side, held my utensils left handed, and tried to brush my teeth left handed — although I tended to forget to do that one (luckily for my oral hygiene). Writing left handed was still a disaster though. I’m not sure how you can even transition into that — who handwrites anymore, anyway?

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 12:44 pm

      Good point, Brad. I am one of the holdouts. I love to write letters by hand.

  • Jessica Johnsen June 29, 2010, 2:00 pm

    Interesting enough, I have a goal to eat all my meals with my left hand for an entire day.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:46 pm

      Is this a coincidence, or had you already made that goal? If so, why?

  • Logan Christopher June 29, 2010, 2:38 pm

    Good idea. I think I’ll experiment with you.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:45 pm

      Logan, I’ve been doing a lot of kettlebell juggling lately. My left hand is pretty pitiful compared to the right.

  • Janette Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:41 pm

    Just so you all know, Josh is married to a lefty. And I’m thrilled that he’s going to start eating left handed. We can finally sit next to one another at any dinner table without smashing elbows.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 29, 2010, 2:45 pm

      You say you’re left handed, but you do everything with your right hand. Give it up.

    • Heather June 29, 2010, 5:27 pm

      Janette,

      There’s a “scene” in Judy Blume’s classic “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” in which Margaret constantly “bumps” hands with Moose, the guy she has a crush on, at a dinner. I always thought that was awesome, and so I eat left-handed because of that. That, and I read once that in England, it was considered quite rude to “switch” from your cutting hand (usually the right) so I sort of taught myself to “eat” left-handed because I did not want to offend an Englishperson at the table. That and I was a huge Durannie in middle school, and Nick Rhodes was my dream date. No way would I EVER want to offend my dream date! 😀

  • Doug Rosbury June 29, 2010, 3:01 pm

    Everyone is anti-social because everyone is different,

  • Mary Williams June 29, 2010, 3:05 pm

    My brother writes; in high school he decided to become ambidextrous, so one day a week was Ambidextrous Day. He would do everything, including write, with his left hand. He got very good at it, and it didn’t take him years; more like months. You can see in his journal how his handwriting turned from scribbles into another version of his right hand. You CAN teach yourself! And I SHOULD.

    (He also had Monosyllabic Day, but that’s another story)

  • Daisy June 29, 2010, 9:22 pm

    I re-trained myself to type with my left thumb instead of the right when I developed painful arthritis in the right. I don’t know what I’ll do if the rest of my hand gets arthritic; redesign the qwerty keyboard, perhaps?

  • Pauline June 30, 2010, 6:57 am

    Nine years ago I fractured the right wrist and needed to do crosswords with my left hand, which was frustrating. Writing was so hard! But using the non-dominant hand slowed my eating, a good thing.

  • Ana June 30, 2010, 3:33 pm

    I thought the same! 🙂

    My brother had an ambidextrous friend. He had a beautiful handwritting with both hands! I found it interesting and I admit I felt kind of jealous…

    So I started practicing writting with my left hand. Learning again like I was in primary school. I bought a notebook just for practicing and even if it’s hard, it’s getting better. It just takes a lot of time…

    But I hope one day I’ll be abble to write with both hands! 🙂

  • Ranjan Singh August 8, 2010, 11:13 pm

    Hi there, I found this page googling for “wanting to be ambidextrous?”. I find this whole thing fascinating and like you I’ve noticed recently just how lop-sided I am! Some days I feel much stronger on my dominant side and start thinking about those photos of the arm-wrestlers with the gargantuan pop-eye like arms. So I’m in, starting from now I will practice old things with my left side, and new things I’ll continue to take up with my dominant side. I wonder what will happen?!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 9, 2010, 7:12 pm

      Ranjan, that’s the easiest keyword research I’ve ever done: just having a reader tell me! A lot of the old time arm-wrestlers are very noticeably lopsided. Let me know how the experiment goes!

  • Stian Farstad September 2, 2010, 3:43 pm

    I crushed my arm in an accident, and after that I had complications.

    So now I’m semi ambidextrous. It’s kind of odd, I have no “control” of which arm i use for different purposes. Just last week when out eating with the job, I noticed that I use my knife with my left hand. I’ve been using the mouse with my left for ages, and I brush my teeth with my well both my hands.

    Still I can’t write well with my left arm.

    I wouldn’t reccomend to crush your arm though! 🙂

    (came a cross your post, because I googled it, and was curious of how I had become like this)

    regards,
    Stian

  • Feathers October 16, 2010, 6:28 am

    A few months ago, my right hand started hurting really bad. I didn’t go to the doctor, but I suspected carpal tunnel. For a few weeks, I was unable to do anything in school cause I couldn’t write with my left hand. That made me wanna train my left hand, but I did not have the time. Now I realise that I’ll never have the time, if I wanna do it, lol. So I’m gonna start too. I posted my blog where I’m gonna update with any results and stuff 😛