Stephanie Livingston–Psychologist


by on Aug.18, 2015, under Articles


Although we typically think of people who are logical, linear, methodical and verbal as being left siders. While the more creative, artsy, sensitive, and holistic ones are right siders. All the left siders in the house say “hey”. Now, all the right siders in the house say “hey.” If you are an accountant, engineer, or bank teller, you probably rely on the left side of doing things. However, if you are an interior designer, artist or entertainer, you tend to swing to the right more often. One side is not better than the other—just different. In fact we need both sides to function fully and to achieve the success and happiness we desire.
To give you a little neuroanatomy, the brain has two hemispheres connected by a small strip called the corpus callosumum. As mentioned earlier, the left side helps us to acquire and use verbal skills (e.g., language) and the right side more visual-spatial skills (e.g., driving a car). Another little tidbit is that the brain is contralateral to the body—meaning, if you had a stroke on the right side of your brain it would affect the left side of your body. But fortunately, if you have damage to one side of the brain, the other hemisphere helps to compensate for the loss. For instance, someone who loses their sight, might develop a keener sense of hearing. Our bodies are wonderful creations that have checks and balances to help us live full, productive lives. We have evolved to be survivors.
Our society so far has tended to lean more heavily on left side thinking. From hunter-gatherers, to farming, to industrialization, to technology—the southpaw brain has dominated. We tend to pay more respect and financially compensate more for logical linear thinking. How often have you heard, “when you go to college, major in the hard sciences (i.e., math, engineering, computer science), you’ll make more money. Or don’t become a “starving artist”. The message is– if you want to be “successful”, you should choose a path that will provide financial security. You can pursue your passion to become an actor or musician, but be prepared to live on a shoestring, until you make it big. Fortunately, that thinking is beginning to change. Schools of higher learning are beginning to realize that high scores on standardized tests are not the only predictor of success in life. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that good grades are just as predictive of success in life as standardized test scores (e.g., ACT, SAT). Not to mention, it is becoming more and more important to be able to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded person versus just being a good test taker. I think the movie Internship is a good example of demonstrating the importance of balance. The nerdy, overachieving, highly educated, Millenial, Google interns were able to learn a great deal from the fast talking, fun-loving, unemployed salesmen—Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, and vice versa. Together, they made a winning team—left brain and right brain working together.
More and more, companies are recognizing that to move into the future, technology, combined with creativity is the winning strategy. Using both sides of the brain coupled with incorporating people from diverse backgrounds yields better results. Logic and creativity, will be necessary to compete in a global economy. So start padding your resume with activities outside the classroom. Are you volunteering or taking music, dancing, or acting lessons? Isn’t this a much fairer system than giving an unfair advantage to students who have the resources to take test preparation classes, or who have contacts to pave the way to enter college? Everyone has something to contribute, if given the chance. The graffiti artist from meager means may make a great graphic designer. Or the drug dealer, might possess the skills to run a legitimate business one day. You never know where the next Steve Jobs is coming from.
And lastly, let’s not forget your mental game. Performance of any kind is largely dependent upon your thinking habits. Whether you are primarily a left or right brain thinker, your emotions can either hurt or help how well you do. You may know a lot of facts, but when it comes to taking a test, your anxiety may make you fall on your face. Similarly, if music is your thing, and singing in your apartment or recording studio is great, but when you get on stage you freeze, you are not in control of your thoughts and emotions. Or if you are a writer, writer’s block can be a terrible demon to tackle. The strategies for managing performance anxiety are the same whether you rely on the left or right side of your brain to perform. Read my article on Test Anxiety for more information on this topic. Regardless of which side of the brain you rely on, try to develop the other. I learned in Martial Arts that whatever exercise we do on the dominant side of the body, we do twice as many on the non-dominant side. So if you are right handed and you did 10 moves with your right arm, you would do 20 with your left. In that way you are training your brain to use both hemispheres. Don’t neglect your non-dominant side—nourish it. It will pay you great dividends. Memory games, crossword puzzles, playing sports, can all help you to integrate both brain hemispheres. Don’t become too one-sided. Don’t be the nerd who doesn’t know how to have fun, or the laid back person who doesn’t have a plan. A little of both should do the trick.

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