Here’s an interesting timeline that seems to exist quite a bit. See if it sounds familiar.
Phase one: you go to school. You’re given information and told to remember it when you’re asked a question, and then produce the answer upon demand.
Phase two: You’re given a lot of information and told to find the answer to the question. This time though you are tested on your ability to find the answer through layers of potential options, as well as to find “the best answer.” In many instances, even if there are more than one answer, you are told to find only one and ask no questions.
Phase three: You look for and eventually get a job which puts your theoretical knowledge to work. You’re told to follow the rules and don’t ask questions.
Phase four: You’re told to start “thinking outside of the box,” and to begin asking questions of your own, even if they don’t have answers, and that the answer itself isn’t important, but how you arrived at the answer was the main thing.
So here’s the dilemma. After working our way through school in order to get good grades, we find our ability to answer the questions posed to us. Sounds good, right? The downside is that it doesn’t teach us how to ask questions, create new directions, or more simply, “think outside the box.”
It’s been said that the left side of the brain is focused on linear thinking. The ability to compute, reason, rationalize, and come to an answer. The right side is seen as the more abstract side, where thoughts, imagination, creativity, and emotion reside.
Another way of thinking about it: the left side creates the amalgamates the facts, and the right side determines the overall importance of those facts and creates meaning to relay to yourself and to others in a way they understand.
Let me give you a bit of an example relating to training.
I was teaching a workshop this past weekend in Calgary, and one of the overlying themes was simply to not look for individual muscles that may not be working properly, but look at the dysfunctional movements. The movements will train and effect the muscles, but the muscles won’t train or effect the movements. At this point, a simple squat becomes a collection of thousands of muscles, dozens of joints, interconnections of fascial slings and fluid dynamics affected by tens of thousands of neural connections that have influence not quite determined by science. It ain’t just muscles, baby. To reduce a complex problem down to a single issue is both pointless and futile.
A squat is like listening to a symphony. When it’s great, you know it. When it’s not, you know it. Sure, the tuba player got smashed last night and has no lungs to push, and the guy hitting the cymbols just pounded a gallon of espresso and is throwing those things like crazy, yo. The rhythm’s off. The acoustics are crap. The flute came in late. Whatever, it affects you when you hear it and you know it’s just not right.
We’re taught to reduce until we find the root of the cause. This is where we determine that the mechanism of injury in most rotator cuff injuries is a compression between the acromion process and the humerus, causing the supraspinatus muscle to wear down and get an owie. As a result, we start trying to work on increasing the strength of the rotator cuff through repetitive external rotations with an elastic or cable or 3 pound pink dumbell. 6 months later, we’re still trying to answer the same question without asking any of our own.
That’s the equivalent of sending the entire orchestra home and working on getting the cymbol player to hit them together with JUST the right impact and volume.
Screw the fact that the guy has their head forward so far they resemble Yurtle the Turtle, or the fact that they’re stuck in kyphosis so bad their scapula hasn’t moved in weeks, and their hips are stuck in so much posterior tilt that they have plumber butt bigger than Kim Kardashian could ever hope for. But sure, let’s make the rotator cuff do all the work.
Using linear logic and coming to a reductionist thought process is definitely important in many instances, but typically doesn’t let us understand how or why something works or happens. The left brain simply relays information that it has.
The right brain helps to synthesize this information into something meaningful and to produce novel or potentially counterintuitive solutions. One of the best ways to train this side of the brain and this method of thinking is through artistic expression.
One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I took a bunch of art classes in high school and university, and used to do a lot of drawing, painting, even fine wood working. I may never have a gallery showcasing my works, but you can rest assured my mom and dad have an absolutely fantastic corner cabinet hanging in their living room displaying my ability to make pieces of wood look like something.
I’ve got a bunch of art history books (most commonly involving Salvador Dali), watch shows on museums and Egyptian archeology, and went crazy over the DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, not for their story lines but for their use of masterful works of art in showing meaning within sculptures, paintings, and text.
As a result of persuing a different thought process on occasion, it allows me to reach new conclusions, think through different concepts, and view the world through a different lens. In many instances, I’ve even used concepts from architecture to come up with an exercise for a client looking to recover from back pain or put on mass for their calves.
Looking at art makes you slow down and look at the details and wonder why they’re there. For instance, Mona Lisa has an unlevel horizon and a discongruent back ground. In a time where absolutely no portraits involved smiling she holds a mysterious one. The position of her hands is incredibly unusual, specificaly as they seem to be holding a blanket across her lap and midsection. The lack of eyebrows is glaring, but again, why? Looking at such trivial differences may seem almost unimportant, but so would looking at a toe touch and picking out a hinge at L3-4 in a client with low back pain. The devil’s in the details.
The left brain would logically conclude this individual touched their toes, therefore it should technically be impossible to have their posterior chain have any negative involvement that would cause low back pain. The right brain would say that it’s irrelevant that they touched the ground, and that the hinge was the result of too much movement in one vertebrae, too little movement in adjoining vertebrae, potentially both, and that it would be the most likely cause of pain.
Personal training is considered to be a blend of art and science. There has to be a utilization of scientific principles and paradigms to create a boundary structure of what will work and what will not in producing a specific quantifiable result. Within those boundaries, there’s a huge umbrella of opportunity to create movements, alter variables, and make people either suffer and hate life or revel in the brilliance of an amazing workout. Look at someone like James “Smitty Diesel” Smith and Joe DeFranco when they team up to make a video product like HARDcore, which can feature so many different training variations and exercises that work within specific training principles, but stretch the imagination and boundaries of what we think is possible within a gym setting.
Look at someone like Steve Jobs. He made computers that looked, felt, and handled in a way that made people want to use them. The aesthetic of Apple products has meant they are now ubiquitous. People buy products for more than their functions, which explains fancy toasters, toilet paper cozies and designer handbags whose sole purpose is to hold shit, but can cost as much as a compact car..
Jobs studied calligraphy and transcendental meditation and revolutionized 4 major industries. He found meaning in design, then hired engineers to build that meaning, and didn’t stop until he saw his vision in reality. The initial inspiration was always wanting to create a feeling in the individual holding one of his designs,not merely in what it could do.
Studying or participating in art of some form or another can help to expand thought processes, find solutions to novel questions, and expanding your ability to use the right-brained thought processes. Everyone should take some time to involve some level of right-brained thinking in their lives, in order to expand their abilities to solve problems, create new questions, or even to help them find meaning outside of their normal persuits. It has an amazing ability to influence emotions, stress, and even sleep quality (all right brained functions, by the way).
Who knows, you might revolutionize an industry of your own.