Can you draw?
Your answer to that question reveals a surprising amount about your brain and the way you integrate your right and left hemispheres. (In this article, the left side will be referred to as the dominant one, which is by far the most likely scenario.)
You see, the left side of the brain excels at verbal, analytical, rational and logical tasks. It’s the dominant half. It takes over most of the time, using words to describe and define, figuring things out step by step, drawing conclusions based on facts and logic, and thinking in a linear way. The left side of the brain jumps right in with words and symbols, and is such a bully that it takes on even those tasks it isn’t likely to perform well.
Now, the right side of the brain is completely different. It relies on nonverbal cues to process perceptions. It’s good at tasks requiring the ability to see similarities, to understand how parts fit together as a whole, to make leaps of insight (those a-ha moments), and to perceive overall patterns at once. It tends to hang back a little, letting the left side take over most duties.
It’s sort of like siblings. You’ve got a confident, verbal first child and a quiet, introspective, thoughtful second child. Who do you think wins the argument for that last dessert? Who chooses which television show to watch? Who dominates the conversation about where to go on a family vacation? The second child might have a valuable perspective, but the older one is so assertive that he tends to win most arguments and rule the roost.
If your answer to the drawing question is “No, I’m pathetic,” it’s likely your left brain is being a bit of a thug. Whenever you pick up a pencil and start to sketch, it’s taking over with its tendency to verbalize images and analyze shapes. Meanwhile, the right side–the perceptual, spatial part of your brain–is over in the corner, raising its hand, trying to get attention. “Oh, pick me!” it says. Too bad that the left side is already busy drawing lines and forming a strategy.
What if you could outsmart the bully on the left? What if you could somehow give that right side of your brain its chance to shine?
According to Dr. Betty Edwards, a respected art educator and author of the best-selling book, Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, you can actually make a mental shift from what she refers to as the “L-mode”–the verbal, dominant form of thinking–to the “R-mode,” which relies on visual cues. It’s possible to get the right side to kick in and take over the task of drawing.
How? Well, we need to get tricky.
The left side takes over tasks UNLESS it finds a particular job undesirable. If a certain task takes too much time, is too detailed or slow or simply too difficult, then the left side gives up. So, the trick is presenting the task–in this case, drawing–in such a way that the right side is allowed to jump in.
This happens a lot with words. When we try to describe something verbally and find it too difficult, what do we do? We rely on gestures. Just try to describe a spiral staircase without using your hands.
Dr. Edwards teaches people to draw by presenting them with images that are upside down. This puts the left brain in a state of confusion so that it can’t easily decipher shapes, assign a top and bottom, attach labels and categorize them to match stored memories.
The key to integrating your right side lies in looking for opportunities to allow it to become dominant. When presented with a confusing image, your left side gives up. We should literally turn things upside down in an effort to thwart the left brain’s control and let the R-mode take over.
This same idea works in creative problem solving. Sometimes the best way to deal with a challenging issue is to sleep on it. When the left brain is exhausted, the intuitive, subjective, holistic right side has a chance to sneak in and come up with a solution that seems to have come “from nowhere”. See? We don’t even give our right brains credit for creative insights!
It’s exciting to think that there are ways to outsmart our brains. By intentionally putting ourselves in a state of mental conflict, we can enhance our creativity.
Look for ways to plunge yourself into that discomfort zone. Whether we’re tackling a picture or a problem, the key to jumpstarting our right brain lies in shifting our perspective.
Grab a pencil, turn the picture upside down, and start drawing! Somewhere inside you, that frustrated artist will be grinning from ear to ear.