There’s an age-old debate between the right brain, the left brain and whether or not we are able to use both evenly. After completely losing the function of the left side of her brain in an unexpected stroke, Harvard-trained neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Taylor, stumbled upon new insight on our ability to strengthen both sides.
Dr. Jill is the best-selling author of her memoir My Stroke of Insight, which recounts her experience in recovery after a severe stroke left her unable to walk, read, write or recall any of her life. Her iconic TED Talk has been viewed over 22 million times and her work has been featured all over the globe from Oprah to The New York Times and much more.
In a recent interview on The Science of Success, Dr. Jill explains how we can create a balance between the right and left side of our brain. She says that the first and most important step in learning how to control both sides of your brain is understanding the role each one has in your everyday life.
The Right Side
Think of the right side as your big picture thinker. The right side enjoys open schedules, freedom to explore and opportunities to innovate. The right side doesn’t like being confined, put in a box or sitting in a cubicle. Your right brain is what creates humor and wit. It’s open to new possibilities and enjoys being creative. The right side values the good of the whole community and is energized by helping others.
The Left Side
The left side brain is the detail-oriented thinker. This is the part of our brain that allows us to function in the real world. It keeps us organized and focused. The left brain is great at numbers and mechanics, and some would call it a perfectionist. The left brain values family, relationships, personal strengths and weaknesses, and is very focused on the details of who you are as a person.
Whole Brain Thinking
While most people tend to lean heavily towards one side or the other, there is a way to achieve whole brain thinking. Whole brain thinking is the perfect balance of the two and “in that blending together, comes a level of satisfaction,” — Dr. Jill on The Science of Success.
Exercising Your Weaker Side
Think about the cells in your brain like bicep muscles in your arms. If you only ever do bicep curls on your right arm, it will grow much larger and stronger than your left. If you start doing more curls on your left arm, eventually it will catch up and both arms will be even in strength. This concept is the same for the two different sides of your brain; the side you flex more will be dominant over the other.
The first step is thinking about and recognizing who you are and how you’re spending your time. Acknowledge which side of the brain you use day to day without even thinking about it.
Next, find some activities you might enjoy that will use the weaker side of your brain. Find people that are using the side you’re trying to strengthen, spend time with them and start doing some of the things that they do. What’s important here, is getting in the habit of exercising your weaker side.
One of the biggest factors in achieving whole brain thinking is to understand that you get to choose, moment by moment, which side you step into and use.
“I think as we pay attention to what we are already doing and pay attention to what our own personal patterning is, we find the power to choose and we recognize when we have chosen,” — Dr. Jill on The Science of Success.
This skill of learning to observe and thus control your own brain can be used for other things as well. Dr. Jill suggests using this consciousness to turn around negative situations. In a moment of crisis, sadness or negativity, Dr. Jill recommends taking a step back and observing the reality in front of you, instead of engaging with your emotions about the events taking place. In other words, step out of your left brain and into your right.
“I don’t take myself that seriously. I don’t take any of this really seriously. Yet, at the same time, I take it all extremely seriously, because I’m here, I’m alive, I value life…because life to me is a precious and amazing thing,” — Dr. Jill on The Science of Success.
Dr. Jill offers many tactical actions that you can implement in your life immediately in order to gain control over your whole brain. She suggests taking one hour and writing down everything you think of. Look back at your notes and determine whether you were more focused on small details or the big picture. Use this exercise to determine your standard or base level brain usage. From there, decide which circuitry, the right or the left, you need to run more of to even out the two sides of your brain.
There is no one more credible to offer this advice than Dr. Jill; someone who has not only studied neuroanatomy at the highest level but who has experienced losing an entire part of her brain and having to regain it step by step.
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