In the RSAnimate video, The Divided Brain, Iain McGilchrist makes a fascinating argument that certain activities such as art, emotion and language aren’t uniquely left or right brain functions. Rather, his humorously narrated animation offers a more nuanced explanation for modes of thinking: Our left hemisphere is concerned with narrowly focused attention while the right allows us to maintain sustained, broad alertness of surroundings. Linda Verlee Williams relates this another way in her book Teaching for the Two-sided Mind: The left sifts out the parts that constitute a whole while the right combines those parts to create a whole. Left hemisphere=fragmentation; right hemisphere=synthesis. So what does this imbalance mean?
The more left brain dominant we become, the more we fragment reality so that it can be understood, quantified. We emphasize critical thinking skills of analysis, logic, and accuracy over synthesis, creating, and relating. McGilchrist argues this results in paradoxical conditions: we pursue happiness yet mental illness is skyrocketing. We strive for freedom and technological advances but are weighed down by bureaucracy and loss of privacy. We strive for perfection, but end up feeling empty.
Can we tilt the cerebral scales in favor of more balance? I googled “brain function balance” and was overwhelmed by info touting optimal brain functioning through hormone replacement, electric shock, and i-Phone games. I’ll keep searching and share what I find. In the meantime, I leave you with this from Thomas Merton, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”
Years ago, my prankster grandfather put a plaque outside my bedroom door. It read, “Warning! My moods change without notice!” Did I mention I was only 6?
This started an early awareness of my moods, what affected them and how to improve them. I’ve followed, read, practiced and thrown out a lot of theories which, of course, put me in a bad mood. However, I’ve been a devotee of Marty Seligman for years now since he pioneered the notion that psychologists focus too much on the pathology of disorders. Seligman’s construct of Applied Positive Psychology has shown that cognitive exercises can help us overcome depression, anxiety, etc. For more info, check out Penn’s Master’s of Applied Positive Psychology program or read his latest book, Flourish.
Now I implement simple exercises to improve my mood and feel happier. Here’s one I use daily: Write down three things that went well and why they went well, or why it means so much. That’s it!
Here are some real-life examples to get you going:
1. J got the job in NYC! She moves this summer! Why? She’s so awesome and was really intentional about manifesting a more meaningful job for herself.
2. Dinner tonight: wine and cheese with Jack. Why? Relaxing end to the day.
3. A student told me today I was an “excellent teacher”! Why? Because I love my students and hope they feel I’m valuable to their success.
If you don’t have a journal, print this WhatWentWellExercise and put it next to your bed with a pen.
Teachers can use this as a “ticket out the door” exercise at the end of class or day. Not only does this work on students’ metacognitive skills, it should improve the classroom environment.