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Published on September 17, 2018

10 Popular Myths About Right Brain Left Brain Debunked

10 Popular Myths About Right Brain Left Brain Debunked

Want to learn how to master your brain and navigate effortlessly away from the common mix-ups most people have?

Then you’re in the right place.

I’m going to expose the 10 biggest myths about the brain, including ones you hear about being a “right brain or left brain” person.

And for each one, you’ll learn some proven ways to counter them too.

So without further ado, let’s do this!

Myth #1: Believing you’re either a “left or right brain” person

Chances are, once upon a time, during your happy musings on the internet, you came across the idea of the right brain left brain.

This is the myth that you’re either a logical facts driven person (left brain), or you’re a intuitive, arts and imagination type person (right brain).

It’s not true.

Your brain is a very intricate and complex organ. Despite decades of research and study, the brain is something that we still know relatively little about.

Even so, just google “right brain left brain characteristics” and you’re bombarded with pages and pages of results. Each one claiming to tell you which one you are.

This left brain right brain idea originated back in the 1960s, as a result of research done by Roger W. Sperry.[1]

It’s well known that the right and left sides of our brains are different, but can we group people into the left brain people and the right brain people? Is it that simple?

A team of neuroscientists at the University of Utah spent two years testing this out, studying over 1,000 people’s brains to see if it was indeed true. What their research revealed, was that both sides were more or less equal in their activity on average.

“Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection.”  – Dr. Jeff Anderson (lead author)[2]

So be careful when surfing the interwebs. The self proclaimed brain messiah’s aren’t always doing their research, and whilst graphics like above seem cool, they aren’t very accurate. You don’t belong in a box of left brain or right brain.

Lesson:

People aren’t either logical or creative. You can be both.

Don’t limit your thinking and capabilities by believing this myth. You get better at what you work at.

Myth #2: Believing you’re hardwired for happiness

Many people I’ve coached over the years demonstrate this crippling flaw:

We tend to think of our problems, worries, etc. as something unique to us. We mistakenly believe that we are unique in this way.

However, let me reveal something to you having worked with tens of THOUSANDS people from around the world. Something which may surprise you.

Our mental biases and flaws are quite common. We tend to make very similar mistakes.

Instead of personalizing all your problems and over identifying with them. What if you saw the challenges you face as problems created by the brain generally, instead of something you are doing?

Think of it this way:

Imagine you have a faulty mobile phone that can only operate for 2 hours at 100% capacity at a time. Then it needs a short break.

Now, you could view this as a problem with your specific mobile, and get angry and frustrated that you had such bad luck.

Or perhaps, realize the truth.

What if it was just a manufacturing fault? But one you can’t “fix” immediately by going to the Apple Store because it was built two million years ago for a different environment.

Obviously I’m simplifying things a little (Ok, a lot). However the point I’m making is simple:

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Your problems aren’t unique. We all suffer from them. So plan for the common pitfalls so you can avoid them.

“We have a two million-year-old brain that isn’t designed to be happy, but to survive.”  — Tony Robbins

As the above quote so beautifully summarizes, your brain is designed to help you to survive first and foremost. This mechanism is both deep and complex.

In my work, we often identify these subconscious patterns and make sure they’re running in alignment to the specific goal you desire to achieve.

Something which most people are totally unaware or uninterested in discovering, so they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again no matter how hard they try.

These “software faults” are ones we all experience from time to time:

  • Not feeling motivated to go to the gym
  • Not feeling confident about starting a new project or idea
  • Being randomly affected by weird moods or feelings

But the difference between those who succeed, and those who dabble and get frustrated is simple:

Working on our weak areas consistently and planning for them.

Lesson:

Think of your brain like an old computer, full of some common bugs and viruses we all contend with.

Accept these flaws, learn about how they manifest themselves for you in particular, then work on improving them so you can perform better.

Myth #3: Believing your personality traits are fixed

You have personality traits (often from childhood) that (for most) won’t change.

But before you get demoralized and reach for that jar of chocolate chip cookies again, that doesn’t mean that you CAN’T change.

It just takes work.

Realistically, most people still won’t change their personalities for two reasons:

  • They like the safe, comfortable option of staying the same (let’s face it – it’s quite easy)
  • They don’t know they can change

Fortunately for you, we’ve already dispelled the idea that you cannot change your personality traits. So you’re immediately ahead of most people.

There are so many different theories and ideas about what your personality is, how we can measure it and how it comes to be.

The general consensus is that it’s shaped in the early years of our lives and (generally) stays stable over time.

The most widely accepted is something known as the “Five Factor Model”, stating that there are five basic personality traits that can define us: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

These traits shape and influence how we react to different experiences and events in our lifetime.

But here’s the thing:

Defining events, traumatic experiences can all trigger changes in who we are, and how we are.

One of the latest study integrating 14 longitudinal studies that gathered information about people’s personalities, found that from the Big Five personality traits — all of them showed major fluctuations across individual participants’ lives.[3]

Lesson:

The best way to think of your personality is like a mould of clay. It’s already in a rough shape, hardening over time. But you can work to change and adjust it.

Myth #4: Believing you only use 10% of your brain

This myth is simply not true. If I cut 90% of your brain out, would you still function?

No!

Imagine that what is known about our brains is like the volume inside a balloon.

Imagine that what is unknown is the infinite space outside of the balloon.

The surface of the balloon, the interface between the known and the unknown, represents questions. The larger the volume inside the balloon, the larger the balloon surface.

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The more we know, the more questions we have.

It’s simply not true that we only use 10% of our brains.

What’s more accurate is that we don’t always perform to our maximum mental capacities.

Different factors — motivation, environment, overall health, sleep — all exert different levels of influence on how close to 100% we perform at any given time.

So why does this myth exist? Why is it so appealing?

Probably because of the untapped human potential it implies that we have huge pools of dormant mental powers, which if used, could help us achieve so much more.

Lesson:

We don’t just use 10% of our brains. We use 100% of them.

But not all of us are performing and achieving to our highest standards. Find out what blocks you have and work at improving every day.

Myth #5: Believing that smart people have bigger brains

When it comes to size, we’re obsessed with believing that bigger is better.

The simple fact is that a bigger brain has no ultimate bearing or indication on our intelligence.

A very easy way to debunk this myth is to look at the animal kingdom. A cow has a bigger brain than a chimpanzee. But is it smarter?

A whale or an elephant have a bigger brain than a human. But are they smarter?

Many neuroscientists now agree that it isn’t size, but the complexity of neural connections that truly determine a brain’s capacity and potential.

To translate this, it’s not size that matters most. It’s how efficiently different parts of your brain communicate with each other.

Lesson:

It’s not how big your brain is that matters most, but how well the different parts communicate.

Train your brain to connect different ideas, senses, intelligences together and keep learning everyday.

Myth #6: Believing women and men have different brains

Of all the myths here, this perhaps is one of the most damaging.

It sets you up to behave according to a preconceived idea of how you should or shouldn’t behave based on your sex.

Let’s start with what is true.

Yes, there are some very very minor anatomical differences between male and female brains.

However, this difference has never been linked to a difference in ability. What we do know, is that any distinction which is created is the by product of our own cultural conditioning.

If there is a difference, or inequality, it is one created by our society.

A common misconception is that women do better when you test them accordingly to emotional intelligence and empathy. The anatomy of the brain runs counter to this however.

The hippocampus, associated with memory, is typically larger in women, while the amygdala, involved in emotion, is larger in men, which is quite contrary to the myth.

Lesson:

Your sex does not determine what you are fated to be good or bad at. It’s often the result of our cultural conditioning.

Reflect on your own gender biases and avoid stereotyping yourself or others based on this.

Myth #7: Believing you know what makes you happy

This probably surprised you a little, didn’t it?

Deep breaths. Allow me to explain:

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We commonly believe that we know exactly what will make us happy and unhappy.

The truth however is that this isn’t (totally) true. We massively overestimate how happy we think something will make us feel — gifts, promotions, marriages, divorces — you name it.

Even when it comes to money, countless studies have shown that beyond a certain point (around 77,000USD/year), money doesn’t really make us that much happier.

Conversely, the things that we fear and avoid don’t make us as unhappy as we expect.

The commute on a Monday morning is nowhere near as bad as we think, nor is the awkward conversation with an estranged family member or friend.

The most soul crushing tragedies — breakups, losing a loved one — cause us despair and grief, but don’t last as long as we anticipate.

Lesson:

Things are never as bad as they first seem, or as good as they first seem. You’re not that good at predicting how you will feel, or felt about the future or the past.

Myth #8: Believing you lose mental power over time

When we’re young, it’s easier to take risks and try new things to some degree. But as we age, we seek our comfort and routines.

Until eventually, those same patterns and routines become shackles.

Maybe that’s why you haven’t:

  • Stuck to that workout or yoga routine you want to get better at.
  • Finished the book you say you want to write and publish.
  • Started that business idea you’re thinking and talking about so often.

Many people fall into this trap of believing they “lose it” over time, and this mental error quickly sends them on a downward spiral of stagnation and mediocrity.

I want you to realize something:

Your brain and intelligence can get better with age.

So be excited, not demoralized!

It’s well known in business circles for example, that you get better as an entrepreneur as you age. The same is true in so many other fields too.

Of course there are some cognitive skills which decline in efficiency as you age – learning new languages, memorising a list of random words, counting backward by sevens.

But who cares?

Vocabulary, judgement of character, social wisdom, conflict resolution, emotional regulation and finding purpose – these are all skills that matter, which we are proven to get better at over time.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Well, let me take you a step further.

Not only can you get smarter over time, you can even continue (literally) growing your brain.

A brain which is active, for example learning new languages, trying new skills and hobbies, develops a richer connected network of brain cells. Taking it further, this “brain growth” also helps to prevent dementia and other diseases.

So no, it is not true that your mental decline is inevitable. Quite the opposite, the effects can be stopped and even reversed through mental exercise. The best part is you don’t even need to do it for that long.

In a study of more than 3,000 people aged 65 and over, just 10 hours training over several weeks in memory, problem-solving and decision-making resulted in significant and prolonged increases in cognitive ability.

Lesson:

Spend 10 to 15 minutes daily working on your memory, problem solving and decision making.

One of my favourites (which is a lot of fun) is to play Chess puzzles for free on lichess.com.

Myth #9: Believing there are 5 senses & one measure of intelligence

What if I told you that you don’t have just 5 senses? And school only tested you on one measure of intelligence?

Would you believe me?

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A commonly held belief that most of us have is that we have 5 senses and one type of intelligence.

It’s not your fault either, our entire paradigm of education only ever tests us on one “type” of intelligence” – via exams and essays. When in actuality, there are eight types of intelligence.

Just think:

There’s probably a type of intelligence that you may be a genius in, that you were never even tested on in school.

A comforting thought for those of us who didn’t ace every math or english test.

Additionally, there are not just 5 senses. But six more:

  1. Equilibrioception: A sense of balance, otherwise known as your internal GPS.
  2. Proprioception: A sense of where your body parts are and what they’re doing.
  3. Nociception: A sense of pain.
  4. Thermo(re)ception: A sense of temperature.
  5. Chronoception: A sense of the passage of time.
  6. Interoception: A sense of your internal needs, like hunger, thirst, needing to use the bathroom, etc.

The most fascinating part is that when we contrast this to other species, there are so many more senses we don’t have. Bats and dolphins can use sonar to find prey, sharks can sense electrical fields, and birds and turtles can even orient to the earth’s magnetic fields.

If anything, this displays how much more there is to know that we cannot even comprehend.

Here’s a philosophical quote that builds on this idea, from one of my favourite wise men, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev:

“You are seeking the infinite through the physical. Can the physical ever become infinite? The physical is finite, always within a finite boundary, it can never be infinite. It’s like you are riding a bullock cart but your destination is the moon, and somebody is saying buy yourself a new whip. If your destination is the moon, you need an appropriate vehicle. So through the physical if you are seeking the infinite, there will only be frustration.”

Lesson:

You are more intelligent than you may know. You have more senses than you know. But equally, there are vast oceans of unknowns too that you can’t comprehend.

Keep expanding and learning constantly, don’t rest on the knowledge you have. Strive to unlearn and learn simultaneously. Stay humble.

Myth #10: Believing your memories are accurate

This last myth is quite mind blowing.

What if I told you that your memories are not real? And that each time you access them, the more distorted they become?

If we just take a glance of the various types of biases that the brain has – there are at least 20!

There’re so many different ways in which the brain we have, has small errors or faults built into it.

And here is just one of them:

Every time you access memories, you project your current feelings and mindset onto that memory. As a result, your memory itself changes.

Mind blowing, right?

But how does this help you?

Well each time you look back on an experience, you are changing it. This means you can’t accurately predict or recall how things really were.

Knowing this, how much more important are those seemingly menial things like:

  • Creating a daily journal of what you are thinking, feeling and planning to look back on later.
  • Keeping clear and up to date records of your workout progression.
  • Tracking your to do lists, goals and plans throughly to keep yourself focused.

Lesson:

You aren’t able to recall things as accurately as you might think. So take diligent notes always in everything you do.

From your feelings, hopes and dreams to your day to day budgeting, to-do lists and more. These written records will help you remember things more accurately!

Have you found yourself understand a lot more about your brain? The most popular myths about left brain and right brain are now busted. It’s your turn to really develop your brain’s potential and don’t get restricted by those myths!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Keshav Bhatt

Writer, Social Entrepreneur, Accredited Life Coach & NLP Practitioner

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Last Updated on May 16, 2019

Can You Stop Depression from Damaging Your Brain?

Can You Stop Depression from Damaging Your Brain?

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in America, according to the latest mental health statistics.[1] Approximately 17.3 million adults have had at least one major depressive episode.

In this article, we will take a deep look into depression, what a depression brain is like, and how to prevent the damage from depression.

What is Depression?

In order to tap into treatment options for depression, we must first examine what defines this disorder.

Apart from differing scientific and medical jargon, depression – also known as Major Depressive Disorder – is best categorized as a serious mood disorder.

While it is common, it is anything but innocent. The symptoms of depression have serious effects on daily living, and leave the afflicted person with an inability to carry out normal tasks, such as working, interacting with friends and family, and sleeping.

Depression itself is an umbrella term for a list of specific types of depression, such as Postpartum Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (which leads into serious symptoms of depression), Bipolar Disorder, and Psychotic Depression (which is depression with symptoms of psychosis), just to name a few.[2]

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While everyone experiences moments of depression in their life, being clinically diagnosed with depression is usually done with the aid of medical help. This diagnosis typically relies on a baseline of depression symptoms that have been present for at least two weeks.

Symptoms of Depression

Because depression is categorized as a serious mood disorder, most symptoms will begin with a person’s behavior. A person may feel persistent sadness that simply won’t go away, or they may experience a loss of interest in activities that they once enjoyed, like gardening, traveling, or working out.

Other symptoms, although not a complete list, may persist:

  • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Angry outbursts, followed by a complete mood change (from happy to sad in very quick shifts)
  • Struggles with insomnia or significant changes in sleep schedule
  • Inability and lack of desire to get out of bed in the morning
  • Significant decrease in personal hygiene, nutrition, and maintenance of their home or space
  • Decreased interactions with friends, family, or colleagues
  • Lack of energy and physical weakness, apathy, or pains and aches
  • Trouble concentrating on specific tasks or making decisions
  • Frequent thoughts about death, or even suicidal plans, thoughts, or attempts
  • Back pain and headaches

While this list is not complete or exhaustive to a person’s struggle with depression, it does provide a general picture of some of the common symptoms.[3])

Causes of Depression

Mental health disorders still very much pose a mystery to medical professionals and science, in general. While depression is treated in a variety of ways (medicine, therapy, alternative healing, etc.), professionals are still learning more about this disorder and how it affects people of different genders, ages, and backgrounds.

However, a variety of factors are known to be possible contributors to depression, such as:

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  • Hormones – in cases of giving birth or going through menopause, women’s hormones quickly change, which can trigger depression or similar symptoms
  • Genes – while not everyone gets depression from inherited traits, it is a factor, and research has seen a correlation between depression in families that is carried through generations
  • Brain chemistry – one of the key factors in understanding cause of depression is brain chemistry, specifically neurotransmitters that work with the neuro-circuits in the brain to balance mood stability. If these neurotransmitters are not working properly, it could lead to depression or similar symptoms

We already mentioned brain chemistry, and how it plays an integral part in understanding how your brain works in relation to mood stability. Neurotransmitters are your body’s chemical messengers. They transmit these messages between neurons for a plethora of reasons – cognitive function, organ function, dopamine release, etc.[4]

In terms of relating this to depression, however, those transmitters also regulate mood stability, and if they’re not relaying messages correctly or connecting to the brain circuitry in normal, functioning ways, we see a correlation between that “misfiring” and mental illness.

To paint a picture, imagine your brain split in half, the two lobes or hemispheres perfectly separated from each other.

Now, imagine the mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters like tiny little ping-pong balls that bounce from one hemisphere of the brain to the other, relaying messages that connect the brain as a whole. This is what we normally see in a healthy functioning brain.

However, if there is a change in this chemistry, and the ping-pong balls are not crossing and relaying as they should, that change creates a shift in your brain circuitry that may cause depression or similar symptoms.

Because our brain is an extremely complex and intricate organ which scientists are still studying and learning about, it wouldn’t be complete to say that only chemical imbalances cause depression.

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In fact, recent Harvard research suggests that a slew of factors are involved in creating a correlation between depression and your brain function. These are inclusive of the neurotransmitters we described above, but they also include your way of life, medication, stress levels, and even genetic contributions or ways in which you were brought up.[5]

Because depression is a mood disorder, we have to look at our behavior, and how it is influenced by our brain chemistry.

Behavior is shaped by our temperament, and much of that comes from our genetics. We are predisposed to act in certain social situations in ways that tie us to our family chain.

How we react to life circumstances or other people is very much a reflection of what we picked up from our parents, guardians, friends, or social upbringing. From this, we may make different choices in life, for better or worse, depending on these genetics.

Similarly, our view of the world and our relation to it also have a hand in how depression may form. We create our world view early on in life, and while it is influenced by our family and life events, it’s also very much our own.

If you’ve experienced loss or disappointment, you’re likely to fall back on your world view to cope with it and allow it to protect you. As an example, you may close yourself off from new relationships because you’ve endured heartbreak and don’t believe that you’re worthy of real love; or, you come from an upbringing that wasn’t emotionally available, so you don’t create habit patterns or behaviors that show you how to handle emotion in a healthy way.

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All of these scenarios create behavior. In turn, that behavior creates habit patterns, that in turn, create your daily life and your interaction with it.

While chemical imbalances can have a direct role in manifesting depressive episodes, we have to be aware that our own, inherent behavioral traits are just as powerful contributors.

Medications to re-balance any chemical disruptions in the brain are a proactive tool against depression. These can be explained and provided to you by a medical health professional.

When it comes to our behavior, however, and how we deal with stress, trauma, loss, medical problems, and the like – all of which are triggers for depression – we can implement new habits[6] that can decrease any damage to our state of body and mind, such as:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga or any body-conscious movement or workout
  • Journaling about life events or problems we encounter on a daily basis
  • Therapy or group-sharing
  • Acupuncture, Reiki, or any alternative-healing modality
  • Diet and nutrition rich in foods that cleanse and empower (rather than numb and overpack the gut)
  • Hiking, running, biking, or any cardio-increasing activity
  • Spending time with others who support you

These are habits and tools that you can implement on your own, as well as with a professional. Remember to always consult with your doctor before starting any new regiment.

The Bottom Line

Depression is a disorder that affects our mood. While research has uncovered that depression may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain, it also suggests that our behavior and inherent genetic traits are strongly connected to how depression manifests.

How you deal with the many ups and downs of daily life are strong indicators of where you may want to make changes, whether medicinal or alternative, to decrease your chances of depression and its damage, and embrace a life of health and well-being.

Featured photo credit: AJ Garcia via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] National Institute of Mental Health: Major Depression
[2] National Institute of Mental Health: Depression
[3] Mayo Clinic: Depression (Major Depressive Disorder
[4] Queensland Brain Institute: What are Neurotransmitters
[5] Harvard Health: What Causes Depression?
[6] Help Guide: Coping with Depression

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