Improving my ambidexterity (or ‘cross dominance’) has been a hobby of mine for some time now. And while I’m not quite as efficient at writing with my left hand as I am with my right, I’m definitely better than your average Joe so it’s fair to say that it’s worked to some degree.
But why did I become interested in ambidexterity training in the first place? What benefits can it offer you?
Well for starters, training in ambidexterity will give you a number of immediate and direct benefits via the increased dexterity and control. These include things like:
- Improved performance in a number of sports (it’s great for boxing and martial arts to deliver powerful punches with either hand)
- Better reactions when responding on one side
- The option to switch hands when one gets tired of writing
- More even muscle development/symmetry in bodybuilding
Ambidexterity for Brain Training
But at the same time there are other more interesting possible benefits to becoming ambidextrous. Improving the communication between your left and right hemispheres through the corpus callosum (the nerve connecting the two sides of your brain) has been suggested to improve creative and abstract thinking for instance. Einstein’s brain had a particularly developed corpus callosum. Interestingly, Einstein was left-handed - meaning he’d likely have had to use both hands at times (some even say he was ambidextrous but this is disputed). Tesla, Franklin and Da Vinci meanwhile actually were ambidextrous and some people have attributed their genius to their ambidexterity/left-handedness (to be fair though, the people who say that are mostly ambidextrous or left-handed themselves).
Our brain is highly plastic and will adapt in shape and size in response to training. Training the other side of your brain then is going to help increase the connections on that side and develop and grow your brain in general. Again, this has been shown in brain imaging studies: whereas right handed individuals have much larger left hemispheres (remember our hands are controlled by the opposite sides of our brains), ambidextrous people have nearly symmetrical brains. Interestingly this is also true for people with ‘synaesthesia’ – who can ‘see’ sounds and ‘feel’ colours. Ambidexterity is more common in people with synaesthesia and seems to be strongly related with more ‘cross talk’ between the hemispheres, potentially leading to great creativity.
Can Ambidexterity Cause Side Effects?
Interestingly, while there are many advocates of ambidexterity training, there are also those who worry that it could be bad for you. Studies have demonstrated a link between ambidexterity and ADHD in children, and have shown that ambidextrous people tend to perform slightly worse across a number of tests. A study by J.B. Sattler in Münchener Medizinische Wochenschrift (don’t ask me!) looked at developmental problems in ambidextrous individuals and found:
“Systematic investigations of the second group of subjects always revealed perinatal cerebral disturbances. This paper discusses the thesis that insufficient oxygen supply to the brain in the perinatal period of life mainly affects the function of the dominant cerebral hemisphere that is responsible for the congenital handedness”
Note though that this shows that the ‘cerebral disturbances’ led to the ambidexterity and not the other way around. In all likelihood the results of this study demonstrate that ambidexterity can be a result of developmental issues in the womb: not the other way around. It’s highly unlikely that training yourself to be ambidextrous would cause similar issues.
Likewise it’s unlikely that training ambidexterity is likely to give you ADHD. It is possible though that those children who suffered with ADHD did so because they had more creative minds with trouble focusing. As I discussed in my review of Modafinil, creativity and focus actually benefit from the opposite mental states: whereas creativity happens when you’re relaxed and at ease, focus and attention benefit from the tunnel vision afforded by stress. Perhaps more communication across the brain regions similarly results in more difficulty holding attention?
So Should You Try It?
In reality though, I severely doubt you’re going to notice any changes that are that humongous in a short space of time. I do believe that training for ambidexterity could possibly help to stimulate creativity, but I wouldn’t expect to turn into Da Vinci over night. Likewise you probably don’t need to worry about getting attention deficit disorder… If you do notice any negative side effects? Then just cut back for a bit!
Note that you can become somewhat fatigued from this training. I found myself occasionally writing nonsensical phrases while I was first training which I believe was simply a side effect of tiring out my brain – particularly in regards to its writing ability.
How to Become Ambidextrous
So now that’s out of the way, how can you go about training to become ambidextrous?
For me by far the most effective strategy was simply to write a short amount of text in my left hand every day. Don’t bite off more than you can chew by setting unrealistic goals – just write a few lines in your left hand every day and over time you’ll see improvement (note that drawing works too and can be more fun!). If you need a bit more structure than that, then you can try downloading my app on the Play Store.
Another thing that has worked well for me is switching t o my left hand when using my computer mouse. As long as I’m not in a hurry to complete tasking work, this is an easy way to get a little bit of training in without affecting my day too much.
Tip: Eating popcorn? Force yourself to eat with your left hand. Not only is this useful cross dominance training, but it will make it ‘more effort’ to eat the popcorn and you’ll end up snacking less! This is based on an actual study.
Other sites will give you any number of tips for things you can do left handed, including brushing your teeth or pouring the kettle. Problem is that things like pouring the kettle with your left hand are all too easy to immediately forget, while brushing your teeth with your left hand takes too long, feels too awkward and isn’t great for your teeth!
The point to keep in mind is that this is a type of training - just like training your muscles. As such you should treat it that way and the best way to do this is with a regular set program. It only has to take ten minutes! I mentioned switching your mouse as it’s easy to remember and not too invasive – but I consider it an exception. If you’re really keen on doing more ‘throughout the day’ with your left hand then you need to force yourself to remember it. You can do this by buying left handed scissors and throwing out your old ones for instance (or vice versa if you’re left handed), or by wrapping your dominant hand up with bandages for a day when you don’t have anything important to do.
Still though, the very best method is daily writing. This is a great way to see yourself gradually improve too and it’s very rewarding to be able to look at your progress over a few months.
It’s a fun and interesting experiment and a great way to get into more general brain training. Give it a go and make sure you share your experiences here!
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