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  • Writer's pictureBrian Lissak

Do Usual Things Unusually. It’s Good For Your Mind.

What The Hell Is Water?

A major part of growth and healing is breaking old habits and beliefs that no longer serve you and creating new ones.

The problem is, we usually aren’t aware of what our habits and beliefs are. They’re such a major thread in the fabric of our daily lives that they’re taken as a given. It’s like the fish in David Foster Wallace’s speech who wonders aloud, “what the hell is water?” We are so accustomed to our way of thinking, doing, being, that it ceases to seem like a choice and instead just becomes how life is.

This lack of self-awareness leads to creative stagnation, fossilizing our elastic minds, and inhibiting growth. I’m sure you know someone who is an extreme example of this, that person who is so stuck in their ways it’s as if they’re frozen in time. How difficult does their life seem? How unpleasant is it to be around them?

Lightweight Mental Gymnastics

We are all, to an extent, guilty of this. Luckily, there are some very simple practices that can help exercise the vastness of our minds. Think of it like lightweight mental gymnastics. The logic is straightforward. If what we usually do is akin to an unconscious, habitual existence, then do something unusual.

The very act of doing a routine task in a different way forces your mind to think differently and gives the opportunity for perceiving the world in a new light. Consider eating. Most of us use our dominant hand to hold the fork or spoon and almost never use our non-dominant hand. It’s second nature and we don’t have to consciously think in order to get the food into our mouths. Indeed we’re usually scrolling through social media, watching videos, or responding to messages.

By eating with the non-dominant hand you are forced to focus. It’s difficult and potentially even uncomfortable. Doing something you are so accustomed to, except experiencing it in a radically new way, is healthy for your mind. It adds freshness to activities that have grown boring and routine. It gives you pause for appreciation. It allows you to look at the same thing from a new angle. This novelty of ordinary experiences is paramount in growth, healing, and happiness. Otherwise, life becomes stagnant and dull as we sink further and further into a rigid, non-creative existence.

The Exercises

The exercises are straightforward and have helped pull me out of funks by freeing my mind from whatever loop it’s stuck in. Sometimes, all it takes is a little nudge. I’ll list a few of them below.

  • Use your non-dominant hand (eating, drawing, brushing your teeth, sponging dishes…)

  • Walk slowly with your eyes closed

  • Walk backward

  • Do a headstand and look at the upsidedown world (or bend over towards your toes and look out between your legs)

The more you practice doing usual things unusually, the more creative you will become, to the point where everything is a potential source of delight and newness. The next time you’re walking home you may be inspired to view your neighborhood through the eyes of a tourist. Or instead of getting the same lunch every day for the past six months, you may feel an urge to try that new place that opened up around the corner. Even if you decide that your usual sandwich is what you want to stick with, at least your mind was open to other possibilities and curious to explore more of what the world has to offer. Doesn’t that sound nicer than living a routine that’s lost its shine?

On a Final Note

I’m aware of the studies and reports that doing things as I’ve suggested above doesn’t actually have tangible effects when viewed in lab controlled experiments. They argue that the skill learned with the non-dominant hand (to use that as the example) does not transfer to other skills. Meaning, learning to draw with your non-dominant hand doesn’t necessarily transfer to writing with your non-dominant hand.

The benefits these studies are looking at are categorically different from the ones I am speaking of. They speak of objective skills measurable by an outside observer. I’m speaking of subtle shifts in mindset that have large implications in an individual’s daily experiences, the results of which are only knowable by that individual.

I’m very conscious of using the word “mind” instead of “brain.” I am not a scientist and I’m not trying to make any scientific statements. I am simply a human who has had (and has) my share of struggles, and I’ve found true healing through these small exercises. I hope you can as well.

(Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash)

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