Dale S. Foster, PhD
When I was 14, I got a job working in my grandfather’s garage washing the cars from his used car lot. Before anyone could tell me not to, I was driving the washed cars from the wash rack back to the lot.
I remember the day I learned experientially the difference between an automatic transmission and a manual transmission. I had observed others drive a straight shift many times, but I had never done it myself. With the overconfidence of youth, I decided it looked easy enough and so I hopped in the driver’s seat of the Rambler American with a three speed on the column manual transmission I had just washed and backed it out of the wash rack down the hill onto the street that ran steeply by the garage doors of my grandfather’s shop and down into Spring Park.
You can imagine the grinding of gears and burning of clutch that occurred for the next what seemed like an eternity as I attempted to shift that monster into first gear and drive it up the hill. As I sat leaning forward in the driver’s seat, breathing heavily, the car precariously perched at the steepest part of the hill with the nose pointed uphill, both feet firmly planted on the break, and with the smell of burning clutch in the air, George the mechanic with one prosthetic leg, limped toward me and took over my position as driver.
I was amazed at his dexterity as he operated the brake, clutch, accelerator, steering wheel and gear shifter quickly and smoothly and drove that sputtering, smoking Rambler uphill into the garage bay.
His timing was impeccable, in so many ways. I felt a much-needed flood of humility as I realized he was a much better driver with one leg than I was with two. I also felt a deep sense of gratitude for his invaluable lessons in driving and kindness. He didn’t say a word. He just looked at me kindly as if to say, “That’s how you do it. Glad I could help.”
So much of life depends upon such impeccable timing, much of which we take for granted. Just maintaining consciousness depends upon the near perfect timing of trillions and trillions of brain and bodily functions every second.
We don’t realize how precarious this timing is until we lose some aspect of our health and set about trying to get it back. As a neuropsychologist I spend much of my time helping people “tune up their brains” by adjusting the timing of their brain networks. This is done through EEG biofeedback training, a method of reading the electrical activity of the brain and showing it to the trainee in such a way that they can adjust its timing, in real time.
The success of this approach to optimizing health has proven to be much greater, in most cases, than traditional talk therapy or drug therapy. It’s like experiential learning rather than observational learning. I could watch someone else drive a straight shift or talk about driving a straight shift and still not know how to drive a straight shift. It was only after I successfully drove a straight shift that I knew how.
Tuning up your brain through EEG biofeedback training to improve its timing is experiential learning that surpasses the theoretical learning of just talking about it. And just like George the one-legged mechanic, you can learn to drive expertly through life, no matter your limitations, with impeccable timing.