Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a marvelous post about creative cross-training on her blog, here:

I wanted to take that idea and riff on it a bit.

I completely agree with Kris that it’s important to cross-train your brain, as it were. Particularly if you’re a creative.

My process is different than hers, though. She talks about the need to be challenged. I do not feel the need to be challenged. That just doesn’t work for me. This is one of the ways in which we strongly differ.

New things? Yes. Challenging myself regularly? Naw. I’ll pass.

According to Kris, if left to her own devices, she can’t just sit and write for days on end. Her brain needs something else to do.

I’m similar but in different ways.

For one, I need physical movement. I’ve said for years that if my body is moving, the words are flowing. It is so important for me to get up every hour and get in my steps. It’s why, when I do a writing marathon, I always have a high step goal to go along with the high word count goal. I need that movement for the writing to keep working.

In addition, I’ve had what I call the “anti-stodgy” campaign for over fifteen years now. (I started it when I was forty-five.) This means I’m constantly trying new things. Learning new things. Doing different things.

In this way, I’ve been cross-training my brain for years. Brain plasticity boils down to having a younger brain that can still learn and make new cross-connections. I have been working on that for years, and continue to work on it regularly.

One of the important things to remember, though, is that not all new experiments are successful. Oh, it was successful because it was new. However, the outcome may not be what I’d intended.

That’s okay too. I’m not attached to the outcome. I’m attached to the learning and trying new things regularly.

One of the things she mentions is learning a new language. She takes classes in person and has tests and grades.

Just thinking about that makes my skin crawl. Then again, school was never my thing. I always felt that school got in the way of my education. I would have been much better off left to my own devices and learning whatever it was that I was interested in learning at the time.

Yet at the same time, I’ve been doing Duolingo for 1394 days. Over three years. I started just with Hungarian and made my way to the end of the lessons there. Now, I’m picking up Spanish, and I’m doing both Spanish and Hungarian every day. It stretches my brain in interesting ways.

They’re so different. And I will admit to occasionally bemoaning just how difficult Hungarian is sometimes—particularly compared to Spanish. I still make mistakes in Spanish because of learning Hungarian first.

For example, the verb “to be” isn’t included in a lot of Hungarian sentences. In English, and in Spanish, we’d say “The window is blue.” In Hungarian, it’s just “The window blue.” So when I’m speaking Spanish, I frequently drop the verb. You also add the definite article to Hungarian sentences all the time, whereas you don’t in either English or Spanish. Etc.

But it’s good that they’re different. It’s good to stretch my brain in new and interesting ways. It’s good for me to think about language in different ways, which is really what Hungarian and Spanish do for me. It shifts my worldview, and I think that’s a good thing.

One of the other things that I know is good for my brain, that I’ve come to realize is even better for my brain than I’d first thought, is the ability to walk on trails through our property. I know that not everyone has that privilege.

But walking on rough terrain improves brain plasticity. Though I aim for 10K steps per day, I don’t always make it. I figure that’s okay because I’m not walking on concrete. I’m walking through the trees, or on rutted roads, purposefully taking the rougher parts, to encourage my brain to stay healthy.

Just walking, though, even if you’re not on trails, is important. Or running. Or yoga, or martial arts, or whatever it is that you’re doing to cross-train your brain, keep yourself healthy and young.

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