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The Secret to Using Your Whole Brain with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard trained and published neuroanatomist. In 1996 she experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain causing her to lose the ability to walk, talk, read, write or recall any of her life. Her memoir, My Stroke of Insight, documenting her experience with stroke and eight-year recovery spent 63 weeks on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, and is still routinely the #1 book about stroke on Amazon.

Dr. Taylor is a dynamic teacher and public speaker who loves educating all age groups, academic levels, as well as corporations about the beauty of our human brain and its ability to recover from trauma. In 2008 she gave the first TED talk that ever went viral on the Internet, which now has well over 26 million views. Also in 2008, Dr. Taylor was chosen as one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and was the premiere guest on Oprah Winfrey’s “Soul Series” web-cast.

The New York Times best-selling author of My Stroke of Insight blends neuroanatomy with psychology to show how we can short-circuit emotional reactivity and find our way to peace.

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You’ve probably heard me say: “When you know how your brain works, then you can work your brain.”

You have an incredible gift between your ears, but it doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. Knowing how to use your whole brain isn’t something you’re taught or necessarily know how to do in school or anywhere. 

That’s why I’m very excited to have Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor on the show today. If her name sounds familiar, it’s likely because you watched her TEDtalk or read her memoir, My Stroke of Insight, which we’ve included on our recommended book list for many years now. 

Today we’re going to discuss her newest book, Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Lives. This book is a myth-buster in so many ways. 

Listen in as Dr. Jill discusses the myths of the brain and goes into the mechanics of getting your brain to work for you. If you’ve ever wondered what the secret for making good choices in your life is so that you can live the life you deserve and desire, this episode is for you.

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" 'You have two very beautiful hemispheres that process incoming information in completely opposite but complementary ways.'"


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Busting Two Big Brain Myths

The first myth is you only use 10% of your brain

  • The brain doesn’t work like that.
  • Neurons are like people. They’re in a network and are part of the circuitry. They communicate and are social.
  • If neurons are present, they’re active. Otherwise, they die.
  • That doesn’t mean we have a complete understanding about exactly what every neuron is doing. Some activity is at a conscious level, but some are on the subconscious level
  • But the bottom line is, if it’s alive and in your head, you’re using it.

The second myth is that your right brain is your emotional brain, and your left brain is your rational thinking brain.

  • It is true that the thinking tissue is in the left hemisphere. And that’s where your rational brain relates to the external world.
  • But your emotional system is evenly divided at a cellular level between the right and left hemisphere.
  • That means you have two amygdalae, two hippocampi, two anterior cingulate gyri.
  • You have two complete and separate emotional systems in each hemisphere in addition to two thinking modules of cells that are completely separate cellularly, even though the corpus callosum is having them communicate with each other.

A Stroke of Insight

  • Jill’s interest in the brain developed because her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • She realized his experience of the world was very different from her own, so became a neuroanatomist, where she studied the anatomy of the brain. Specifically, she became a cellular neuroanatomist, studying which cells communicate with which cells, and with which chemicals, and in what quantity of those chemicals.
  • In 1996, she was teaching and researching at Harvard Medical School when she woke up experiencing a major hemorrhage in the left half of her brain.
  • Over the course of four hours, she lost the ability to walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life.
  • It was a complete loss of her left hemisphere.
  • She retained her right hemisphere, so she was conscious and aware of the kinds of information the right hemisphere processes.
  • Essentially, she lost her relationship with the external world.
  • The left brain has temporality.
  • It has a past, a present, and a future.
  • All the emotions in the left limbic system have the pain, feelings, and emotions from the past.
  • It also has all the fears you project into the future
  • The left hemisphere has the rational thinking tissue, where it processes the details of the external world.
  • This includes a special group of cells that defines the boundaries of your body. It delineates where you begin and end.
  • For example, if you wear glasses. How does your brain know they aren’t part of your face? It’s those cells in the left hemisphere.
  • It has language. This includes the ability to read, write, speak, and understand when language is spoken to you.
  • The left hemisphere is focused on the external world and is designed to categorize, organize, and process billions of bits of data.
  • The right hemisphere is where you experience the present moment.
  • It doesn’t have the definition of where you begin and end.
  • Instead, it’s aware that you are a combination of energy, atoms, and molecules in cellular form.
  • Both these hemispheres process incoming information in completely opposite but complementary ways.
  • Their ability to communicate to each other through the three hundred million axonal fibers of the corpus callosum, is what allows you to experience yourself as a single in the world. But really, you are many.

The Four Characters In Your Brain

  • When Dr. Jill experienced that hemmorhage, she lost her left brain. But she gained the experience of the uninhibited present moment.
  • It was a blissful euphoria. Which is fantastic, but it also completely non-functional in the external world.
  • In order to have a relationship with the external world, the understanding of who you are with all of your past emotions and knowledge, you need the left hemisphere.
  • As Dr. Jill recovered her left hemisphere, she realized all the emotions of her past were gone. While that may sound great, you need those emotions to add to the richness of the present moment. You want that vast array of emotion.
  • Then her thinking tissues began coming back, where was able to think logically, methodically, and use language again.
  • The four characters became clear as language came back.
  • Her left hemisphere wanted to start defining boundaries again, taking her from the collective wholeness on a cellular level to a singular being again.
  • It tried to assert dominace and take over.
  • The four characters are right brain thinking, right brain emotions, left brain thinking, and left brain emotions.
  • While she was grateful to have her left hemisphere back—to be functioning and logical and regain language—she didn’t want to lose the right hemisphere experience.
  • The right hemisphere is based on love, gratitude, joy, and being in the world around us. It values simply being a lifeform existing in harmony within one human family.
  • Where the left hemisphere is more of a separation. Where you end and the world begins. It values competition and exists in a hierarchy based on the values of the external world.

The Anatomy Of Choice

  • As the left brain came back online, it wanted to exert itself as the boss. Dr. Jill made a conscious choice to say no.
  • She understood that the thinking tissue and emotional tissue of the left brain is where the stress circuitry is.
  • With only her right hemisphere, she lost stress along with her sense of self.
  • The left hemisphere is where your image, ego, competition, ambition exists.
  • In the absence of those external drivers, Dr. Jill was able to exist as a loving creature.
  • And that’s what she wants everyone to experience.
  • Often when people look at trauma, they look at what the person lost.
  • This is particularly true when it comes to the brain.
  • Brain cells are often inhibiting something, so when you remove them, you remove the inhibitor.
  • Jill’s left brain was inhibiting her blissful experience as an untethered soul.
  • But she also gained that understanding.
  • If you can quiet the left brain, and you can step into the consciousness of the right brain, you would experience that bliss and peace.
  • That’s the pause, what your whole brain needs to be healthy.
  • If you were a machine, you could push until you died and be replaced with a new machine.
  • But you’re a biological creature, which means you need to pause.
  • It’s your left brain that pushes and creates stress. Ultimately causing distress if it pushes too hard and never allows a pause.
  • The pause, the breath that expands your abilities is your right brain.
  • Unfortunately, society has skewed the values of the left brain, when what you need is the peace of the right brain.
  • In order to find balance, you have to allow both hemispheres to function together. That’s whole brain living.
  • Be sure to watch the entire uncut, extended interview on our YouTube channel, here.

Share With Us

  • Take a screenshot of this episode, tag us on social media (@drJBT & @JimKwik) and share which one of your four characters is the loudest.
  • I’ll repost my favorites and gift a copy of her newest book to two lucky listeners.
  • Get your copy of Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Lives, here.
  • Get your copy of My Stroke of Insight, here.
  • Watch her viral TEDtalk, here.



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