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Get to know your 4 characters

Updated: May 24

When Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a 37-year-old Harvard neuroanatomist, suffered a left-sided brain bleed in 1996, she not only lost ability to control the right side of her body but also access to 2 very important characters that reside in the left side of her brain.


Losing access to these left-brain players resulted in Dr. Taylor losing her sense of self, her ego, all language, fear, sense of past and future, and her interpretation of the external world as separate from her body.


She describes feeling as though she existed as a ball of energy connected to everything--a fluid entity with no beginning and no end. She says it felt like pure bliss.


She underwent craniotomy and evacuation of blood clot. Then over the next 8 years, she would go on to eventually make a full recovery. While she reports it was lovely to feel blissed out in right brain mode for a time, she was more than grateful to have her left brain came back online so she could become a whole, functioning member of society again.


Thanks to the personal experience and vast neuroanatomical knowledge of Dr. Taylor, we can learn important lessons about how to engage with the 4 characters that reside in our own brains.


Character 1 is our thinking LEFT hemisphere.

  • She gets us up on OR days even though our body tells us to sleep in.

  • She makes sure we grocery shop before a big storm.

  • She loves to complete "to do" lists and get things done.

  • She colludes with Character 2 to make careful decisions about our future, based on what happened to us in the past.

  • She worries about money.

  • She is a perfectionist who wants everything done correctly.

  • She is the reason we excelled in school.

  • Defining characteristics include: language-based, punctual, analytical, judgmental, detail-oriented, precise, busy, structured, egotistical (cares about the "me").


Character 2 is our emotional LEFT amygdala, hippocampus and cingulate gyrus.

  • She tells us to avoid public speaking (or doing that thing we fear most) because we might humiliate ourselves.

  • She encourages avoidant behavior for fear of *gasp* FAILURE.

  • She hates being wrong and is critical when others make mistakes.

  • She is narrow-minded and sees only one side of an argument.

  • She wants to keep us safe, but her efforts are often misguided.

  • Her defining characteristics include: constricted, rigid, cautious, fear-based, stern, loves conditionally, doubts, bullies, righteous, manipulates, critical, sees things as right/wrong and good/bad.  

Character 3 is our emotional RIGHT amygdala, hippocampus and cingulate gyrus.

  • She is our creative, imaginative, child-like side.

  • She makes us laugh so hard we pee our pants.

  • She is loving, compassionate, empathetic, and fun.

  • She wants us to act despite fear, especially if the result will benefit the greater good.

  • She forgives mistakes.

  • She sees failure as an important part of growth.

  • Defining characteristics include: expansive, open, risk-taking, friendly, loves unconditionally, trusts, supports, grateful, goes with the flow, fascinated, generous, kind, contextual, non-judgmental.  

Character 4 is our thinking RIGHT hemisphere.

  • She is the compassionate witness who watches us lovingly when our brain freaks out over the math test our kid just failed.

  • She places NO importance on societal values like monetary gain, prestige, intelligence, power, and social stature.

  • She values authentic connections and relationships.

  • She always tells the truth.

  • She tells us we are on the right path by creating openness and relaxation in our bodies.

  • Defining characteristics include: nonverbal, thinks in pictures, sees the big picture, compassionate, feels into the body, exists in the present moment, no sense of past/future, lost in the flow of time, collective, flexible, resilient, available, cares about the "we".


Each character is equally important and plays a vital role in our ability to show up in the world the way we want.


When we have awareness of which character is dominating at a specific time, we are able to deliberately and consciously allow that character to take center stage, or, if it seems more appropriate, we can pass the mic to a different character.


For example, when I am seeing patients in clinic, Character 1 analyzes the patient's story and incorporates that information with exam and radiology findings to come up with a diagnosis and plan. Then Character 3 comes online and makes a bad joke to connect with the patient on a human level.


When we are in the OR and things get scary, Character 2 may want to grab the mic and freak out, but we have to deliberately put Characters 1 and 4 in charge to take efficient, effective, calm action to do what needs to be done in that moment.


Pay attention to your characters.


Who feels most comfortable to you?


When you aren't sure who you want to take center stage, take a "Brain Huddle" and let each character weigh in, then decide who gets the microphone.


The simple act of paying attention will feel freeing.


Try it and see.





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