Introduction: How to Develop Ambidexterity

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“I know something you don’t know…I am not left-handed”
-Inigo Montoya                             

I am naturally right-handed, but one day during my senior year of college (over five years ago now) I found myself so board I started writing notes with my left hand.  This got me wondering how much practice would be required to develop genuine ambidexterity.  I’ve been practicing using my left hand ever since.  I started this process fairly late in life and haven’t focused on it as much as I could so I’m still far from ambidextrous.  Nevertheless, the practice has started to pay dividends recently, so I decided to share some tips.

Because this instructable could be used by either right or left dominant individuals I will be using the good old roll playing game terms of “main hand” and “off-hand” to describe the naturally dominant and non-dominant hands respectively

I’ve divided up these tips into several areas where I have found it easy to incorporate off-handed activities and further divided each area into varying difficulty levels.

Disclaimer: I am neither a neuroscientist nor a physical therapist.  Everything I’m offering is from personal experience.

Step 1: Eating

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The first area where I really incorporated off-handed practice was eating.  It’s not all that challenging, but it adds a baseline of fine motor skills to the fingers and wrist to help get over the awkward, ham-fisted, shoulder and elbow dominant movements you’ll experience initially.

Beginner:Forks and Spoons.  Pretty straight forward, hold your selected utensil in you off-hand and try to get food from your plate to your mouth without any messy detours.

Intermediate:Knives.  Try cutting your steak with the knife in your left hand.  Just make sure that you don’t accidentally flip your food onto your neighbor’s lap.

Advanced:Chopsticks.  In modern Western culture chopsticks are the epitome of esoteric eating implements.  They’re also a good precursor to holding and manipulating writing utensils.

Step 2: Personal Hygiene

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Building on the foundation of motor skills established by off-handed eating, personal grooming starts to develop the all-important kinesthetic sense.

Beginner:Tooth brushing.  Once again, pretty easy, just don’t poke yourself in the eye.

Intermediate:Hair care.  Hair brushing and shaving can be a bit uncomfortable if you get them wrong, which means you have a lot of incentive to get them right

Advanced:Makeup, and…other things.  If you’re of a makeup-wearing persuasion, try applying it with your off-hand.  For non-makeup-wearing types your alternative is even riskier: toilet paper.  There’s a strong negative feedback loop here, so be careful and learn fast.

Step 3: Cooking

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It’s a bit of a dying art among my generation, but I still cook my dinners from scratch almost every day.  This makes a fantastic arena for off-handed tool and technique practice, as well as strength and endurance development.  If you don’t cook for yourself regularly, maybe you could start practicing that too. 

Beginner:Stirring and opening.  Chances are you can do this already, just stir/mix/kneed your food items with your off-hand.  (Hopefully you’ve washed your hands thoroughly after your advanced personal hygiene practice.)  You should also be able to open jars, bottles, and cans off-handed with a little extra effort.

Intermediate:Peeling and spreading.  Peeling carrots and potatoes and spreading condiments on bread require a surprising amount of endurance and dexterity that you don’t usually think about when using your main hand.  Just be prepared to clean up after the mess you're going to make.

Advanced:Knives.  Try cutting your ingredients while wielding your well-sharpened weapon of choice in your off-hand.  Simple in theory, terrifying in practice.  WARNING: I have cut myself severely on several occasions while holding a knife in my main hand.  Be very mindful of your skill level and limitations.

Step 4: Other

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There are dozens of other activities in your daily life that can be easily converted into off-handed practice.  Just be aware of what you do with your hands and switch it up.

Beginner:Reaching.  Make it a habit of reaching out with your off-hand.  Every doorknob, button, switch, and glass of water is an opportunity for practice.

Intermediate: Technology.  Can you browse the web, send a text, or change tracks on your MP3 player using only your off-hand?

Advanced:Writing.  The Holy Grail of ambidexterity is writing.  If you ever get to this point, leave me a note.  I’m not there yet.

Step 5: Additional Tips

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Switch responsibilities, not just tools.  If you’re eating a steak, don’t just swap utensils, make sure your off-hand is taking over the responsibility of manipulating the food.

Make it a habit.  The only way to develop ambidexterity is to get practice, and lots of it.  Your brain has been wired by years of repetition from birth to favor one hand over the other.  The only way to get enough practice to even things out is to make it part of as many daily tasks as possible.

Make it fun.  You’ll never keep up with this if you don’t find some value in it, especially after you’ve spilled or broken a few things.  My primary motivation for practicing with my off-hand is personal amusement and it keeps me interested.

Step 6: Why Bother?

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Amusement: As I’ve said my primary motivation is personal amusement in the face of a boring daily routine.  I bet you could turn it into a good party trick too.

Mental Exercise: I haven’t seen anything specific about ambidexterity, but experts are always telling us that our brains are a muscle that we need to exercise.

Sports: I can’t think of a single sport in which ambidexterity would not be an advantage.  Switch hitting, anyone?

Music: Maybe I would have been better at playing the piano if my teacher had suggested I start eating my cereal with my off-hand.

Injury: Hopefully your chances of a hand-crippling accident are fairly low, but having a solid foundation with your off-hand will give you a head start if your main hand ever winds up in a cast.

Comments

qqmajikpp (author)2015-10-26

I've always known that I was ambidextrous to some degree. I am mostly right handed, but i can use a mouse or trackball, my phone or even my chording keyboard with either hand easily. i can eat with either hand (except chop sticks thats righted only) and I can write with both hands... but there is a trick to that. i can only write on paper on a horizontal surface with my right hand and on a vertical surface like a chalk board with my left hand (i just figured out i can do this). the penmanship is terrible either way but they look the same. i can also write on a chalk board backwards with my left hand (which my right hand somehow struggles with.)

oneanother1 (author)2013-04-15

Hey dood. you may want to have an evaluation for adhd or dyslexia because they often are found to have ambidextrous characteristics. Just a thought

twohanded1488 (author)2013-02-20

I'm naturally right-handed but I have over the years developed quite a high degree of ambidexterity. What I have learned from my experience is that the fastest and the best way of developing this ability is to start right away with exercises that utilize both hands simultaneously AND independently. The exercise that fills these criteria and the one I strongly believe to be the most effective and practical is this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzk0AlxJ-IM

Start with two tennis rackets or table tennis rackets and gradually move on to smaller and smaller rackets/hammers. It's endlessly challenging and will rewire your brain like no other.

lferal (author)2012-10-05

to the author i have perfected my ambidextrous training & i can even play Arnis(sword play) with my left & completely be left handed

@ the topic about brain injury & damage brain for using both hemisphere 100% id say is not proven for I my self remember when i was 6yo I was a left handed that was conform to being right handed because of society & parental pressure due to me being incapable of teaching my self to wright on kinder the teachers & parents use to hold my right hand tracing & teaching me to write & in deed it was hard im the slowest in my class

my theory therefore lead me to this i learn to write even in cursive in just less than a week i manage do all things left hand & even go everywhere wearing an injury handband just to not be silly when they ask why am i using my left when im right handed

this is so remarkable in a way i can't even explain it even my my eyes are crossed dominance before it was right also but now i manage to make it left by wearing an eye patch i think differently

the hand writhing & the cross dominance of the left hand & eye is very important because its the main stimulation of the right brain i hope you also get my point someday author i thank you so much for your guide

btw to make my training fast i made an improvise wight strap for me to train my left arm faster

lferal (author)2012-09-16

dude your tips helped me allot thanks so much

btw. i repress some memories of me being at pre.school that im a lefty but because of parental pressure i was shifted to being right handed

all i need now is to perfect the rhythm of my hand on writing everything else from martial arts to the usage of my mouse to all left & i can say my self i excel

I,m aiming to get a degree on psych. & get a guidance councilor title i want to be a social worker someday that teaches ambidexterity to who ever needed it like firework victim soldiers & others who are initially lefty but was shifted to righty for some reason

no wonder im immune to the world changing & not dullard with herd mentality im a lefty just turned righty

pipsqueakboy (author)2012-09-13

On the other hand injury could help your ambidexterity. if you need to use your non dominate hand you'll learn better.

lferal (author)2012-08-05

about the mastery of writing on your secondary hand

I'm already there but my hand writing on my primary is already bad more so on the secondary^^

im a game all my life but just recently change to novel enthusiast so i think playing video games on a controller helped me a bit just a "bit" for i can text message equal to the speed of my right hand

im also an enthusiast of martial arts/working-out/body-discipline im 20yo but since i was 12 im already making finger push-up till now i can do it with only my thumbs but only at the count of 10 but almost limitless on 5 fingers also can only do if my weight is under 60kilo enough to make the crowd fear you or give respect on a talent portion if your introducing your self on your new job of classmates ^^

-on the writing you focus is split

for example im writing an essay half of my focus is on my secondary hand & half of it on my thinking brain so im still not there yet i can do it but only 1/4 the speed of my primary hand

also im a psychologist & im really looking for a theory of the cognitive effect of being ambidextrous

Grand Wanderer (author)lferal2012-08-06

I can't remember where, but I have heard that ambidexterity increases the strength of the connection between the two halves of your brain. Theoretically then it should allow you to make more use of your available cognitive abilities, rather than having to switch gears from logical to creative and so on.

lemonie (author)2012-05-21

Is the message is "Practice doing things with the other hand."?

L

Grand Wanderer (author)lemonie2012-05-21

hahaha, at it's most basic, yes. Like so many things in life there's no magic to it, just practice. I imagine if you were working with a professional physical therapist trying to produce the same results you would have weekly sessions lasting multiple hours utilizing a variety of special purpose equipment, but at its root the methodology would be the same: practice. My goal was to provide a simple list of practical ways in which that practice could easily be incorporated into your daily routine without special effort.

lemonie (author)Grand Wanderer2012-05-21

Do you think that both hands are equally-capable, but for learning to be come speciallised, or that you're actually fighting a left-right-brain thing?

L

Grand Wanderer (author)lemonie2012-05-21

An interesting question. Not being a neuroscientist I couldn't say with any authority. I know that there are people who are genuinely ambidextrous via training. Usually it is a left handed person who started learning to use their right hand at an early age to fit into a right hand dominated society.

Barring brain injury I don't think there's anything but adequate practice time preventing someone from developing ambidexterity.

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