Do One Impossible Thing every year
“Impossible” has a couple different layers of meaning. There are things that are impossible for everyone, like traveling faster than light. There’s logically impossible things, like Creation Science, or walking up and down stairs at the same time (Escher notwithstanding).
Then there’s “impossible for me, at this time”. By this I mean, something you couldn’t do even at gunpoint. It’s something that, in principle, given time, you could do, but you don’t currently have the ability.
This matters because, when you finally accomplish something impossible, you have a new brain, or at least a newer brain. As Mo at Neurophilosophy explains, new discoveries about synaptic plasticity have exciting implications:
…Until now, it was thought that such reorganization is restricted to small numbers of connections within discrete areas of the brain. But new research published yesterday in the journal Current Biology now provides the first evidence that local modifications to small numbers of connections can induce global changes in brain connectivity…
Neurophilosophy: Experience induces global reorganization of brain circuitry
This is not only exciting to people with specific neurological problems; it even offers hope for people who watch network TV. Every time you hear someone say; “I wish I could…”, you are hearing wishful thinking that there were some shortcut to building those neural pathways. And the larger implication is that global changes in brain circuitry will create new, unpredictable possibilities. Maybe new ways of looking at the world, at your own life, at solving problems.
This year I chose to learn to ride a unicycle. Even at gunpoint I couldn’t stand up on the thing, let alone move forward on it. It was of special interest to me because my balance had been impaired by an accident five years ago. For almost two years I felt off-kilter; walking was difficult, sitting in a chair required concentration, and riding a bike was out of the question. For me, ‘no bike’ is a hard sentence.
Well, after much work I’m riding again but it isn’t enough; I want to do something I never could do before. Hence, the unicycle. Then it occurred to me that there were LOTS of ‘impossible’ things I could learn to do. What if I did another one every year? If I start this year and only live as long as my mother has so far, that’s 29 impossibilities (but right now she’s down in California taking care of her mother, who is pushing 100). What’s the best way to use that time? What would life be like?
It’s fun to think up impossibility possibilities: juggling, cartooning, calculus, tightrope walking. They’ll start to interconnect.
I noticed during physical therapy that the most noticeable improvement was between sessions. It was as if my brain took notes during sessions and then prepared for the next one. The same thing is true on my unicycle, which I have been practicing for three weeks. Last night, for the first time, I rode ten feet without holding on to anything. Smoothly, easily, just a few seconds of pure joy.
- 02 April, about 100 feet
- 05 April, Still learning to steer, been practicing at the skateboard park, riding along a straight space on one edge of the fenced-in area. Kids on skateboards (who are themselves amazing to watch) are amused but very friendly and tolerant of geezer on unicycle.
- 15 April, about five weeks. Can steer much better. Learning to ride on inclined surfaces and attempting starts on flat surface without holding on to anything. Have ordered some better pedals (grip is important) and a (hopefully) more comfortable seat. I think that with the same level of practice, a healthy 10-year-old would have taken about a week to get to this point. Makes every bit of progress that much sweeter.