Your Brain is Amazing

So is mine, actually, if I can say so without seeming arrogant.  And this is partly because it can do two things almost at once.

I’m reading the best book ever (well, my latest ‘best book ever’ I suppose): it’s called ‘The Master and His Emissary’ by Iain McGilchrist.  Subtitle: ‘The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World’ – so, an ambitious tome.  But ambition is great if you can back it up – and boy, can McGilchrist back it up!  This is a book which connects neuroscience with philosophy with physics with literature with music with emotional intelligence with evolution with… you get the picture.

For those of us who are right-handed, the basic brain stuff goes like this (lefties: you probably – but not definitely – need to reverse left and right in the paragraphs below).

The right hemisphere of your brain is open to the world: it attends to everything that’s going on.  In a way it’s like a vast satellite dish, receiving signals all the time.  And it picks things up whole, connected, in context with one another.  (You can see this if you get wired up to a monitor which picks up the electrical and chemical activity in your brain.)

What does it do with all that overwhelming data?  It sends it to be ‘processed’ in the left brain: there it gets broken down and focussed and manipulated to make it useful to us.  the left brain will narrow down on what it thinks we need to know, and package it up in a more or less logical way for us – in words for example (for most of us the left brain is most involved in language).

All that happens in a nanosecond; and then the packaged information is whizzed back to the right brain to feed in alongside all the new data it’s picking up.  Stuff ‘reverberates’ from one side of our brain to the other all the time.

I find all this stuff mind-blowing – ironically.  But one of the many great things about it is – it totally fits with Jung’s notion of paired, complementary mental functions (as picked up in MBTI and other Jungian Type instruments).  Right brain – intuition (big picture, context, vision, connection).  Left brain – sensing (data, focus, analysis).  And it fits with Daniel Kahnemann’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ (fast – right brain; slow – left brain).

The question is – how do we get ourselves to attend to both sides of the brain appropriately?  If you’re a leader, this is especially important, of course – but we all need to do it.

You could start by reading the book…


10 Top Tips about Extraverts

1 – sometimes we prefer to be introverts.  When you see us organizing facts, savouring experiences, developing ourselves, thinking stuff through, dreaming dreams – we are working in the inside world, and that’s introversion

2 – the most important thing about us is usually something we show you quite quickly.  Because we prefer the outer world, you can often see what makes us tick.  That can be confusing if you think that the inner world is more important

3 – conversely, there are things you don’t see which are also important to us.  Just because we prefer the outer world doesn’t mean we don’t have a rich inner life

4 – you won’t get the best out of us if you don’t engage with us in the moment.  We love to know what you think and/or feel – don’t hold back!  We can take it…

5 – when we’re noisy, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re hassling you.  We may just be trying to discover what we think by talking.  And we expect you to come right back at us – we won’t (usually!) be offended

6 – we like introverts.  We appreciate your depth, and want to find out what’s in it; although sometimes we may need you to be a bit quicker to tell us

7 – we sometimes feel worried about being extraverts.  Are we too noisy?  Did we say that out loud?  They’re not saying anything – did I upset them?

8 – we don’t think we’re better than introverts.  But we do know that sometimes you need what we have, and we want you to appreciate our contribution

9 – too much time on our own depletes our energy.  We need time to think (well, most of us do) but we gain hugely from being with others and getting their input

10 – once you get really close to us, you may be surprised at how hidden our deep places are.  But we need you to listen carefully to all that we say and understand that some of it is really personal and important to us

Recognising yourself

‘Oh, that’s what I’m like!’

I was sitting in a dark railway carriage a few months ago, and I looked across the aisle.  I saw a reasonably smartly dressed man, with receding hair and glasses.  It was the end of the day – he looked tired. Oddly, he was staring at me as if he knew me.

That unexpected reflection has stuck with me: I can still see the image in my mind’s eye.  Because it’s hard to see ourselves with any sort of objectivity.  It’s both scary (I was older and tireder than I thought) and affirming (I was slightly better-looking than I thought – though that’s not making huge claim!).  Anything that helps us get a better view of who we are and how we appear is exciting.

That’s one reason I love using the Myers Briggs psychometric in my work.  This isn’t an advert – it’s just the truth!  Well used and understood, it’s a fantastic way of seeing ourselves without negative judgement or false pride; a way of recognising ourselves for who we are and beginning to understand how to work better with that.  Any week when I have a few feedback meetings using this tool is a good one for me – because I love to hear people say, with excitement, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m like.’