Your Two Brains

The following is a guest post by Patrick Rhone. Patrick is the author of several books, including enough and his most recent work, Minimal Mac: What We Believe In. I’ve long been a fan of his writing and podcast (which is on the same network as Mikes on Mics), and I was very excited when he agreed to contribute to You can read Patrick’s work over at his website and you can follow him on Twitter here.

We live in a world where fast is too often praised. Where doing a job quickly is sometimes more valued than doing it well. Where auto-check is not as good as push. Where even though we have streaming we also have pull-to-refresh. Where news that breaks is valued over reporting and analysis. Where “Woot!” is humorously celebrated for a first post over actually having something to add to the conversation. Where communication happens in an instant and we are largely expected by others to respond just as fast.

You have two brains. One of them loves all this fast stuff. It has evolved to react to it. It has helped protect us from thousands of years of threats and dangers. Things that will really and truly kill us if we don’t respond right this instant. It sees the lions and tells you to run and then tells you to stop running just before you reach the cliff. Even now, when the dangers are not as deadly, this brain does not care to know the difference. That is not its job. Analysis and reason are for the other brain. This brain simply reacts and is constantly seeking ways to improve that reaction time and, thus, evolve. You — with your ringers and buzzers and beepers and alerts — are giving it plenty to work with.

The other brain is increasingly less valued. It likes to take things slow. It likes to take a step back, think a while, and then respond (or not if it decides one is not warranted). It is the brain that, among other things, helped us invent the wheel, make fire, and create thousands of years of philosophy, art, and innovation. It does not act quickly or instinctually. But, don’t be fooled by its lack of fast action — It might save your butt even better than the other one.

You see, It is the one that saw the lion and realized that it was not after you. It was after the gazelle twenty clicks away. It then stopped your other brain from making you run, thus only drawing more attention to yourself and away from the gazelle. If you had followed your fast brain, you might have been lunch. Because you let your slow brain take over, you will live to see dinner.

Now this is not to say that the fast brain can’t sometimes be completely right and save your keister — it can. This is also not to say that you can’t both be fast and good — you can. This is just to say that the chances of you doing your best work are far greater if you allow your slow brain to engage and evolve at the same rate as the fast. If you take your time. If you slow down.

Your slow brain is not getting enough stimuli for growth in this fast expectation world. Your slow brain would prefer that you check email on a schedule. It would be better served if you took some time to think about the responses you wished to craft before you sent them. It believes that it is better to save-to-draft than to push-to-publish. Moreover, it can only evolve by getting plenty of time and solitude to solve the problems and provide the correct answers. You need to let it have some regular time to dream and to play. You also must regularly let it be content with doing nothing at all.

Your fast brain gets plenty of nourishment just by engaging with the world. Nourish the slow brain through disconnection and solitude and both will serve you well.

Photo credit: Michael Hanscom (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)