The four characters inside you...
Updated: May 19
Although neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor—let’s call her Dr. Jill—gave the first TED Talk ever to go viral, she believes “My Stroke of Insight” failed in its mission. In her 18-minute speech, she describes how a stroke knocked out the left hemisphere of her brain and gave her a glimpse of the bliss that exists in the right hemisphere where boundaries fade away, “me” becomes “we,” and life, stripped of past and future, consists only of present moments. Dr. Jill returned from her journey to the peaceful euphoria of the right side of her brain a changed woman. She wanted people to listen to her TED Talk and recognize that we are all connected as part of a whole. She wanted us to treat each other with more respect and kindness. But in the 13 years since her words went viral, the world has become more left-brain dominated, more “me” and less “we,” more polarized and less civil. So Dr. Jill is back to try again with a new book entitled Whole Brain Living: The anatomy of choice and the four characters that drive our life to describe how the brain, on an anatomical level, contains four characters that need to exist in harmony to maximize wellbeing. To find inner peace and make good decisions you need to acknowledge these four characters and listen to their wisdom. I highly recommend Whole Brain Living for anyone interested in living a more contented, balanced life. Each of your four characters maps onto a quadrant defined by two dimensions: left and right hemisphere, and thinking versus emotion. Take a look at the diagram below that describes each character, and think about which one is most dominant in your life:
It's obvious which character dominates my life. It's Character 1, whom I refer to as “The Boss Lady” (Dr. Jill recommends that you name your characters). In Whole Brain Living, each character is described as they would behave on a beach. The Boss Lady won't let me go to the beach. If a beach is unavoidable, The Boss Lady will make me pack an educational book (no mindless beach books allowed!), a cocoon to protect my body from the elements, and a schedule for beach walks to add to my daily step count. It seems I'm not alone in having a dominant, dominatrix Character 1. My sister, on the other hand, is often blissing out in Character 3. Sometimes this can lead to sibling discord, such as the time when we got lost after a long day of bike riding in France (pre-Google maps). Drawn to the awe that is ever present in the here and now, Dannah wanted to stop and take in the beauty of the sunset while my Characters 1 and 2 freaked out at the thought of trying to find our way in the dark on bikes without headlights and sleeping in a meadow rather than the comfy room we’d booked. Although The Boss Lady resists, I'm grateful for my sister who lures me into my Character 3 (Alex) to enjoy a sunset, audition for The Vagina Monologues, or jump off a mountain. You can imagine how in your own life these characters may be fighting amongst themselves internally as you feel pulled in opposite directions, and externally as they come into conflict with other people’s characters. You can also imagine how Character 1s may be attracted into the orderly lives of other Character 1s where they enjoy doing productive things together. According to Dr. Jill, you need to get your four characters working in sync with the shared goals of maximizing your wellbeing and making good decisions, especially when you’re under stress and prone to making bad choices. This brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time...
How can you successfully navigate the space between stimulus (an upsetting event) and response (something other than the impulsive tantrums of Character 2) to enjoy the growth and freedom on the other side? Dr. Jill provides a structured approach called “The Huddle” that brings together your four characters to decide which character you want to embody going forward. When something triggers you, you have 90 seconds when the chemicals associated with an emotion flood your body. It’s what Dr. Jill calls “the 90-second rule.” After that 90 seconds, you can choose to either keep feeding that emotion or select another approach. Ignoring your feelings is not an option. The feeling part of the brain is far older than the thinking part—“we are feeling creatures who think, rather than thinking creatures who feel” says Dr. Jill who recommends the following 5-part huddle process with the acronym BRAIN to embrace all your characters and make good choices: Breathe - connect with your breathing Recognize - which of the four characters are you currently in? Appreciate - acknowledge and appreciate the character you've identified Inquire - which character is most appropriate to handle this situation? Navigate - recognize the power of change and the fact you have the ability to choose which character you want to bring forward in the next moment Dr. Jill does a huddle 20-30 times a day so that when Character 2 is losing it and she needs to make a good decision, the muscle memory is there and she can slow down and select the most appropriate character to respond in the moment. “I have these other parts of me that are waiting for me to embody them in an instant, but I have to be willing to give up the deliciousness of my hostility and anger. Peace is just a thought away.” - Jill Bolte Taylor, from the livehappy podcast and Whole Brain Living Links that all your characters will love:
How Exercise May Help Us Flourish The New York Times
A Once-in-a-Lifetime Chance to Start Over The Atlantic
99 Bits of Unsolicited Advice KK.org
How to Change Your Habits | Katy Milkman Ten Percent Happier Podcast
There’s a Perfect Number of Days to Work From Home, and It’s 2 The Atlantic
Have a blissful day, The Boss Lady