Monday, January 9, 2012

One whole brain is better than a dozen half-brains

"There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."  - Sophia Loren

I absolutely love creativity.  I think that true creativity is a form of genius. 

While creativity can certainly be applied in nearly all pursuits of life, I have always had an especially strong appreciation for the works of those in the fine arts.  Throughout my childhood, I was very fortunate to have ample opportunity to experience a lot of creative outlets.  Most notably, I took piano and flute lessons; art classes; and gymnastics and figure skating lessons.  I was on the newspaper staff in high school.  My career aspirations included being a journalist, a psychologist, or a concert pianist.

Ultimately, practicality won out to maximize future job opportunities and in college I decided to be a finance major.  I did enjoy my business classes, but there was something special about my piano classes, my psychology classes, my literature classes.  They were a way for me to use different parts of my brain and they kept me cognitively balanced.  They also allowed me to relate to a larger variety of people.  Instead of constantly interacting with business majors, I was able to comfortably interact with, say, the music majors, and to go beneath the surface to understand some of their motivations and pursuits. 

Appreciating the diverse perspectives that different beings can provide.
 My focuses changed during the early part of my career, as I devoted myself to my profession.  For the first few years of my career I threw myself into my work.  The creative pursuits of my childhood took a backseat to navigating the fast-moving, competitive, and highly male-dominated business world, and for many years it was the unquestioned norm for me.  For many years I didn't even think about it.

I have worked for accounting and financial consulting firms my entire career now.  Up until a year ago, my roles have always been highly analytical in nature.  Translation: a lot of time spent sitting in front of a computer crunching numbers, then writing reports summarizing the results of those numbers.  Despite my appreciation for creative expression, I have spent a solid 10-plus years working in a field where creativity is not only discouraged, but illegal.

A few years ago, some of my roots starting showing (I think you can only evade your roots for so long) and my creative core began resurrecting itself in numerous ways (outside of work, of course).  Examples include a renewed appreciation for the fine arts, taking improv classes, dabbling at inventing my own cooking recipes.

More than ever now I also realize the beauty of giving yourself time to just sit and think.  It's truly amazing what our minds can produce when left to function unfettered and without being pulled into a dozen other directions.  After all, there's a reason why so many times we are suddenly hit with important thoughts or moments of true brilliance while standing in the shower.

Just over a year ago, I took on a new role with my current firm where I now work in new product development (NPD).  This has been a great career move for me because NPD is much more suited to my personal interests.  NPD's focus on innovation is a nice bridge to some of the more creative aspects of thinking that I so enjoy, while still effectively utilizing my previous career experiences.

Part of my NPD work entails trying to read up on innovation techniques.  I just finished reading Breaking Away by Jane Stevenson and Bilal Kaafarani, which has a section devoted to whole-brain versus half-brain thinking.  I love this concept.  In short, people are all much more effective when they have fluid use of both sides of their brain (the left side considered analytical and the right side considered creative). 
I generally believe that analytics are teachable, but creativity cannot be taught; that creativity has to come from within.  Comparatively, Breaking Away claims that both sides, including creativity, are innate within all of us, but that as children we are generally nurtured in school towards the more analytical pursuits such as math and science.  The book then suggests various ways to develop your less-dominant side.  For example, left-brainers can focus on experiencing things, such as riding in an airplane, with their non-visual senses; right-brainers can focus on developing structure by making lists of key observations during meetings.

On that note, running can be extremely analytical.  My mom read the marathon training charts on my previous post, and she remarked to me that she didn't realize how scientific the process was.  Indeed, there are all kinds of ways to crunch numbers in running - looking at paces, heart-rates, calories burned, distances, splits, VO2 max, elevations, miles, kilometers, temperature, humidity, training weeks.  The list goes on and on.

Am I analytical with my running?  Yes.  I keep training logs that analyze my running numbers. I look for patterns or trends and other figures that show me what areas I can focus on.  I agonize over the lack of improvement in certain numbers versus surprising improvements elsewhere.  I look at averages and year-to-date figures. I try to forecast where I might be next week or next year, and I conduct many variance analyses where I attempt to determine causalities for why I wasn't able to achieve my projected numbers. 

In short, marathon planning has done quite a number on me (no pun intended) because I have spent hours studying training charts and applying the associated goals to my calendar.  I am as much a fan as anyone on measurable goals, and analyzing all my numbers in every way imagineable (again, no pun intended) really does provide a lot of insight into where things are and where they are going for me. 

However, one of the reasons that I really enjoy running is because it is one of those times when I can be in my own little world to just think, no rhyme or reason needed.  There is great beauty in being able to run without being encumbered by time goals or other measurements.  I enjoy being able to crank up my MP3 player and listen to whatever I feel like.  Similarly, I've read many accounts of runners who have done their best in races when they ran by feel, as opposed to when they monitored their elapsed times or splits or whatever.

As excited as I am about achieving my marathon goal, marathon training has made me fear the prospect of training without analyzing the numbers.  Now I can't bear the thought of going for a run without entering the details into my training log and seeing how the numbers stack up.  I have become vigilant in sticking to my training patterns and have qualms of straying too far off base.

This is not a path I want to keep taking over the long-term. 

Basically, I'm starting to become very left-brained with my running.  My ideal, however, is for my running to occur on a whole-brain basis.  So what to do?

I want to implement what I'll call non-numeric goals for myself, which will include running just for enjoyment on a periodic but nondetermined basis.  No Garmin, no timing, no analysis of splits, nothing.  Just going running because it's a time for me to let my mind wander and to get some fresh air and scenery.  Maybe even taking pictures along the way without even considering about how much time it's taking away from my pacing.

This all sounds great and easy, right?  But I have to admit there's anxiety in allowing myself to completely let go, which can be very counterintuitive.

I am reminding myself that keeping things diverse helps me to be at my best in all aspects of my life, including running.  Running, in turn, helps keep me at my best to be more creative and thereby also helps keep me at my best.  It's a great cycle - but yet it's so easy to get so immersed in a goal that you lose focus in other ways.  But still a healthy reminder of what is important, yes? 

Here's to a non-numeric goal of unencumbrances.  Here's also to a whole brain, instead of a half brain, in both running and in life.

Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.”  
--Rita Mae Brown 

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