Saturday, December 6, 2014

Old Dog, New Tricks

It must have been during my stint as a post-doctoral fellow in Ann Arbor, 1993-1995. I distinctly recall upon reading a certain scientific paper, I wrote on margin of the front page, “old dog, new tricks”. Although I remember my reaction clearly, I can’t remember the title of the article, what year it was published, which scientific journal it was in, or the authors’ names. I can’t even remember the methods, design, or results of the paper. (Ten years ago, when I was still in academia, this type of information would have been a breeze to remember.) I just remember that my quick conclusion was that new motor patterns can be learned even by the very elderly. It was convincing evidence to me that old dogs can learn new tricks.

My last blog post garnered a few comments about left v right, habit, and movement patterns. That made me think about issues of habit and motor learning. And about “rules” for spinning.

I may be a keen observer of rules of the road, but I am a scofflaw when it comes to rules of spinning. I do hold to just a very few rules:

  1. Don’t hurt yourself….or anyone else.
  2. If what you are doing results in what you want, then keep doing it.
  3. If you don’t like your results, change what you’re doing. (Yes, Dr. Phil.)
But to “change what you’re doing” can be difficult for some. Just know that it’s not impossible. To change movement habits is just like learning a new movement skill: it requires:

  1. A willingness to change/learn.
  2. Accepting that you will be clumsy, slow, and error-filled at first.
  3. A lot of mindful practice. Be aware. Pay attention. Adjust.
About a year ago, I read a post on Facebook about the issue of double spacing after a period in typing. I learned to type in High School and was taught to double space after a period. That was on a typewriter. Now, computer fonts allow for easy reading of sentences and it is recommended that only one space follow a period.

After 40 years of a well-learned habit, could I change? It took about two months of concerted effort, but now the single space is as natural to me as the double space once was. Two months of awkward hesitations in my typing. And a conscious effort to change. That’s all it took.

I will admit that I relish learning new movements. I trained as a dancer for 20 years. I immersed myself in the neuroscience and biomechanics of movement for another 20. I fundamentally value movement and learning new movements. I can accept that not all folks will have the same attitude about movement. That’s ok with me.

Here’s another perspective on the left v right sided flyer: My friend, Sylvia VM, who is selling the wheel, sent me an email today in which she commented: “Kinda like how to hold chop sticks? It’s about getting the food to your mouth.”

So, whether the flyer is on the right or the left, whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, whether you hold the right hand in front or the left….it’s about spinning fiber into yarn.


  1. Excellent post, Amy. I could not help but think how your words relate, not only to spinning, but to all of life.