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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!

More Tips for Boosting Brain Power

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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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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