If I have a right-brain stroke, make me draw, every day. Multiple times a day, preferably.
Because I’ll likely be a pissy mess, from the over dominance of remaining left-brain function: taking things (too) literally, language, calculations, and the most left-localized emotion, anger. The left brain gets frustrated and demanding, and slaps the table and makes proverbial faces when it can’t get what it thinks is ITS WAY. I’ll be missing the integration, the global appreciation of things, and the dealing with things right here/right now that is the province of right-brain function.
So: make me draw.
Drawing is very right-brain, when done properly. It forces you to look, very closely and continuously, at the relationship between lines, angles, intensity of color, and shades of shadow, as you reproduce them at your current level of ability on the sketchpad.
Done properly, time drops away. The day’s calendar of events, and the anxiousness about getting ready for this phone call, or prepped for that meeting, fades.
Talking drops away, too. It becomes harder to talk and draw at the same time; if you’re having a conversation you’ll probably ask if you can catch-up another time, or just trail off in mid-sentence.
Drawing doesn’t take up all your right-brain CPU resources. Right-brain processing is inherently all-encompassing. It takes a lot of your neural wetware to stay focused in the present, while juggling the connections between all the parts.
And I should care because…
Because the small matter of this central division of labor within your BRAIN affects how successfully you will attain your health and fitness goals. We process all our information in these distinct ways, and the left-brain insistence on words and idea-rich rationalizing can get in the way of the all-important doing.
We can’t blame this on our modern, Internet-saturated lives, the other political party, Big Pharma, agribusiness, or the military industrial complex. We must take the proverbial bull by the horns — our internal brain horns — and get to work.
Pause, rewind, and pull back to a wider angle shot:
- There are only so many hours in a day, for each and every one of us
- There are also folks out there crushing it at whatever you want to do, professionally, personally, and from a health and fitness standpoint, in the same universe subject to the same laws of physics that you inhabit
If you are at Point A and struggling with 5 variables, and you’ve determined you need to get to Point B like Diana and Steve and they’re rocking 50 variables, there are only 2 explanations:
- They’ve figured out how to consistently do 10-times the output of a normal person
- They have normal output but have systems in place to multiply the effect 10-fold
In my experience as a physician, both are true in the real world.
And tackling the first scenario — consistently upping your output far above your current level — is where the right/left brain thing returns to the conversation. (Creating force multiplying systems is another conversation for another day.)
If you’re already moving at lightspeed, never mind
For those burning through life like John Wick slow-mo plowing through a room full of bad guys using 3 rifles, 2 handguns, 6 knives, and a potato peeler, you can skip this part. You’re already attacking life doing freeform jazz, all weapons out (and I’ve invited you to this newsletter so you can pat me on the head once in a while).
FOR THE REST OF US, the first and most fundamental issue is Can you move like that? Are you capable of Bending It Like Beckham, going John Wick or full-on Jedi master? (Again, maintaining that kind of output consistently is another matter for another post.)
If you’re used to juggling the variables of enough sleep, progressive exercise, dialed-in nutrition, and meaningful connections to others, and suddenly need to put X more balls in the air for increased expenses, sick parents, vampiric relatives, or plans to relocate, can you do it?
You might say, No I can’t, that’s why I’m stuck, the house is a mess, I still have a muffin top, I’m still carrying too much debt, and my stress is through the roof. While I’ll leave the debt to you and your accountant, for the rest I’ll remind you that Yes you can ramp it up, you can scale to infinity at need, you already do so periodically.
If you doubt this, why does it seem like you can’t?
From what I’ve seen: it’s the story you tell yourself. Which comes from the left brain.
Left brain shizz
I’m too tired to work out. That’s a left-brain rationalization.
I must fold this laundry before I start writing. Not a bad impulse, and laundry folding is mentally and emotionally therapeutic, but that’s a left-brain delaying tactic.
I must get these thoughts down on paper or my computer, before they get away from me and before I spend time with family; the family will be OK for 30 minutes (it takes hours), the fleeting thoughts can’t keep (possibly true but your family is critical). Delay, delay, delay.
I’m so strung out I need this scotch and this lasagna, instead of prepping the veggies and protein. You get the idea.
If you were lucky enough to have worked through Betty Edwards’ instructional book Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, or had an art teacher who did (I was blessed enough to have had both), you’ll recognize left and right brain states and what it feels like when you shift between them. And the left brain is a talker, boy howdy, and I strongly suspect, a storyteller vested in the self-serving reinforcement of what it already knows. The left brain is not fond of uncertainty and has a hard time with The Big Picture (which demands a certain level of being okay with fuzziness at the frontiers, since The Big Picture is, you know, big).
Put aside for the moment any smarter vs. harder improvements. Picking the right things to plow your time and effort into is vitally important, but for now, see what you can accomplish keeping things simple. You’ve got a monumental pile of shizz to do, let’s see what a basic right-brain shift can do:
What needs doing this minute, right where you’re sitting? Identify it, probably visually — the pup who needs playing with, the pile of mail that needs sorting and mostly throwing out — and do it, immediately.
Have the action INSTANTLY follow the identification. Connect the visual recognition (sight of dishes in the sink) or the identifying phrase you say in your mind (“Dirty dishes in the sink”) to the fix. At most, have the talk in your head be one short phrase that immediately triggers the fixing action.
Then go to the next thing. Identify and act. Then go to the next and the next.
This is less a right-brain exercise than “less of the left-brain” exercise. It’s still left-brain, but less of the indulgent part, the storytelling part, the rationalizing part.
Something needs doing — you identify a need — whack it out as soon as you make the ID.
The very next level — and you can do it from the get-go — is to prioritize the true need.
I must fold this laundry before I start writing. You know the true need is to write, so immediately sit down and write your article or paragraph.
I’m too tired to work out. Working-out is the true need, so drop right into those squats.
Immediately taking care of the true need first ALWAYS takes less time and effort than having the inner conversation to excuse putting the true need second, convincing yourself it’s better this way, feeling guilty that you know deep down it isn’t, you may never get around to the true need, etc. It’s a trick of the mind — a Sith mind trick, if you will, if you’re a Star Wars geek — thinking that it’s less painful to take the rationalizing easy way out. You’re just kicking the grenade down the road.
Just stick the pin back in it, fa’chrissakes.
And if you cannot, DRAW
Get a physical copy of Betty Edwards’s book, start at the beginning, and work through the exercises. It’ll be like a guided meditation: just follow the instructions, one session at a time.
Draw what you see, every day. It’s brain practice for seeing things as they are, paying full and honest attention, and dealing with reality without inner commentary and judgmentalism.
Critical skills for improving your personal health and fitness.