At Left Brain Turn Right
[MetaCreative, 235 pages]
Actor Anthony Meindl wrote At Left Brain Turn Right to show people how to engage their creative right brains and limit the influence of their critical, logical left brains in order to live happier, more fulfilling lives.
One of the ways he suggests people engage their right brain is through active listening. He believes that many people hear what others are saying to them but they aren’t bothering to understand the meaning behind the words, thanks in part to the many distractions in society today. Meindl also believes that people should act on their impulses or gut feelings more often; when they opt for the analytical, logical scrutiny of the left brain (which often produces reasons why the person shouldn’t take the action, or at least delay it), they become detached from the original passion they felt towards the potential action. According to Meindl, goals that are pursued without passion aren’t as likely to be successful. Meindl also thinks certain thoughts humans have can cause their goals to be successful or unsuccessful; if a person thinks negatively about their chances to achieve a goal, they may become depressed and therefore not achieve the goal, while if they think positively, they may become motivated to achieve it. He thinks if one acknowledges and accepts life as it is in the present, without applying negative left-brain judgments to it (such as I should be richer), one is then more able to improve their life. He discusses an important distinction between empowerment and power, believing empowerment to be more fulfilling; power is feeding one’s own ego by having control over other people and things, while empowerment is letting one’s ego reach out to others by sharing one’s talents and resources with them.
Practical homework assignments help readers practice these strategies in their daily lives. The first homework assignment he gives is limiting cell phone use, as he believes that the cell phone is a distraction from one’s own thoughts and the ability to actively listen to other people. Meindl also encourages readers to act on their creative instincts (arising from the right brain), without letting the left brain engage in logical rumination about the idea (instinct). Another interesting exercise he proposes is to take a contemplative day in which communication is minimized. The point of this exercise is to realize that the millions of thoughts flooding our brains all day often have no relationship with reality.
So do these exercises actually help a person become happier, more creative and fulfilled? I believe it’s likely. As for the first homework assignment, I’ve always limited my cell phone use, so I can’t comment on that, but I can compare it to the time I temporarily cut out Facebook (which I usually log on to every few hours) and other social networking sites so I could study for exams. When I stopped using social networks for a couple of weeks, my productivity increased because my mind was clearer; I was able to focus better on the task at hand, instead of thinking about what my friends had been talking about on Facebook while I was doing the task. Although my mind was clear enough to achieve my goals for those exams, I wasn’t able to permanently disengage from the social networks, but I do know that I’m capable of taking a temporary break if I need to clear my mind again. I’ve also tried meditation at the suggestion of a religious studies professor, and although I couldn’t completely quiet the thoughts going through my mind, I’ve found it has helped relax me before undertaking something I was nervous about. I believe Meindl’s non-communication exercise is also a good one; when I was having a particularly difficult semester in school, I used to take a couple of hours a night and just sit on my bed and think without communicating, and that allowed me to clearly identify which of my thoughts were completely ridiculous. When sitting in one spot and thinking for so long, you think up such ridiculous things to worry about until eventually realizing that it’s ridiculous to worry so much about anything as so many things in life are out of our control.
Although life sounds much more fun and free when lived by following the instincts of the right brain, we have to acknowledge that the left brain does have an important place in our lives. The logical left brain helps keep us in check. Taking some risks can be fun, but taking so many risks that we end up in legal trouble isn’t. There’s also the pesky issue of money, and the left brain takes care of adding up the dollars and cents so we don’t end up in financial trouble. I do think Meindl is correct that many people in North American society overuse their left brains, focusing on money and material things while neglecting their emotional and spiritual lives, so even though the book promotes overuse of the right brain, it can actually helps balance our brains out.