Do you consider yourself "right brained" or "left brained"? Do you tend to analyze, rely on logic and pay attention to details? Or are you highly imaginative, tend to doodle and often lose track of time?
We live in a society, for the most part, that favors left brain thinking -- logic, science, and practicality -- over the right-brained artistic types who are generally viewed as less successful, productive or capable, none of which is true, but the type cast nonetheless.
The truth is that when you are able to balance right and left brain tendencies, you are better able to problem solve, be productive, be creative and ultimately, less stressed.
Think about it yourself. When you are relaxed, perhaps on vacation, enjoying nature while gazing at a sunset or the vastness of the ocean, does your mind tend to wonder, see or experience nuances or thoughts you normally do not have time for in your busy workweek? Conversely, when you are stressed and overwhelmed, how good are you at coming up with creative solutions, to listening to your intuition, or even paying attention to details? Both your right and left-brain can be shut down when you are under duress.
The key to health, resilience, productivity and accessing your creative genius, as I have mentioned before, is the ability to keep the stress response in check so that you have access to your higher brain functions, enabling you look at details while also keeping an open mind so that you can be more child-like and playful.
In his book, How to think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Gelb says that Leonardo Da Vinci had perfect right-left brain balance. He thought with his whole brain, not just half of it, in other words. He even practiced drawing and writing from both his left and right hands, developing his ambidexterity. Leonardo, Gelb points out, was an avid scientists who was on a constant quest for truth, while also an accomplished artist who was on a life-long pursuit of beauty. "So, was Leonardo a scientists who studied art, or an artist who studied science? Clearly, he was both," Gelb writes.
Indeed, if you look at Leonardo's art, you can easily see his painstaking attention to detail and how mathematically precise the work is. So too, his scientific studies and inventions were expressed in artistic drawings that were full of beauty and depth.
Gelb says you too can become a whole brain thinker by practicing Arte/Scienza, or the development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination.
Here are some tips that Gelb believes can get you there:
1. Practicing free association: Individuals who are more left brain driven usually have a harder time feeling comfortable with free association as they tend to base their actions and thoughts on logic and practicality. There is no right or wrong with this exercise, it is simply a way for you to check out your tendencies with respect to the creative process.
In two minutes, write down as many uses as you possibly can for a shawl.
• When you are done, take the total number of answers and divide by two (score is number of uses per minute. A "genius score" is 12 or more, 8 is excellent and 4 is average).
• Circle your best answer.
• Notice the criteria you used to choose this answer -- logical or practical versus far out and imaginative?
2. Power breaths to clear the mind and relax the body: Turning off the stress response enables better access to whole brain thinking.
• Breathe in and count 1-2-3.
• Breathe out and count 1-2-3-4-5.
• As you breathe out, allow all thoughts and tension to be released (you can imagine they are flowing out into the wind, down a river or into the earth).
• As you breathe, breathe in a sense of peace and play.
• Breathe in and out for 10 cycles.
3. Practice free association again as an "infinity thinker": After relaxing the body and calming the mind with your power breaths, do the free association practice again, this time, aiming to be more like Leonardo by allowing your mind to move outside traditional constraints, outside of the usual "box" of thinking, allowing yourself to be as "far out" as possible. Write down your answers as fast as you can without analysis or criticism.
• Take two minutes to write down as many uses as you possibly can come up with for an orange.
• Aim for a genius score.
• Analyze and explain your answers using your imagination.
4. Create a Mind Map: Some people when thinking up ideas, usually come up with lists or write their thoughts down in the form of an outline, a very left-brain process. Others, in contrast, when thinking of ideas tend to doodle, color, write down their thoughts on post-it notes, and seemingly show little organization to connection between thoughts and ideas. Gelb says, one of the best way to get yourself into whole brain thinking is to learn to organize your ideas, plans, goals or thoughts by mind mapping, a practice developed by Tony Buzan in the 1960s.
Mind mapping essentially stimulates you to use both your right and left brain that involves generating ideas and placing them down on paper, but also using color, free association, and feelings as they are expressed with drawings or colors.
These are the rules:
1. Start with a symbol or picture that represents your topic in the center of your page. This will allow your mind to open to a full 360 degrees of association. Symbols and pictures are also more stimulating and easier to remember than just words alone.
2. Write down key words which will act as your "information-rich nuggets" that will enable you to recall and do creative association.
3. Connect the words with lines that radiate from your central image, so that you can see the image and words relate to one another.
4. Always print your key words as they are easier to read and remember.
5. Print only one key word per line. This will force you to find the most appropriate word that will cover all or as many associations as you might need.
6. Print the key words on the radiating lines so that the length of the word is the same length as the line. This enables maximum clarity and also encourages you to use your space economically.
7. Use colors, pictures, dimensions and codes, which will allow for greater association and emphasis. Highlighting and using color will help your memory, stimulate ideas and association and help you prioritize what is most important and what is secondary.
You can pretty much use mind mapping for everything--from summarizing a chapter, thinking about retirement, problem solving an issue at the office, or planning a vacation or dinner for friends.
You can find the rest of this blog series, also posted on Huffington Post here.