Right Brain Theory

Our Right-Brain Is an Autonomous System

At times writers will refer to something called writer’s block. This malady is often used to describe the state where the person is stranded dead in the water with no new thoughts or ideas. That’s not entirely true. Our right brain is running all of the time in the background, autonomously without any help from us!

This shouldn’t be a foreign concept to us. There are many systems in our bodies that take care of us autonomously. We don’t have to work at breathing or making our heart beat. When we dream, we are rarely in control of the images that flood our mind.

We don’t have to think about healing. Our bodies just do it. The right brain is involved in that process, too! I would even go so far as make the argument that our right brain is the subconscious mind at work.

The huge revelation here should be that our subconscious communicates with us directly through a language of its own. It speaks with us using symbols, short phrases, unsolicited emotional states and in the dreams that play in our head while we are resting.

Our subconscious doesn’t have an ego separate from us, and therefore doesn’t carry a personal name or identity. Instead it works from an instinctive base of instructions that have been there since birth. Just as a bird instinctively knows how to fly, our subconscious is completely equipped with the same primordial knowledge that is common to all human beings. That is why there are so many similarities in symbols and drawings found in archaeology around the world.

Our subconscious mind works from a collection of fight or flight mechanisms that understands all universal law. It acts on these mechanisms to make us feel uneasy as we approach the edge of a cliff. We don’t have to have an intellectual understanding of what gravity is to appreciate that our subconscious is already completely aware of it!

Every day we recognize our right brain at work. Our subconscious can keep a car driving between the lines on the road while we are daydreaming. When it looks out for our safety, we call that intuition. When we engage in art, we call it inspiration. When we play music, we call it flow. When we’ve solved something difficult spontaneously and without any effort, we call out Eureka.

How Designing Board Games Stimulates the Right Brain

When I design board games, I often write symbols on cards, tiles and other objects that people are already familiar with. Symbols are a common language that runs deep, unaffected by culture. This familiarity can help more people identify with the instructions better, regardless of what language they speak.

As the game design progresses, a story emerges from how these symbols interact with each other. I start to understand why different aspects of the game came together as they did. There is a similar process that happens when we start communicating with our right brain, the subconscious mind.

Our subconscious communicates using symbols, feelings and simple words that have emotional meaning to us. When we make an effort to meditate on the different symbols that are flashing in our mind, similar ideas start creeping in. Putting all of them together eventually creates a cohesive dialogue – further propagating the creative process.

If a person is suffering from writer’s block, it’s because they aren’t listening to themselves speak.

Try This Exercise

Have a friend loan you a book, or have them choose one for you from the library. It should be one your friend is very familiar with. Make sure it is one that you’ve never seen or heard read before. During your first attempts at this exercise it is helpful to have a book with plenty of illustrations.

Instead of reading the book like normal, sit down for a few minutes and just briefly scan over every page. Then put the book away.

I’d like to make the argument that because our subconscious is an autonomous system, it is perfectly capable of storing everything we see, touch, or hear. Just ask an artist to paint a picture from memory!

As the subconscious takes in the world through the windows of our senses, it ponders the environment autonomously, too! Even though we may not be meditating on the book that was just briefly opened, our subconscious mind is.

Generally, it takes a couple of days before we start receiving feedback. When this happens make sure to grab a notebook! Write down any weird images, words or anything out-of-the-ordinary that pops into your mind. When waking up from a deep sleep, it is often the last few dreams or images we remember that are the most significant.

Blood flow is also important to this process! Take a nice hike outside, preferably up a hill. You might be surprised why the guru is always pictured at the top of the mountain. That guru is you, because by the time you’ve made it to the top, most problems have already working themselves out by nature of the flood of information you received.

Another important part of this process is repetition. Remember when teachers had their students write out one sentence over and over again? Unbeknownst to the student, that teacher was training them to form a new habit. That teacher was training the right brain.

Before sleep or starting a work out, it’s helpful to ask yourself questions about the book. “What was its message and why is that message important?” “How can I use this message in my life?” These are questions we can repeat to ourselves, focusing our subconscious on the subject at hand.

After a few images are written down in your notebook, take some time to meditate on what was written. Ask yourself, “what does the image mean?” As more images begin to flow, be sure to write those down, too. Soon, a whole story will emerge.

After three or four weeks of this exercise, return to the book you had scanned earlier or speak to a friend who is familiar with it. Don’t be surprised by how intimately familiar you are with that book now!

What this exercise should tell you is, be careful what you take in. What we feed our mind will always comes back to us, sometimes in ways we don’t expect. I call these crows.

The Roost

I find that there are different methods our subconscious uses to get our attention. I describe the eureka moments as a red crow. That’s when some unexpected message arrives from nowhere. A red crow is often accompanied by many other crows.

Also, don’t be alarmed if an interrupting crow blocks you during moments of inspiration. It’s just letting you know that you might be on the wrong track, or that something more profound is on the way that will help bring things into better perspective.

The important thing is just be patient with yourself.