Mirror Writing

Unplug the mouse from the right side of your keyboard and into the left (or vice versa). Use it. Not just for 30 seconds but all day long. Shocking how difficult this, like mirror writing. Start by feeling like you’re stumbling across the surface of the moon. Then move on to more subtle annoyances, like wishing scrollbars were on the other side of windows. Overall, it’s a realization of just how lopsided your brain/body patterns have become with time (I’ll wager this experiment is harder the longer you’ve been using computers).

Creeping pain in forearms/elbows has me looking for ways to minimize onset of RSI difficulties.

Music: The 5th Dimension :: One Less Bell To Answer

23 Replies to “Mirror Writing”

  1. Scot,

    I have the advantage of being married to a left-hander, and the mouse is more-often-than-not on the left of the keyboard. This has enabled me to become slightly ambidextrous mouse-wise.

    The thing that gets my wrists aching, though, is keyboard shortcuts. I want to be able to work as fast as I think (some hope!) so shortcuts are the way forward. They also require some fairly strenuous hand stretching in order to press certain key combos, so the’re a bit of a pain.

    Other than that, the main problem for me at the moment is shoulder muscle pain.

  2. I’ve been switching the mouse to the other side and back since I first started using computers with mice and never had pains of any kind.
    I’m lefthanded myself and found it very easy to do.
    As for shoulder pain; the thing is to have COCA (Continuaty Of Conscious Awareness) ie. knowing when
    you are tensioning up and keeping your body loose and relaxed at all times.
    I have to admit that this is more easily said than done.


  3. I use a trackball where I am now (at work), and it’s not even really possible to use it on the left side. The molding for it is designed so specifically for right-hand use that you wouldn’t be able to operate it that way.

  4. Way ahead of you :-)

    I’ve been left-mousing for several years now – originally also as an attempt to escape RSI, but by now it also makes working with the mouse more efficient (right hand stays on the keyboard in the vicinity of the return and arrow keys).

  5. Scot–

    I too use the logitech marble mouse, and love it — it’s the only truly reversible (lefty or righty) trackball I’ve ever seen. plus the ball pops out easily so you can fiddle with it while thinking up your next profound phrase, or roll it between your palms for a little acupressure stimulation, or whatever.

    And I switch sides every couple of months — whenever I start to detect some twinges in my mousing arm. It was a little odd at first but with practice the ambidexterity becomes easy enough to manage. If you have a 2-button mouse, you’ll want to switch which button is the main button (this is easy to do in Windows – not sure about Macs).


  6. Periodic change of input device is helpful.
    But don’t overlook the most important part, which is taking regular breaks and stretching out your hands before, during, and after long PC sessions.
    If you are having pain you should get away from the computer at least every 30 minutes. Also, you say elbow/forearm pain, so make sure the tender parts of elbows and forearms are not resting on anything. Armless chairs are good for this.

  7. Well, I guess that’s a big point for Apple’s one-button mouse – it’s also truly ambidexterous.

    This is starting to get easier already. Not yet comfortable, but already feeling like this might be doable after all.

  8. I never saw a point in switching the mouse buttons – it takes only little practice to do all (double-)clicking with the middle finger, and this way it is unambiguous when you talk about the ‘left mouse button’ (unless you’re in the company of old-school hackers, which would enjoy distinguishing between the ‘real’, the ‘virtual’ and the ‘effective’ left button).

  9. I’ve had off and on problems for a long time.

    Guaranteed to caused me pain within 10 minutes:
    -use a trackball device
    -use a mouse on a table (higher than keyboard tray)
    -use a keyboard on a table (higher than keyboard tray)

    Other factors include stress, lack of exercise and duration of use.

    I have found that regular upper body work (pushups, pullups and situps) helps almost immediately. So does a full massage.

    The most ergonomic device I have used is the nipple pointer on my thinkpad–my TiBook’s track pad is far worse as it involves a lot more writst and arm twisting and motion.

    It’s different for everybody–I know people that swear by track balls–these are what I’ve discovered about my own body.

  10. Jamie is right about exercise, and Vincent’s right about being conscious of tension in your body. But most doctors will tell you to stay away from hand exercisers (stress balls, strength-building springs, whatever) if you are feeling pain. If it hurts, don’t exercise it until it doesn’t hurt. If your hands hurt, ride your bike. If your legs hurt, do some situps. Etc. Trying to strengthen stressed out joints will only make it worse.

    If it ever progresses from plain old pain to lack of feeling, or tingling, or loss of fine motor control, you should really see a doctor immediately.

  11. Fortunately I don’t seem to have any issues with tension in the shoulders or neck or anything – I’ve been blissfully free from “tense muscles” my entire life.

    Thanks all for the many great recommendations, URLs, etc.

  12. I use (despite being a mac head) a microsoft natural keyboard pro and a microsoft trackball explorer 1 with my mac. Their drivers are huge, but they work ok – be sure to download the new ones for 10.2. I’ve had remarkably few hand problems since switching to these tools, and when I do it’s the tendons on the top of my left hand, so it’s probably not the mouse device. I stuck the trackball on a Fellows mouse tray with the gel wrist rest. Very nice – but turn the mouse pad part upside down so the trackball base doesn’t slide about.

    Also, there are exercises for your hands, neck, back and so forth to avoid RSI injuries from keyboarding. I learned mine while contracting for Intel, and they work like gangbusters. I’m sure they are on the web someplace.

    The big ones for the hands that I remember are spread your fingers as wide and straight as they’ll comfortably go 10 times. Between stretches, curl your fingers into a loose fist.

    For the other one make a fist and roll your wrists through their range of motion ten times in each direaction. When the crunchy sounds stop, and the back of your hand doesn’t feel like a cheap guitar with steel strings (from the guitar’s point of view) they’re stretched out. :)

    I seem to recall arm and shoulder circles being part of the deal, but you’d be better off looking this up anyway. :)


  13. Oh yeah, another hand exercise: Shake your hands out – relax the fingers and wrists and give them a gentle shake, like you’ve got something gross on them you’re trying to get off. Don’t do this one too hard, or you’ll feel it in your wrist bones. I think this one was for less than 10 reps, but I don’t recall. This one’s really good for tight thumbs and wrists.


  14. I had a chance to try Logitech’s wireless keyboard for the Mac today and was impressed that it has working audio control keys, which I thought no 3rd party keyboards could have. Felt great.

    Had my first doc’s visit for RSI today and he showed me these excercises you describe and more. I think I’m on a good road to recovery here.

  15. my seventh grade class and i are learning about the brain this semester. we’re practicing mirror writing for a few weeks to see if we’d develope a new skill. it’s a new experience for all of us. it’s really fun, but too complicated.before i wrote this i was practicing with the mouse being on the other side and after a while there was a tinsy bit of tension in my neck. just wondering, if you practic mirror writing, is it normal to forget some things that you normally wouldn’t forget?example;if every morning you shower and when you’re done you’re supposed to get out of the shower but you just stand there in the water because you think you forgot to do something in the shower when really you should be coming out of the shower? what i just wrote might not make perfect sense, but i really want to know. there were other experiences too

  16. dude!

    this is so cool!! my class is doing that to. hey, i don’t know about the whole forgetting thing. maybe it is somekind of after effect. i dunno. hey i hope you guys don’t mind answering his question. it sounds important

  17. Clemence, I really can’t imagine how or why practicing with mirror writing or similar would cause one to forget to do things…

  18. i can do mirror writing (with ither of my hands) and use ither hand for using a mouse or texting or drawing.

  19. i’ve started mirror-writing when i was about 17, all of the sudden, and had never heard of it before i just started off. and have been using it ever since. i am right-handed and don’t use the mouse with the left hand, although i also can do that as well. the other skill i tried and succeeded at is double mirror-writing. i tried it because i wanted to write things on the over-head projector. it requires one to write not only from right to left, but also upsidedown. like in two mirrors. i’d like to know if there is anyone else who has tried that

  20. Hi, Im right-handed woman and can mirror write and so can my twin sister(not identical) and my daughter can too and shes ten. We write forwards with our right hands and backwards with our left hands at the same time. None of us are dyslexic. Like other people we just stumbled upon it. Im not sure what made us decide to write backwards we just did!

  21. Hello, I was reading about mirror writing and came across this old posting. I can read and write backwards with both hands and upside down with equal facility. I also just stumbled onto this ‘skill’ accidentally and it seemed to come naturally. I remember I used to keep mirror notes at uni.
    I’m reading that it is probably genetically linked, which is intriguing because it has always been a family quirk that many on my mother’s side are lefthanded and are in graphic related professions, But I do not know if they can write backward or even related!

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