I don’t know why, but my gym is popular with He-Men who choose to increase only the muscles on the top half of their body. They spend time pumping up their chest, shoulders and arms – but ignore their glutes, thighs and calves. Why would people exercise one-half of their bodies?
Then again, why would people exercise one-half of their brains?
Did you know there are several “halves” to the brain? In 1962, Donald MacKinnon introduced Closed Minds-Open Minds in his book The Nature and Nurture of Creative Talent. Edward de Bono defined Linear Thinking-Lateral Thinking in his book The Use of Lateral Thinking, published in 1967. Roger Sperry’s research of split-brain lateralization won him a Nobel Prize in 1981, giving us Left Brain-Right Brain in the process.
All of us exercise our Closed Mind, Linear Thinking and Left Brain every day. We call upon these Rigid Sides to solve the problems we face in life. Their collective approach is to be organized, logical and sequential. They take the single path, working methodically, step-upon-step. These sides get assignments started and completed. We rely upon them to memorize facts, scrutinize details, prioritize tasks and make decisions. It’s been estimated we use these halves 90 percent of our day.
We use the Open Mind, Lateral Thinking and Right Brain for the remaining 10 percent of our day. Rather than a direct approach to problem solving, these Flexible Sides looks for multiple solutions by trying different approaches that are illogical, unorthodox and random. This side challenges the status quo, by shattering perceptions, exploring unusual combinations, and welcoming intrusions. It’s a side without rules. If the Rigid Sides work, the Flexible Sides daydream. If the Rigid Side is strategic, the Flexible Side is creative.
Open Mind vs Closed Mind: Wy We Need to Exercise Both Sides of the Brain
Because society prizes logic and order, it’s no surprise the imaginary sides are less exercised. The Rigid Sides are neat, consistent and objective. Do the same thing, over and over. Continuity equals sameness. These are traditional qualities that get us hired, not fired.
The Flexible Sides are anti-sameness. Their goals are discovery; their technique disruption; their outcome change. Change breeds danger and fear, of risk and of failure. These are the historical qualities that get us fired, not hired.
But, like all pairs, the half is not complete. They need each other. Their advantages minimize the other’s drawbacks. If the Rigid Side didn’t have the Flexible Side, nothing new would be accomplished. If the Flexible Side didn’t have the Rigid Side, the idea wouldn’t be implemented. Rigid Sides prize correctness and constancy. Flexible Sides prize richness and improvement.
So, one style of thinking is not better than the other. You must exercise both for balance, to be most successful.
Four Ideas For More Balanced Mental Calisthenics
Like the He-Men at my gym, you’re already exercising the Rigid Minds. So, why not give the Flexible Minds their equal due? Here are my top four suggestions for more balanced mental calisthenics.
1. Schedule time to stop and think. I hate to tell you, but doing is not thinking. ‘Doing’ is reacting to something else. ‘Thinking’ is proactive and revolutionary. Ideally, you should allow yourself at least 30 minutes each day to stop and daydream. It’s most productive if you have a problem to solve. Another variation: challenge your brain with mental puzzles. Solve a crossword, Sudoku, brain teasers.
2. Energize your brain with more visual stimulation. Change your environment. Go outside. Do something you’ve never tried, or haven’t done in years. Try a different sports game or a museum exhibition. Dial up the stimulation with activities which engage all senses: sight, taste, hearing, touch and smell. Another variation: read a visual magazine, or surf Google images with random words.
3. If two heads are better than one, talk to someone else. Introduce yourself to someone new. Rekindle a relationship with an old friend. Expand your network. Join a club. The key is finding a new perspective, a different voice. Another variation: engage an old professional colleague you’ve lost touch.
4. Let your Rigid Sides cool down. Sometimes we allow the Closed/Linear/Left halves to run unabated for long period of times. Give your brain a rest. Meditation is not New Age fantasy. There’s research proving its medical value. Another variation: clear your mind by walking for 30 minutes.
Dear readers, how do you exercise the Flexible Sides of your brain?