Come on Over to The Right Side

…of the brain, that is. Albert Einstein once said “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” 

I love this because more and more I am learning that the key is not one side of our brain or the other, but how we honor and use them both. And the reason I called this post “Come on over to the right side” is that generally, in Western culture we do a pretty good job of using our left hemispheres, but could probably use some help maximizing our right.

But before we go there, a bit of background might be helpful. As most of you probably know, the brain is divided into two hemispheres, connected but separate. Unlike most other mammals, whose hemispheres are mirror images of each other, we evolved to have different functions located in different parts of our brains. The theory is that in order to do the more and more complex thinking required as we evolved (and still have heads small enough to walk upright) our brains needed to specialize. Thus different sides took on different functions.

It used to be that we thought of the left brain as the seat of logic, language and linear thought, and the right brain as the home of emotion and creativity. But recent studies have found it’s a bit more complex than that. We actually process language and thought in both hemispheres. And our emotions and creativity are far too complex to say they are housed in one half of the brain or the other.

Still, there are differences. The left brain takes a very specific, focused, separate view of the world. It finds Waldo in the picture, and keeps us focused on one voice in a noisy restaurant. It’s good at focusing on one thing intently and closely. It can attach specific language and labels to things. The right brain, on the other hand (pun intended) takes the world in broadly and with a soft focus. It sees things as interconnected. It is aware of everything all at once. It is taking in massive amounts of information, but not necessarily focusing on any one thing. It also takes in information from neurons in our heart and gut. But it doesn’t have the left brain’s ability to assign labels and language and pull out what is important.

We get all sorts of information from the right hemisphere which needs to be sorted and labeled before we can use it. And herein lies the problem — because it’s all a bit hazy and undifferentiated, we don’t know what to do with what the right brain knows. So we tend to simply ignore it. When I am explaining this to my clients (especially those who tend to dismiss things like intuition and emotion as being non-essential to leadership and effectiveness) I tell them this is like ignoring half your team. It’s a team that is looking at everything, but doesn’t know exactly how to tell you about it. So you have to help them, and you will get really valuable information when you do.

As coaches, we can sometimes have challenges convincing our more “left brain” clients to trust us when we see that what is needed is what we might call a “right brain” coaching technique. I’ve found that simply educating them about the two hemispheres can help. I tell them that the most effective people are those who have found ways to integrate the two sides of the brain. And then I offer to take them through a coaching technique that will expand their brain’s capacity. I mean, who wants to use only half their brain?

The rational mind is a faithful servant. It makes meaning and enables us to focus. But the intuitive mind is a sacred gift. It brings in things we don’t rationally understand at first, amazing richness of potential insight and understanding. As coaches, we do some of our greatest service when we help our clients integrate these two halves of their brain.

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