Riding a bicycle, learning, and neural plasticity

Like most of you, perhaps, I have demonstrated some expertise at the ability to ride a bicycle since the age of 3.

Unlike most of you, I have perfected that skill in multiple expedition bicycle races, featured on CBS Sport three times, bicycle tours throughout Europe, the maritime provinces, and the U.S.  Big deal, right?

So what would happen if I tried to UN-LEARN that skill?

1.  In this cool video clip, a bicycle was re-engineered so that when the handlebars were turned one way, the wheel would go in the opposite direction.

2.  It took an adult 8 months to LEARN how to ride this new bike.

3.  It took his 3-year old son 3 weeks to LEARN how to ride this new bike.

What do these two facts say about the brain’s ability to learn a new behavior, then to unlearn that behavior after 8 months of reinforcement?

(Pause and reflect here…)


One of my Dartmouth College professors, in an obtuse course called Developmental PsychoBiology, taught me that we have neural pathways that reinforce certain behaviors.  Call them habits.  When we practice using our right hand with a fork to eat spaghetti, we can reinforce that pattern until it becomes “learned.”  If we want to eat spaghetti with chopsticks we need to learn a new neural pattern, until it becomes a habit.

Too many adults say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  Nonsense.  There is abundant empirical evidence to the contrary, for both dogs and humans.  Such a perspective is based upon ignorance.

So an executive coaching question may be, “What new behaviors do you need to learn?”

Examples include:

  • calling 10 former friends to say “Hello, how are you? I miss you.”
  • being kind to someone who needs kindness
  • supporting the strengths of your loved ones, immediately, by doing or saying something complimentary and true.  Immediately.  Repeatedly.
  • learning a new skill, such as how to play the banjo, speak Spanish, or write javascript
  • self-advocate for that promotion or new challenge at work
  • re-design your career or future

If you need a boost (and we all need a boost at times) then give me a call today.


I’d like to know what you are interested in doing.  Or UN-Learning.