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Training yourself to think differently

Written By | May 18, 2015

PETALUMA, Calif., May 18, 2015 – As it turns out, you really can forget how to ride a bike. All it takes is a little effort. About eight months, to be exact.

At least that’s how long it took Destin Sandlin. As a joke, some friends at work gave him a bike specially designed to veer left when the handlebars were turned right, and right when turned left. In order to ride it, he had to first unlearn all he’d been taught as a kid before he could successfully and (somewhat) gracefully navigate his way down the sidewalk.

What took him so long?

“My thinking was in a rut,” says the affable engineer on a recent episode of his popular “Smarter Every Day” series on YouTube. “I had the knowledge of how to operate the bike, but I did not have the understanding.”

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Such is the case with all great advances in science.

Not that this was a particularly earth-shattering discovery. It did, however, present Sandlin with what he describes as “a really deep revelation” and the rest of us with a metaphor for what can be accomplished when we’re willing to change our own ingrained thinking about how things work.

It starts by adopting the same “out with the old, in with the new” attitude as Sandlin, the practicality of which has been preached for millennia. “Who would patch old clothing with new cloth?” asks Jesus. “For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.”

Good to know.

It also helps to think like a kid. It took Sandlin’s 8-year-old son only two weeks to learn how to ride the same “backward bike” as his dad. This isn’t to suggest that we’re not all capable of this same mental elasticity, only that it might take a little extra effort.

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But perhaps most importantly, it takes focus. “Any small distractions at all,” says Sandlin, “like a cellphone ringing in my pocket, would instantly throw my brain back to the old control algorithm and I would wreck.”

So what can we expect as a result?

For Sandlin, it was simply a matter of proving to himself that something could be done and understanding the reason why. For others (picture Copernicus, Einstein, Marconi and the like), their willingness to think differently literally changed the world.

Among this list of luminaries is Mary Baker Eddy, a woman whose readiness to see the universe in an entirely different light led to her discovery of the spiritual nature of health and healing. “It is our ignorance of God, the divine Principle, which produces apparent discord,” she writes in Science and Health, “and the right understanding of Him restores harmony.”

In order to fully grasp this idea, however, Eddy, like Sandlin, had to first unlearn much of what she’d been led to believe about the relationship between soul and body, mind and matter – to mentally turn right when she wanted to go left, and left when she wanted to go right – until she realized that contrary to popular belief, health wasn’t a condition of matter but of the one divine Mind or God governing one and all.

“Things spiritual and eternal are substantial,” she realized. “Things material and temporal are insubstantial.”

The big difference, of course, between Sandlin’s experiment and Eddy’s own discovery is that Eddy wasn’t simply looking for a different way to do the same thing or even a better understanding of how the human brain works. What she was after was nothing less than “the Science of… healing” – that is, a unique and exclusively spiritual approach to gaining and maintaining health.

Redefining the mind-body connection

While it doesn’t make much sense to learn how to ride one of Sandlin’s “right to go left, left to go right” bikes, there are advantages to training ourselves to think differently or, at the very least, being aware of those patterns of thought that may be getting in the way progress. Even if they’re as familiar to us as riding a bike, it’s good to know that even these can be unlearned.

Eric Nelson writes each week on the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Read similar columns on his website and follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson’s column “Consciousness and Health” has appeared on a number of national media websites including The Washington Times, The Washington Post, KevinMD, The Houston Chronicle and American Public Media's "On Being” blog. Eric also serves as the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Northern California, enjoys road biking, and is more than happy to chat with anyone, anytime, about baseball.