Most of us have heard of right- or left-brain thinking, but it’s not as simple as assigning a separate set of strengths to one side of the brain or the other. In fact, being right-brained or left-brained is more descriptive of someone’s personality or the way they prefer to accomplish tasks.
The right side of the brain does indeed have control over the left side of the body and vice versa. People who suffer an injury to the left side of their brain may experience physical problems on the right side of their body including vision, movement, strength, and control.
Right or left “sidedness” is also a well-documented fact. Most people — between 70% and 90% — are right-handed. Right-handed people may also tend to use their right eye or ear to gain information or their right foot to take action, like when taking the first step when heading out for a walk.
But processing information calls both sides of the brain into action. Take language processing for example. The left side of the brain is focused on the sounds that form individual words and how those words work together to form a sentence. The right side of the brain interprets the “emotional features of language” like tone of voice and the feelings associated with what is being said.
With that division of labor in mind, some of the activities and abilities that require more engagement from the left side of the brain might include logical and critical thinking, working with numbers, interpreting language, and using reasoning to solve a problem.
The right side of the brain is more engaged with the “touchy-feely” side of information processing, including the expression and interpretation of emotion, and taking an imaginative, intuitive, or creative approach to problem-solving.
There are benefits to tapping into both “sides” of your brain
Personality traits and preferences are established early in life. If you’ve always been a “numbers person” who applies a logical, step-by-step process to learning a new skill or completing a task, that’s not likely to change. If you’ve always taken a more intuitive, creative approach to your work or leisure activities, it won’t be second nature to become a “list person” with a plan for success.
Still, making a conscious effort to use both sides of the brain when confronted with a new challenge or opportunity may provide a surprising result. Creative types about to embark on a new art, cooking, or music project may benefit from making a list of all the supplies they’ll need and a step-by-step plan to see their project through to fruition. Logical, critical thinkers may benefit from letting their minds wander a bit — exploring the “what ifs” and “what abouts” that could provide a more well-rounded result.
Exercises to train your brain
If you’d like to develop your “left brain” skills, here are a few suggestions:
- Sudoku and other number-based puzzles
- Brain teasers, especially math problems
- Learning a new language
To step up your “right brain” abilities, try these activities:
- Breathe out of your left nostril. It sounds strange, but this may activate the right side of your brain!
- Draw or write with your left hand. Don’t worry about being neat or legible.
- Play a matching game with a deck of cards. Turn playing cards face down. Turn one over and try to find a match (number, suit, or face card) in as few tries as possible.
As stated earlier, being right brain or left brain has more to do with our personality than with anything that’s happening in our grey matter, but trying to use all our brain power when it comes to facing a new challenge or solving a problem may deliver a pleasantly surprising result.