Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What to do when your left brain lags

Sharon Wildwind

For decades I had a job that required tons of left-brain thinking. In addition, coming from a family that specialized in crisis mode, I was the designated adult. I suspect that I designated myself, but heck, someone had to do it.

Back in 1979, when I first read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I estimated 85% of my thinking came from my left brain hemisphere and only 15% from the right.

A lot has changed. My current estimate is 65% right and 45% left. Some really good weeks, I manage to stay in right-brain mode most of the time. Therein lies the problem.

My left-brain to-do list grows daily. I simply can not get my head around the letters I need to write, the accounting I need to update, the filing overflowing from the desk to the floor. My left-brain refuses to cooperate, even though I don’t find these tasks onerous, or even boring.

For a while I wondered if, at birth, we’re issued left- and right-brain ration books. Perhaps I’d clipped all my left-brain coupons and had none left to spend. On closer examination I realized the problem was in the process of switching sides. My turn-on-left-brain switch seems to be stuck in a permanent off position.

I went down my health checklist. I’m doing great about preventive maintenance. I even added regular meditation and breathing exercises a few weeks ago.

I went to the Internet to see if anyone had tips on how to unstick the switch. One site suggested doing practice left-brain activities, like crossword puzzles, before doing real left-brain activities, like balancing your checkbook. This struck me as less than helpful, because if I could get into gear for doing left-brain activities, the problem would solve itself.

I’d never given much thought to the switching process. I imagined it as turning out one light when I left a room; turning on another light as I entered the next room. What I didn’t know was, was it an immediate on-off switch like light switches, or a slope with one side powering up as the other side powers down, or an off-pause-on sequence, like that interval walking down the hall after leaving the kitchen, but before entering the living room.

I did find one useful bit of research, which suggested, under controlled laboratory conditions, the test subjects, on average, switched from one side of the brain to the other 4-6 times in every 30 second test period. Musicians and dances made more frequent switches. Buddhist monks, people with bi-polar disorder, and mathematicians make fewer switches. In general, the left brain requires more precise conditions to turn on; the right brain requires (or at least tolerates) more loosey-goosey conditions. 

As I stared at that on-line article, I had a blinding connection. Anyone else see it? A few weeks ago I started meditation; Buddhist monks take much longer than average to switch from one side of the brain to the other. Buddhist monks meditate several times a day.

No way am I in the monk category. It’s a victory if I can get two focused minutes at a time. But maybe meditation really is that powerful. Maybe I’m especially susceptible to whatever good chemical things meditation does in the brain. Maybe this is absolute co-incidence and I don’t have enough information to know what the heck is going on. But it was quite a shock to think that small change was having a noticeable effect so soon after I made it.

Am I going to give up meditation? Heck, no. But I think I’m going to balance it out with some dancing as well. Maybe my brain will sort itself out if I give it some change brain sides faster encouragement in addition to the change brain sides slower encouragement.

In the mean time, can you leave me any suggestions you have for switching over to left-brain activities? I’d appreciate it.
Quote for the week
Any active sportsman has to be very focused; you’ve got to be in the right frame of mind. If your energy is diverted in various directions, you do not achieve the results. I need to know when to switch on and switch off: and the rest of the things happen around that. Cricket is in the foreground, the rest is in the background.
~ Sachin Tendulkar, Indian cricketer


Sheila Connolly said...

I had this image of you doing meditative dancing (is that like multi-tasking?).

That suggestions about crossword puzzles was interesting, and I link it to watching and responding to Jeopardy. For me there is an almost physical "click" in my head, which is my signal for "stop thinking and just respond."

Anonymous said...

Hmm, meditative dancing. I'm not opposed to trying it, but maybe not on our third-floor balcony. :-)

I love all those things that produce "the zone," but most of them seem to involve activating the right brain.

Sally Carpenter said...

What a great post. Years ago a teacher called me "right brained" and I'm only know figuring out what he meant. One method I use to get into right brain writing mode is to listen to my favorite music and let my mind wander--not really listen but use the music as background noise. When ready, I turn off the music and start writing or editing. I guess the music is a cue that it's "play time." When writing first drafts, I use a special gel pen and a colorful clipboard to write in longhand. I can't compose on a computer--that's too much like a dayjob.