How Do You Know When You’re Not Using Your Whole Brain?
Everyone loves a good state of flow. We’re in enjoyment, things are clicking, dots are connecting, ideas are pouring out with ease, and time becomes irrelevant. What if you can access your flow state more by using your whole brain instead of just a part of it, which is currently what we’re trained to do?
For me, there are a few usual suspects present whenever I find myself stuck or swimming upstream with a lot of efforting but going nowhere. Three suspects in particular love to show up and play together:
- Negative bias
They don’t mean any harm by showing up, but they do block my flow.
They serve a purpose to protect and keep me safe. However, they become less helpful and more harmful when I forget that I’m running the show and let them lead. When I allow judgment, overthinking, and negative bias to lead me rather than inform me, we end up spinning our tails or coming to a crashing halt in flow.
When they show up, it’s a sign that I’m overly focused on my left brain instead of using my whole brain.
Why Do You Favor Your Left Brain?
Part of being in the state of flow is letting go of our preconceived notions of how something should be or might turn out. Letting go is hard for our left-brain-driven society because we like certainty – which involves a plan, organization, and most importantly, control.
But in controlling – we end up gripping to past experiences or grasping to predict the future, which cuts us off from the powerful free-flowing energy of the present.
To thrive, we need the input of our right brain as much as our left. It’s why we were given equal parts of both hemispheres.
However, we have over-indexed our left brain and have learned to disconnect from our right brain, in modernity. We’ve been misled to believe the left brain holds the path to ultimate productivity and effectiveness, which yields success. We’re rewarded for our logic, tactics, and planning and taught to devalue the wisdom of feeling, sensing, and intuiting in our decision-making.
What ends up happening is that we walk around only accessing and attending to half of our brains. The part of the brain that without the counterbalance of the right hemisphere creates overly rigid, judgemental, and fear-based states of being.
Anytime we cut off a part of ourselves – that in itself leads to further dysfunction.
True Data-informed Decisions Require Using Your Whole Brain
Instead of doing more of the same (ignoring our right brain), which can lead us to dysfunction, what would happen if we allowed ourselves to integrate our whole brain? Instead of only focusing on data coming from our left brain, we choose to include the entire dataset from our whole brain.
It could be interesting to ask yourself:
- What would data-informed decision-making look like for me if I allowed myself to listen to my right brain as much as my left?
- What would it feel like to loosen that gripping or grasping?
- What would it feel like to allow myself to sink into the comfort of allowing life to unfold?
- Allowing and receiving the present moment is how you create flow and well-being
- Tapping into your right brain can allow you to create and experience more beauty, wisdom, creativity, joy, and peace
- That’s what science tells us
Jill’s “Stroke of Insight”
Dr. Jill Bolte Tayler, a neuroanatomist, who wrote the memoir “My Stroke of Insight” describes the right brain as the place where she experiences openness, expansiveness, wisdom, love, and inner peace.
Jill, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist at the age of 35 had a full-blown stroke in her home, which disabled her left brain for a few years. What would sound to most people a painful and tragic event, actually was the most peaceful, joyful, and beautiful experience where she described feeling more connected to her joy and the universe than ever before.
She eventually fully recovered and has been educating people about our brain anatomy, particularly using our whole brain to elevate our lives rather than hyperfocus on just a part of it ( usually our left). I highly recommend watching her 2008 ted talk and reading her book if you’re not yet familiar with her work.
How to Use Your Whole Brain to Flow
While Jill’s experience was completely transformative for her, we don’t all need to have an aneurysm to experience our right brain. Your right brain is available to you right now, and you can intentionally practice leaning on your right brain to tap into flow.
Here are four ways to experiment with integrating your brain:
1. Let Go
The left brain loves to control to create a sense of certainty and safety. We’ve been trained and rewarded to control as much as we can, even if it doesn’t always pay off.
Letting go can feel foreign or uncomfortable but if you allow yourself to build a new muscle, you can release the grasping and the tightness of control and experience the flow of life as it comes.
The initial decision to let go is the most difficult when it’s unfamiliar and therefore, comfortable.
One simple mindset to help us let go is to practice non-judgment, we do this by permitting ourselves to make mistakes and allowing ourselves to:
- Be imperfect
- Not have all the answers
- Not have to know what will happen next
- Be surprised and delighted
Reminding ourselves that without mistakes, there is no learning. Perfection is an illusion if we draw from the wisdom of nature. And by veering off from planned paths, we allow beautiful discoveries and surprises to unfold
2. Zoom Out
At this stage of your life, you already know you can do almost anything if you dedicate yourself to it. Likely, you know you have the muscles for discipline and grit.
The question is no longer, “Can I do this?” because most likely you can.
But rather the more important questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I want to do this?
- Why do I want this?
- Why do I care about this?
- Is this what I want to prioritize?
As you connect your tasks to your bigger why, you’re exercising what your right brain does best – seeing the big picture and creating meaning that inspires you.
Knowing your “why” grounds you because without it your left brain will ask “Why bother?!”.
Without meaning, moments of challenges, setbacks, or roadblocks could deter you, permanently discourage you, could knock you down, and create burnout.
Without meaning, there’s no reason to get up in the morning there’s no reason to pursue anything that’s not pleasurable or ego-inflating.
Flow is the result when we’re engaged in something that is aligned with our being. Who we really are – at our core.
The more we can zoom out of our micro tasks to see the bigger why – the easier it is we can get into flow and the more intense the flow we can experience.
When you intentionally flip on your playful mode, you’re choosing to lean on your right brain.
To understand how this happens, we first have to understand what goes on in our left brain.
Judgment lives in our left brain where it’s rule-driven and binary. Our right brain experiences life as completely interconnected with the energy, people, and living creatures all around us. In the right brain, there is an appreciation of wholeness, integration, and connection.
The state of play is devoid of judgment and criticism. Play is about expression, experiencing the present moment, experimentation with the new, and elation as it all comes together, and gives us a chuckle.
Applying play to something we do every day – work – we lose track of time as we engage with what interests us. Work doesn’t feel like work. What we’re focused on feels fun and rewarding. It’s the feeling that this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing right now. It’s satiating and deeply satisfying. Energizing us to the core.
On the other hand, when we don’t apply play to work – it feels like labor. The task at hand feels heavy, hard, and overly challenging. Trying. Forced, contrived. Awkward. Unnatural. Pointless. Meaningless. Cumbersome. It’s hard for us to be present with a task when we’re not in the flow of it. It feels like we’re pushing a huge boulder up a steep hill against gravity. Everything feels harder than it should be. Everything in our being wants to stop. There is no momentum. Our only motivation to keep going is focusing on the carrot being dangled in front of us.
4. Lean On Your Intuitive Wisdom
The neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor believes that our thoughts (left brain) will try to outsmart our intuition (right brain). Depending on the kinds of thoughts we have in our head – they can very well override the quiet energy of intuition if we’re not consciously aware.
Jill calls her intuitive self fully connected to the life-force power of the universe when she was disconnected from her physical body upon her stroke which took her left brain offline for 4 years. She describes the great spirit of the universe as energy where everything is energy and everything is connected including each one of us.
Our intuition is the part of our higher self that’s connected to the universal life force.
So the wisdom, creativity, guidance, and protection that we receive from our intuition comes from a source that’s greater than what’s in our brain. Our intuition works at a grander scale – sees the full picture – considers the broader tapestry of life.
Part 1: A simple way to lean on your intuition is shifting your language from “I have to figure this out” to “I want to feel it out”.
Our left brain is useful when there exists an objectively right answer – like in mathematical calculations, following instructions, or understanding written law.
However when there isn’t an objectively right answer to what we’re trying to “figure out” our left brain becomes less useful and can create more confusion if we continue to drive for an answer. Things like:
- What should I do with my life?
- Should I get married?
- Should I get a divorce?
- Do I want children?
- Should I go on the trip?
- Should I relocate?
- Should I leave my job?
- Should I take that job?
In these life decisions, what’s right for someone else may be completely wrong for you. Rather than forcing yourself to work it out like an equation, play with inviting yourself to “feel it out.” This allow your right brain to weigh in.
Part 2: Take a few minutes to access the stillness in your body. Begin to imagine the different scenarios and notice:
- Which scenarios create ease and space in your body, and which create tension
- Which scenarios energize you and which drain the life out of you
- Which scenarios make you feel lighter, brighter, and bigger, and which make you feel heavier, dimmer, and smaller
Allow the wisdom of your body to guide and contribute to your decision-making process. These messages are communicated via feelings and sensations. Take note of what you feel and sense.
Because our intuition is tapped into a greater source, sometimes the message we receive may not appear logical. Meaning we can’t seem to explain it in a rational way that would make sense to someone else. But remember, your truth is yours for a reason. Your truth doesn’t have to make sense to others in order for it to be true for you.
Use Your Whole Brain to Access Flow State
You bring your whole system online when you invite your right brain to sit at the table and weigh in. You’re integrating the part that beautifully counterbalances the judgemental, overthinking, and fear-driven parts of your left brain. You let go, see the bigger picture, remember to have fun and lean on your wisdom. You’re now ready to flow in a major way.
Enjoy your trip.
If you’re interested in a longer version of this topic, check out Episode 50 of the MYBREATHINGMIND Podcast.
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