Redesigning Neural Pathways

As I was laying in bed last night, looking up at the ceiling and trying to fall asleep, a revelation came to me: I don’t know the alphabet backwards.

Now, this is a real problem. I mean, what would I do if a cop pulled me over for an impromptu alcohol test? I can imagine it now, “Mr. Chapin, please stand on one leg, touch your nose with your index finger, and recite the alphabet backwards for me”. To which I would reply, “err… uh… but I can’t!”, and would end up in jail even though I was sober as could be.

These are the kind of thoughts that go through my head whenever my body is inactive and my mind refuses to shut off (usually when I’m either attempting to go to sleep, or when I’m taking a shower). Yup. Some of my best insights take place while I am washing my hair.

So anyways, I immediately set about to teach myself the alphabet backwards. To make it interesting, I resolved to do it all entirely in my head without using a piece of paper or writing device even once. This may be ridiculously easy for some of you, but I’m one of those people who can only recite the alphabet in sing-song. Take away the song, and I’m lost even when I’m going forward! Whenever I’m indexing things in alphabetical order (like a file cabinet, for instance), I end up singing the alphabet song in my head every time I need to figure out whether “e” comes before “f”. This usually means that the alphabet song gets sung in my head a couple hundred times before I’m finished.

Ah. The dangers of learning things in sing-song…

Here’s the method that I contrived and used to re-teach myself the alphabet both forwards and backwards while I was laying in bed:

1. Sing the alphabet in my head to find the first three letters, “abc”.
2. State the three letters in my head to myself again, but this time in normal tone, “abc”.
3. Reverse the three letters and state them to myself again, “cba”.
4. Mentally draw the shapes of the letters in forwards order.
5. Mentally draw the shapes of the letters again, but this time in reverse order.
6. Repeat until it feels “natural”.
7. Repeat steps 1 through 6, over and over, making three letter sequences for all the letters in the alphabet: abc, def, ghi, jkl, mno, pqr, stu, vwx, yz
8. Practice chaining together the first couple of sequences in my head, “abc, def”.
9. Practice chaining together the same sequence, but this time in backwards mode, “fed, cba”.
10. Repeat until it feels “natural”.
11. Repeat steps 8 through 10 to chain together the remaining sequences.
12. Haltingly practice saying the alphabet backwards, one sequence at a time, “zy, xwv, uts, rqp, onm, lkj, ihg, fed, cba”.
13. Repeat over and over until it feels “natural”.
14. Speed up recitation and attempt to find the sing-song rythm, “zyxwvut srqponmlk jih gfe dc b and a”.
15. Go to sleep and let my subconscious mind ponder the changes to my brain.
16. Wake up in the morning and recite the alphabet forwards and backwards while taking a shower.
17. Recite forwards and backwards both before sleeping and after waking up, for an entire week.