Author: Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.
E-book ISBN: 978-1-4019-6199-2
APA Style Citation
Taylor, J.B. (2021). Whole brain living: The anatomy of choice and the four characters that drive our life. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.
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In 2008, Dr. Taylor who is a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist delivered one of the first TED Talks and quickly her and TED talks became famous. Her first book, My Stroke of Insight, shared her personal experience of a stroke shutting down her brain over four hours. Because of her background as a neuroscientist, she knew what was happening as her stroke occurred. She suffered damage to her left parietal lobe and her brain was silent for five weeks, but then she began her eight-year recovery. During this time, she came to recognize the power of turning on and off her emotional circuitry by choice. She explains, humans are feeling creatures who think rather than thinking creatures who feel. The left hemisphere is commonly identified as being linear and a sequential processor, while the right hemisphere is a parallel processor. The left brain provides our individuality, while the right brain connects us with the collective whole and consciousness of the universe. Dr. Taylor offers the 4-character framework that identifies a left and right-thinking brain and a left and right emotional brain. By utilizing all 4 characters, she proposes whole-brain living as a way to bring about peace. It is important to note that the left and right brains do not function in isolation. In the 70s and 80s, our society went overboard with split-brain studies and right/left brain comparisons, with schools establishing curricula based on these differences. But modern technology has confirmed that both hemispheres are actively participating at all times.
Character 1- Left Thinking
This character perceives and processes information according to these attributes: serial processor, verbal, thinks in language, linear, past/future based, analytical, detail-orientated, finds differences, judgmental, punctual, individual, concise, fixed, focus is on me, busy, conscious, structure/order. This character is not always the friendliest or the best self; it often wants to control and conquer the day. While character 1 is effective in leadership, it is also highly critical of its own performance and comparing itself to others. Rules are to be followed and order is necessary.
Character 4- Right Thinking
This character perceives and processes information according to these attributes: parallel processor, nonverbal, thinks in pictures, experiential, present moment-based, kinesthetic/body, wholistic big picture, finds similarities, compassionate, lost in the flow of time, collective, flexible/resilient, open to possibilities, focus is on WE, available, unconscious, fluid/flow. This character is the authentic self and the energy within which we exist. It is the part of our brain that is a spiritual being having a physical experience. Studies have found that while meditating or praying, the left-brain centers become silent. Choosing to bring your mind to the present moment and embody a deep sense of gratitude can bring you in touch with your character 4. By learning to set our intention, we can choose to change the way that energy flows. Multiple details can be juggled at the same time, without being paralyzed by fear or a feeling of being overwhelmed. There is no judgement, simply the wonder of life. Children are often more comfortable with their character 4 than adults.
Each moment, information is entering your emotional brain. You are being asked “Am I safe?” and your amygdalae have to make an automatic threat assessment based on how something feels. The left brain uses the wisdom of your past and sounds the internal alarm if there is a threat. The right brain stays in the moment and does not compare to the past. There are two different emotional responses done simultaneously by each side of your brain. Fear is often triggered by the present moment right brain, while anxiety can also be triggered by an experience or trauma from the past. Both emotional characters can throw a fit at any time because our emotional systems never mature. Cell bodies of our emotional brains are present at birth, while the cell bodies of our thinking characters have moved to the cortex when we were born but then take years to interconnect and fully develop.
Character 2- Left Emotion
This character perceives and processes information according to these attributes: constricted, rigid, cautious, fear-based, stern, loves conditionally, doubts, bullies, righteous, manipulates, tried-and-true, independent, selfish, critical, superior/inferior, right/wrong, good/bad. This character often is key to one’s physical and mental well-being. Character 2 needs to filter out immediate danger and help us focus our attention. By focusing on the external world, we end up being suspicious and dissatisfied. Some of our deepest emotions exist in Character 2. If you are feeling unappreciated, undervalued, unwanted, or unworthy, your character 2 is activated. While many of these traits are negative, the core of this behavior is due to pain and fear. When you see someone acting like a bully, seeking revenge, being belligerent, using sarcastic humor, or purposely trying to provoke you, then their character 2 is on public display.
Character 3- Right Emotion
This character perceives and processes information according to these attributes: expansive, open, risk-taking, fearless, friendly, loves unconditionally, trusts, supports, grateful, goes with the flow, creative, collective, sharing, kind, equality, and contextual. This character sees everything as interconnected and evaluates the bigger picture. To activate this character, feel a deep sense of gratitude, do something fun and be messy. Joy is the underlying feeling. Kids embrace this character while playing on the playground.
Dr. Taylor proposes you can learn to know which character is engaged and make conscious choices about who and how we want to be. The 4 characters become familiar with one another and create healthy relationships among themselves. She created an acronym to help remember the steps of the B.R.A.I.N. huddle for the 4 characters. B is for breathe (pause button), R is for recognize (which is running in the present moment), A is for appreciate (listen to all 4), I is for Inquire (invite all 4 and strategize), N is for navigate (all 4 bring their best game). There are benefits to having a B.R.A.I.N, huddle, which include pushing the pause button, encouraging all 4 characters to voice their opinion, and knowing that a decision was based on the support of all 4 characters. With more experience you can see how the 4 characters play out in the lives of those around you, you can use it as a tool for quick and precise communication, and personal reflection can lead to positive change. With practice when we run a circuit by choice, it becomes stronger. The B.R.A.I.N, huddle can also be beneficial for resetting a connection with others during conflict or rescuing yourself in a challenging moment.
To help understand each of the 4 characters, Dr. Taylor uses analogies and modern topics in society. She explains what each character would title this book, what they might say after reading this book, and provides a message to each of your characters. She also relates each character at work and each character at the beach. The examples are easy to follow and there are personal reflection questions after each character description. Each character is connected to the body in how they would manage an illness, fitness, diet, and dieting. All are described as to how they relate to medical professionals and how they age. Then, each character is characterized for their connection with others. Each character is discussed for their role in romantic relationships, partner patterns, and when a relationship goes bad. Dr. Taylor takes the reader through the 4 character’s role in addiction and recovery. She describes her own addiction to tobacco and draws connections between the power of the B.R.A.I.N. huddle, hero’s journey, and 12 step programs. Finally, she looks at the influence of technology over the last 100 years. She explores the 4 characters for the GI generation, Silent generation, Baby boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z, and Alpha generation.
While you may have a dominant character, each of our 4 characters show up in different situations. You are not bound to your past. Everyone has the power to train their brain to easily shift between the characters and build new neural connections. She truly believes that if you are open to the 4 characters, you will have the power to influence your life in a positive way. She goes on to offer several suggestions on how to practice whole-brain living. Dr. Taylor has done her best to make sure readers do not fall deaf to the message that we all are perfect, whole, and beautiful beings. She believes there are two beautiful hemispheres that process information in their own unique way, but by bringing them together into whole-brain living there is a road map to both a deep inner peace and peace in the world. Her first TED talk was about her, but now her message is about you. According to Dr. Taylor, “You have the power to choose, moment to moment, who and how you want to be in the world… The more time you spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of your right hemisphere, the more peace you will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. And I still think that’s an idea worth spreading.”
Other Related Resources
TED Talk- My Stroke of insight/Jill Bolte Taylor
My Stroke of Insight Website
Whole Brain Living with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor/ The You-est YOU Podcast
Neuro Movement Revolution Podcast: Whole Brain Living with Jill Bolte Taylor
The Secret to Using Your Whole Brain with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor & Jim Kwik
Learn the Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our LIfe/ Dr Jill Bolte Taylor
Good Life Project- Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor/ Whole Brain Living
Psychological Concepts and Figures
Fast-track pain fibers
Multiple personality disorder
Myer-Briggs type indicator
Nature v. nurture
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Slow-track pain fibers