Dealing with Your Noisy Left Brain: How to Reconcile Your Differences

Left brain - right brain

Photo Credit: TZA (Creative Commons)

[Note: For the past several weeks, I’ve posted about stress relief (the stress response, diaphragmatic breathing, stress pride, progressive muscle relaxation, and sleep hygiene) and clearing your energy field.  Today’s and subsequent posts will shift toward more of a mindfulness and emotional intelligence focus, all of which are intended to have you living in the present with more peace, joy, and fulfillment.]

Meet Lefty

I have a very loud, very busy left brain that I call Lefty.  (For those neuroanatomy purists, I use the term ‘left brain’ loosely.  Our brains aren’t so neatly divided, but humor me for ease of description.)

Four things about Lefty before I get to our current dilemma:

left brain vs right brain

Photo Credit: Pedja G (Creative Commons)

1.  Lefty is my highly verbal, analytical, strategic, ‘thinking’ mind, as opposed to the creating, imagining, and intuiting one.

2.   Lefty is very persuasive; he’s a master of language.  He talks a great game.  When that doesn’t work, his yelling drowns out everything else.  The other side thinks in pictures, feelings, and other non-verbals, which are easy to miss (particularly when Lefty’s so loud) – and to dismiss.

3.  While I refer to Lefty in the singular, I actually hear many different, opinionated voices up there.  Some are bossy, some eagerly helpful, and others critical and beyond.  To minimize confusion, I refer to them collectively as Lefty.

4.  I’ve spent most of my time in my head – thinking, worrying, replaying, and planning (vs. being in the present moment, with what’s happening in and around me).  That means Lefty and I have had an overabundance of together time.

The Mindful Revolution

Left brain does all sorts of helpful things

Photo Credit: marsmet523 (Creative Commons)

For most of our relationship, Lefty has played the dominant role, driving decisions, solving problems, and keeping everything (meaning me) mostly in line.

Lefty successfully got me through 10 years of college and a dissertation, as well as a great career in advertising.  Lefty’s been in charge because he gets shit done, puts a roof over our head, and gets food into my mouth.  He can plan, solve problems, and anticipate the future.  He’s great in a pinch and always eager to help.

I’m extremely grateful, and I have no intention of leaving Lefty.  I greatly value (almost) everything about him.

Like an awakening 60’s housewife, however, I’m no longer content to let Lefty run the show.

I’ve been deepening my exploration and practices of mindfulness, inner wisdom, intuition, creativity, energetics, spirituality, and other ways of being.  It’s been hugely rewarding.  I’m more grounded, guided, and connected.  I’m less reactive and fearful.  I feel much more peace, freedom, and joy.

There’s just one problem.  Lefty doesn’t like it.  Not one bit.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Left Brain Threatened

When Lefty feels threatened, he goes on the attack.

Left brain doesn't like feeling threatened

Photo Credit: pcgn7 (Creative Commons)

He fights dirty.

He distracts – no, harasses – me during meditation.  He talks (or sings when talking doesn’t work) from the moment I sit down until I get up.

He tries to scare me out of taking even the smallest risks.

He admonishes me with the ‘right’ way to do things, especially as I deliberately expand far beyond those rigid boundaries.

At times Lefty is so obstructionist that it’s difficult to even access, let alone connect with, that more open, wide mindspace where creativity, connection, and consciousness flow.  He makes it damn hard to hear the inner wisdom I’m growing to rely on.

Lefty’s scared to death that I’ll leave him (and that he’ll be extinguished).  So he gets louder.  And louder.  And louder.

Can This Relationship Be Saved?

In the past, I would’ve caved.  I’d have gone back to my normal way of operating and tried to forget everything else just to appease Lefty.

Giving in, however, is no longer acceptable.  I greatly value these subtle yet profound shifts in my life, and I don’t want to go back to the way I was.

Left brain not needed for meditation

Photo Credit: Al_HikesAZ (Creative Commons)

While I have no intention of leaving Lefty (technically impossible since he’s part of me), things must change.

Goals of Couples Counseling

We’re doing our own version of couples counseling.  My hope is that Lefty will realize that he’s still relevant and valued.  He will continue to operate as Chief Thinking Officer.

I also hope that I can even more deeply engage with this inner wisdom that comes from presence, intuition, and connection.  I want Lefty to feel secure enough to welcome this Chief Experience Officer so we can all live in harmony.

Slowly but surely, we’re making progress.

Key Insights (Thus Far)

While everyone’s experience quieting a busy, noisy left brain are likely to differ, here’s what I’m learning so far:

1.  Gentle compassion works best with Lefty.  It’s true what all those Buddhist monks and others say: meditation is not about rejecting thoughts, it’s about continually returning to the present moment with compassion.

When I try to disavow Lefty, he freaks out.  When I get frustrated that he won’t shut up, he’s smug because he knows he’s won.  It’s far better to kindly acknowledge him and then refocus on what I’m experiencing.

2.  As I make mindfulness, meditation, energy work, and inner wisdom a regular, consistent focus, Lefty finally understands that I’m serious.  I’ve only dabbled in the past, including a 10-day silent vipassana.  But I wasn’t serious or consistent.

Over the past couple years, I’ve shown up and committed, and I’ve deepened my practice even more in the last several months.  Lefty still pulls something on occasion but not less so than before.  I still get distracted – quite a lot, in fact – but it’s more from my thinking habits than from Lefty retaliating for feeling threatened.

Left brain needs to be quiet to engage heart

Photo Credit: Nastassia Davis (Creative Commons)

3.  ‘Brain washing’ helps.  It’s my simple way of clearing my thoughts, and it signals to Lefty that I’m transitioning from thinking mind to wordless presence.   When I ‘brain wash,’ I direct the inhale up and through my head, ‘washing’ the breath through my brain.  I gather thoughts and the thinking mind and release them on the exhale.  I do several rounds.

Brain washing clears my mind, enabling me to focus on the present and be in my heart.  I return to this breathing when I get caught by thoughts, both during meditation and throughout the day.  For me, it’s more effective in quieting thoughts than only focusing on the breath.  Try it and let me know how it goes.

Lefty calms down when I ask for help and express gratitude.  Who doesn’t want to feel useful and appreciated, especially if you’ve been accustomed to running the whole show?  Lefty really likes it when I recognize his help.  He also loves being handed a problem to solve or an issue to think through.  I may as well have him keep doing what he does best.

Final Thoughts

The relationship between both aspects of me is strengthening, and I can feel the signal-to-noise ratio decrease.  It’s becoming much easier to hear my inner guidance and maintain mindfulness.  I feel more centered, alive, and calm, and I’m much more self-compassionate than I ever have been in my life.

I live more in the present moment – and in my body.  Less time in my head = a happier me.

I have no idea if any of this is relevant or helpful to anyone else.  I have heard countless clients, friends, and colleagues talk about their busy minds and loud mental voices, however, so I suspect that I’m not the only one with Lefty issues.  You tell me.

The journey hasn’t always been easy, but given the progress Lefty and I have made, I’m confident our differences are absolutely reconcilable.

~~~~~~~~~~

What’s your Lefty situation?  Have you had issues with a very noisy brain?  How does it affect you?  How do you deal with it?  Please share any thoughts, questions, or feedback in the comments section below – I welcome any more ideas I can get.

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10 Responses to “Dealing with Your Noisy Left Brain: How to Reconcile Your Differences”

  1. Melissa Maris November 27, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    Your jokes about Lefty are what made me want to be your coaching buddy in the first place! I’m glad you two are finally working things out. 😉

    • Mary Beth Leisen, Ph.D. November 29, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

      Oh, Melissa – perhaps no one knows Lefty better than you do. You’ve tangled with him so much that he’d have you on his Most Wanted List, except that he knows I’d shut him down for good if he ever did anything to you! :-)

  2. Laurie McLean December 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Mary Beth, I can so relate to Lefty. I call mine ‘Busy Head’ and she is one busy character! Forever analyzing, over thinking, justifying, planning, arranging, worrying, too. She is calmed by exercise, napping (avoiding) and when I allow myself to sit quietly and create focused work…free-forming new ideas, creativity and clarity when she’s not looking to take over and bully the focus away. I do cherish those free-forming times and I just wish I could create them more often. Thank you for sharing!

    • Mary Beth Leisen, Ph.D. December 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      Laurie, let’s make sure that if we’re ever together, we give Lefty and Busy Head their own project – like world domination! :-)

      Exercise is huge for me – I always tell people that I do it for the mental benefits more than the physical ones. I love those times when Lefty quiets enough for me to get in free-forming flow, as you describe so well – and I too, wish I could create them more often. It all seems to be baby steps for me…

  3. Terry Gotham December 12, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Good_Person_of_Szechwan This immediately came to mind. The utility of the left brain is so potent. I’m finding however, the more I work on seeing big pictures, accepting myself, and ensuring that I deal with situations holistically, the right brain rises.

    All steps are steps. Even if you fall flat on your face, you’re still moving forward ~Will Rogers

    • Mary Beth Leisen, Ph.D. January 14, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      Terry, I really appreciate those references – thank you!!! One step after another. That’s all we can ask. (And the thought that even when I fall flat on my face I’m still moving forward really helps, too!)

  4. Paul December 16, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    Hey Mary Beth, great post here. Like for all of us, it can be a challenge to CALM the mind. What I find particularly useful is to ensure I dedicate time for activities which allow expansive expression (creativity) and having FUN. I find that social and dancing activities are great to release the mind clutter. What I also find useful is to brainstorm my ideas onto Mindmaps (especially when I have an inspirational moment of which I am excited about. Also whenever, I feel the need to soften the flow of the conscious noise I tend to play the piano or meditate. Nature walks are also powerful. Keep up the great work!

    • Mary Beth Leisen, Ph.D. January 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

      I LOVE those ideas, Paul! The diversity of your list speaks to how certain activities may be more relevant or helpful in certain situations. Sometimes, I need more of that exercise, other times beauty, and still others to create something entirely new. These are such great ways to do it – thank you!

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