The hardest thing about driving on the other side of the road while visiting New Zealand was the fact that the blinker and windshield wipers were on opposite sides of the steering column. Every time I went to make a turn, I turned on the wipers. I didn’t drive enough to break the habit but Chris came home and for the first few weeks we were back he had the same problem here.
As we drove away from the airport, both of us moderately flipping out at the roundabouts and different road signs, Chris said, “I think I can actually feel new neural pathways forming in my brain.”
I’ve been feeling that way the past few days after getting what I think is my first actual smart phone. Every pathway in my brain associated with “phone” has been challenged, changed, moved or modified in the last few days. I got the phone on Friday and Monday was the first time it rang. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I didn’t actually know how to answer it. (Even though I am well aware that I use my phone less and less to make phone calls, I didn’t realize exactly to what degree that was true.)
I’ve read and heard a little bit about what you should do to prevent, or what you *can* do to help prevent Alzheimers Disease. It’s a moderate concern for me because although my mom is 76 and still very sharp, two of my great aunts on my mom’s side of the family had pretty severe cases. (Not really sure if my grandmother might have suffered as well since she died at a younger age.) So I know one of the most important things you can do is constantly challenge your mind by learning new info, or doing crossword puzzles, etc.
I generally think this won’t be difficult for me because I read so much. Last year, I read 29 novels. Yes, you read that right. 29. I even surprised myself when I tallied it up in the last weeks of the year and it’s even more impressive when I mention that all 29 were novels *not* associated with my dissertation work. This was just my pleasure reading. (I won’t even consider the number of student writing pages I read in a year. <shiver>)
But I wonder if reading counts in terms of setting new neural pathways. It’s not that I don’t get great, new experiences from reading and considering a blog I was looking at earlier tonight, I seriously need to be writing young adult fiction since that is the genre all 29 books fall into. But the act of reading itself is completely natural, a pathway in my brain that might be inches deep. Is reading new novels really going to challenge my brain in the *right* ways?
Other than wondering if anyone is doing research on how our constantly evolving technological culture affects the potential of Alzheimers, I began to wonder if there were other areas of my life where some more hidden pathways might exist. I’ve already written in this blog about how I’ve challenged my emotional life to a great degree by choosing to be happy, and focusing on doing things and spending time with people who make me happy. These are already new paths my heart is wandering down.
It’s these hidden emotional pathways, I think, that are the most distressing for me. When I think about my family, I think about a set of thoughts or ideas that constantly reoccur, like wanting my mom to take better care of herself, or my brother to pull his head out of his ass. I’ve been having the same emotional reactions to my family members for most of my life. And it’s not just my family. Take any set category of people (politicians, teachers, therapists, musicians, etc.) and I’m guessing I have some sort of emotional pathway set up for them as well.
It’s sort of a game of emotional shortcuts but I think I might be the one getting shorted. If I’m really going to commit to living an emotionally dynamic life, then I think I need to take stock of these stock reactions and see if I can’t shake up or change my own emotional pathways. I mean, if my phone can do that for my brain, the least I can do is the same for my heart.