The Right Brain, Left Brain Divide

Everyone has a dominant brain hemisphere, left or right. That dominant hemisphere dictates the types of mental processing that come most naturally to you—that is, your “default” thinking style.

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If your left hemisphere is dominant, you probably approach problems logically. You can use rules, regulations, and real-world consequences to help make decisions. You can assemble individual pieces of information into a logical whole, and you are skilled with using words work through your ideas. Your strengths include the ability to dissect and analyze problems.

If your right hemisphere is dominant, you’re more likely to approach problems based on feelings and intuition. You process information creatively, but you may need to see the big picture in order to make sense of individual pieces of information. Your strengths include the ability to make creative leaps and think outside the box and make unexpected connections.

In my experience, those who fall on one side of the right brain, left brain divide often look down on those on the other side. Organized, analytical types consider the creative (right brain) folks scattered and spacey. Creative, spontaneous folks think those left brain people are uptight and rigid.

Guess what? [Tweet “Both right brain and left brain modes have essential roles in the creative process.”]

Understanding the differences between right brain and left brain thinking—and knowing your default thinking style—will allow you to

  • Identify potential weaknesses in your thought patterns and compensate for them
  • Identify your mental strengths and capitalize on them
  • Access unfamiliar right brain or left brain thinking strategies to broaden your creative and problem-solving skills

Embracing the Whole

Right brain and left brain thinking reflect the way your brain usually works, but not the only way it works. Just as a right-handed musician can learn to finger violin notes with the left hand, right brain thinkers can learn to apply left brain thinking techniques and vice versa.

How do I know this? Because this overly analytical, left brain thinker recently accepted a challenge: For one month, I would approach problems and situations first by using my intuition, feelings, and gut instincts. It sounded crazy and illogical to someone who lives by logic and reasoning—but I was stuck. Logic and reasoning weren’t getting me where I needed to go.

I discovered that just because right brain strategies aren’t “logical” doesn’t mean they don’t work.

If you’re a left brain thinker, like me, you can broaden your problem-solving skills by practicing right brain strategies:

  • Assess the emotional aspects of a situation
  • Visualize the situation and/or its solution
  • Look at the “big picture” for inspiration, rather than dissecting a problem into smaller parts
  • Take a walk, shower, or journal—and use the time to pay attention to your intuition
  • Ask yourself questions that prompt intuitive answers: How do I feel about this problem? What do I need right now?

If you’re a right brain thinker, you face a different set of problems. You may have trouble with structure and details, and you may become bogged down by clutter, disorganization, and feelings of overwhelm. Next time you feel stuck, experiment with left brain thinking strategies:

  • Create a timeline
  • List pros and cons
  • Make a to-do list
  • Break a problem down into smaller pieces and analyze them individually
  • Assess your project using a logical structure or sequence

Most of the time, you want to work with your brain, not against it. For instance, the rigid schedule that works beautifully for Mr. Joe Left-Brain will feel like a straight jacket to Rachel Right-Brain, and the unstructured lifestyle that frees Rachel Right-Brain’s creativity will drive Mr. Joe Left-Brain crazy. If you’re a square peg, don’t try to squish yourself into a round hole.

But if your default right brain or left brain approach isn’t working…well, then it might be time to try an approach outside your comfort zone.

Are You a Right Brain or Left Brain Thinker?

  • Take this simple test to see which side of your brain is dominant.
  • Or take this test from the Catawbe Valley Community College for a more detailed analysis of your right brain and left brain tendencies.

 

Symbols for Writers: The Island

About the Symbols for Writers Series: I’ve found that symbols and imagery can trigger valuable insights into writing, life, problem-solving, finding joy, and more. This series was born because I wanted a collection of symbolic images coupled with text and questions intended to kick-start the creative process, help identify a creative block, or aid expression of complex concepts in condensed packages–and I thought you might enjoy such a collection, too! If you’d like to know more, check out last week’s post.

How to Use

Following the image is a brief visualization exercise to help you identify what the image means to your subconscious–but there are no rules. If you prefer, skip to the suggested meanings that follow and see if any resonate. You can also use the image as a creative prompt, or as a reminder of some key idea you want to remember in the coming week.

Symbol: The Island

 Island Symbol - "You are here"

What thoughts and emotions does this image bring to mind?

Take a good look at the image above, then close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let your mind relax and wander a moment, then imagine the clock shown above. What emotion does the image trigger? Does it bring to mind a particular project, scene, or character? Or perhaps a situation or person in the “real world”? When you have something in mind, ask your subconscious if that’s right–if you’re on the right track–and then sit quietly to see if you sense an answer.

Take some time to write about your experience and the insights, ideas, or questions it generates.

Common Meanings

An island can symbolize a sense of isolation and loneliness. The act of creating is often a solitary process, and a writer’s life can be isolating. If this meaning resonates, consider whether you need to increase time spent on meaningful relationships in your life. This image might also remind you that you need more time alone to dive more deeply into your current project.

In a dream, an island is sometimes interpreted as “place of the wishes and imagination which mostly lacks the relation to the reality.” Could visualizing an island help your subconscious to visit the imagination’s playground? Spend some time exploring this island in your imagination. What do you discover?

Did this image resonate with you? Why or why not? Please share in the comments!

I will be posting a new “card” every Thursday. Please let me know what you like or don’t like, and what you might suggest for future images. Are there particular concepts or issues you’d like these images to explore? I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions! 

Conquer Doubts: Embrace Your Vision

The Perils of Planning Dependence

Embrace the Vision - no matter how large

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like to plan out where I’m going and how to get there. I like to make sure I used the most efficient, effective strategies to reach my destination.

That’s great if I’m doing something relatively straightforward, like preparing Thanksgiving dinner or planning a cross-country adventure. Those projects are big enough to present complicated planning puzzles; break them down, though, and you often find that none of the individual pieces are terribly difficult.

But I’ve realized something in the past few months.

[Tweet “DETAILED PLANS can only take you through CHARTED TERRITORY.”]

What if you want to do something completely outside your comfort zone?

Should plans go out the window? Lately, I’ve been wrestling with this question. I’m working on a new project, a transmedia* expansion of the story world in which my most recent middle grade fantasy series is set.

Transmedia? I didn’t even know what this meant two months ago, so it’s an understatement to say that this project takes me into unfamiliar territory! There’s so much to learn, so much to read, so many ideas and storytelling possibilities to explore…

It all sends my planning urge into overdrive. My brain tries to plot out what topics I should pursue, and what order I should pursue them in; it tries to prioritize, estimate the most effective use of my time, figure out which direction I should be heading at any given moment.

Like I said, all that’s great as long as I know where I’m going. Since I don’t, that penchant for planning can become a liability.

I think the issue is that humans are hard-wired to seek safety (some of us more than others, as evidenced by certain athletes at the Sochi Olympics…) When you stray from what you know, from the well-beaten path of the familiar, a little voice starts bombarding you with doubts. You aren’t preparedYou don’t know enough. You’re wasting your time. You should stick with what you know. You’re going to fail, FAIL, FAIL!

When you’re trying something new — when you’re heading off the map — you can’t plan every step ahead of time. At some point, you just have to dive in. When you do, you’ll be most effective if you can mute those doubtful voices for a while.

Silencing Doubts

Step 1: Counterintuitive as it seems, one of the best ways to silence doubts is to listen to them. By setting  a specific time to reassess plans, priorities, and progress, you reassure those doubting voices that you won’t ignore them forever — giving you the freedom to focus on one thing at a time.

Tip: If you find that doubts and worries continue to ambush you, making it hard to create, trying jotting down troubling thoughts when they pop into your mind. By creating a list of troubling thoughts, you send your brain the message that it doesn’t need to keep reminding you about them: you’ve got them written down for later consideration!

Step 2: Once you’ve made a decision, create a “cheat sheet” of responses for doubts that continue to nag at you. There’s a difference between assessing your plans and constantly second-guessing yourself: one helps you choose a direction, whereas the other wastes your valuable time.

Step 3: Embrace your vision. Silencing doubts is only half of the equation. Once you’ve chosen your destination — once you’ve committed to test the waters, or start down the road toward your big, crazy, wonderful dream — it’s easy to spend so much energy on fighting doubts and fears that you forget to keep your eye on the prize.

Stepping out into the unknown can be scary, but I’m convinced that’s where you find treasure. If you’ve faced those voices of doubt and still feel compelled to go forward, embrace your vision! Don’t just argue with the naysayers (internal or external): put your vision in front of you, to remind you why it’s worth heading into the unknown.

Wherever your journey leads, I promise — it will be worth it!

Do you have a vision that takes you into uncharted territory? What is it? What strategies help you to keep moving forward? We’d love to hear more in the comments!

* Never heard about transmedia? Don’t worry, you’re going to hear more about it in the coming weeks! The quick definition is that transmedia is a type of storytelling that uses multiple media platforms to deliver the story. For example, the Emmy Award-winning Lizzie Bennet Diaries retold the story of Pride and Prejudice using video blogs, Twitter, LookBook, and Instagram. If you want to learn more, author Henry Jenkins has a great post on his site, “Transmedia 101.

Symbols for Writers: The Clock

About the Symbols for Writers Series: I’ve written a number of times about the power of intuition and symbols to enhance your writing practice. Exploring a symbol can kick-start your creative process, help you to understand a creative block, or enable you to express a complex concept in a condensed package. Lately, it seems that all my best ideas and insights arise from exercises that tap into the nonlinear, nonverbal part of my brain.

When my friend Laura hosted an impromptu discussion of symbols and writing–using  beautifully illustrated cards as a jumping-off point–I was struck by an idea: she should create a collection of such images and symbols for writers. Each image could be paired with an explanation of its symbolic meaning, maybe a writing exercise, and she could share her wealth of knowledge about imagery, dreams, and symbolism with an audience who needs to access intuition on a daily basis. 

As I expounded on the idea, Laura interrupted with a laugh. “This sounds like your vision,” she said. “Maybe it’s something you should explore.” And so this project was born.

I’ve found that symbols and imagery can trigger valuable insights into writing, life, problem-solving, finding joy, and more. Since I’d love to have a collection of such images, coupled with text and questions geared toward writers, I hope you will enjoy them as well!

How to Use this Series

Following the image is a brief visualization exercise to help you identify what the image means to your subconscious–but there are no rules. If you prefer, skip to the suggested meanings that follow and see if any resonate. You can also use the image as a creative prompt, or as a reminder of some key idea you want to remember in the coming week.

Symbol: The Clock

Clock Symbol

What thoughts and emotions does this image bring to mind?

Take a good look at the image above, then close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let your mind relax and wander a moment, then imagine the clock shown above. What emotion does the image trigger? Does it bring to mind a particular project, scene, or character? Or perhaps a situation or person in the “real world”? When you have something in mind, ask your subconscious if that’s right–if you’re on the right track–and then sit quietly to see if you sense an answer.

Take some time to write about your experience and the insights, ideas, or questions it generates.

Common Meanings

The clock can symbolize a feeling of time pressure. If this meaning resonates, it may indicate a need to give yourself the gift of time. It is also a reminder that time is a limited resource that must be used wisely. Is your schedule overflowing, your time too tight? Maybe this image is prompting you to depose a tyrannical schedule. How can you ease time’s grip on your energy?

The clock may also be a sign that you feel overwhelmed by something in your life. Maybe you need to devote more time to that issue, to help move it forward and free yourself of a looming deadline, real or imagined.

Did this image resonate with you? Why or why not? Please share in the comments!

I will be posting a new “card” every Friday. Please let me know what you like or don’t like, and what you might suggest for future images. Are there particular concepts or issues you’d like these images to explore? I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions!