Self-Aware of Our Split-Hemisphere Brains – Part I

In terms of our evolution as a species, right-brain development preceded the left.
Our Cro-Magnon ancestors apparently engaged in art long before
they engaged in verbal communications.
– Ned Hermann
You can do anything you want – you just can’t do everything
you want. There simply isn’t enough time.
– Lee Silber

One of the happiest and most helpful moments in my life happened as I was flying one afternoon from Chicago to Denver. The happy part wasn’t hard. I’m happy anytime I can look forward to spending a few days in the mountains of Colorado. The helpful part was reading in the magazine provided by the airline an article on time management that mentioned a book by Lee Silber (1998) called, Time Management for the Creative Person. The subtitle was what really attracted me: Right-brain Strategies for Stopping Procrastination, Getting Control of the Clock & Calendar, and Freeing Up Your Time & Your Life. When I arrived in Denver, one of the first things my friends there wanted to do was stop into our favorite bookstore, where I found and purchased the book.

I was in my thirties when I was introduced to the concept that our brains have two halves that perceive and process information differently, and that many of us go through life operating predominantly out of only one half. I learned then that people who are left-brain dominant tend to be linear thinkers, preferring to reach conclusions based more on logic than intuition. Right-brain dominant people tend to be more divergent in their thinking, more creative and artistic, and more emotional. Then, as now, I tested right-brain dominant.

At the time I discovered Silber’s book, I desperately was trying to be more organized in my approach to the myriad tasks demanded in my professional life. My problem was that all of the time management systems I knew about prior to reading Silber had no attraction to me. They felt too rigid and required too much “step-by-step” detail for me. I craved something freer and more fluid, and yet organized. I was delighted to discover that someone had finally considered that we right-brain people need a different approach.

Silber describes the right brain with words like artistic, intuitive, rhythmic, spatial, nonjudgmental, imaginative, metaphorical, holistic, divergent, nonlinear, illogical, irrational, and indecisive. Allowed to pursue its negative extreme, the right brain can also be unpredictable, impatient, sloppy, abhor structure and rules, loath routines, and prefer a wait-and-see approach. On the bright side, right-brain people can juggle several tasks at once, deal well with change, and are risk-takers.

The strength of the left brain, as I mentioned, is in its linear awareness. The left brain is logical, analytical, verbal, compartmentalized. It remembers facts (for example, names but not faces).  As Silber notes, on the plus side left-brain dominant people are responsible, good at research and math, detailed oriented, decisive, and tidy.  They can also be obsessive, compulsive, controlling, very judgmental, and dislike change.

While we each can probably name people we either appreciate or who drive us nuts because they fall into one or the other category of brain dominance, the important thing to remember is that we each carry both of these brain hemispheres in our heads, and even though we may be naturally disposed to lead our lives out of one more than the other, we need to learn how to get them to work together. As Silber notes, “A healthy balance between the two halves of the brain leads to more creativity and productivity.” It can also, as Silber suggests, bring us inner peace.

In the years since I learned about right-brain and left-brain dominance, I have gotten pretty good at being able to draw on both sides of my brain to manage my affairs and get done what I really want to get done. One of the most difficult struggles for me, and something that still keeps me stressed, however, I’ve learned is associated with the creative aspect of being right-brain dominant. As Silber names it:“[Y]ou constantly come up with all kinds of new and interesting things to do, creating more work than any mortal could possibly accomplish.”

It was helpful to learn that I am not the only one who creates more work for herself by coming up with new ideas before I have finished implementing the last one. I am constantly saying to myself in a moment of feeling the pressure of too much to do and too little time left to get it done, “Whose idea was this?” knowing full well the only person to blame is myself.  Most time management gurus recommend learning to say, “No,” but I find it hardest to say “No” to any of my latest creative ideas.

I also have to agree with another assessment of right-brain dominant people by Silber: “[Y]ou often have to force yourself to deal with the details of implementing all those ideas.”  For a time I worked as a newspaper reporter. I found I loved the idea of a good story, but often found myself after conducting the interviews sitting down at the computer to write without some of the details I needed to begin.

I recently took another test to rate my own hemispheric dominance, and I again came out almost off the chart right-brain dominant. So, unfortunately, if you are left-brain dominant and are looking for some advice from me, I cannot help you. I don’t have any idea what it is like to live in the world the way you do. But, I am willing to bet you already get a lot more done on your list than I do. (By the way, I’ve tried that list thing. The problem is, after I make one, I never remember to look at it. Silber did say we right-brainers prefer running on intuition, after all.)

Here’s a web-site where you can find a hemispheric dominance test to begin your own journey toward reconciling your left and right brains:

Silber, L. (1998). Time management for the creative person: Right-brain strategies for stopping procrastination, getting control of the clock & calendar, and freeing up your time & your life. New York, NY: Three Rivers

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