If you’ve ever taken a Myers-Briggs psychological evaluation test, you might be familiar with some of the 4-letter personality types, and some of the character traits associated with them. Extrovert vs Introvert. Sensing vs. Intuition. Thinking vs. Feeling. Judging vs. Perceiving. Personally, the last time I took the test years ago, I was an INTJ, and things have changed a bit for me in the last few years. If you’re curious, take the test and see for yourself what personality type you are!
The various categories represent different aspects of our personalities. We are going to focus on the relationship between thinking and feeling. There exists a strong duality between thinking and feeling, and where we fall on that continuum largely affects how we process information and make decisions.
Are you a thinker or a feeler?
For the purposes of this article, I want to bring you the reader more awareness of where you fall on this spectrum, share my own personal experiences of how shifting away from strictly a thinking/analyzing perspective and more into a feeling/intuitive perspective has helped me personally and professionally with clients, and ultimately highlight how this can have profound effects on our ability to heal, grow, and thrive, both as clients and as professionals.
Many of us are at least partially familiar with the idea of being right brain or left brain dominant. To what extent we identify with our left brain or right brain is shaped by our genetics as well as our environment. It is also important to note that while we may be dominant in one, we are always utilizing aspects of both in our processing and decision making. Many of these characteristics permeate societies and cultures throughout history by way of archetypes. As well, some of these are observable characteristics I tend to notice regularly in people I work with. Understanding some of these characteristics and how they might show up within ourselves can be a helpful step in recognizing whether or not we are operating too much on either end of the spectrum.
First let’s take a quick look at some the defining characteristics of the Left Brain or the “Thinking Brain:”
Thinking Dominant, Logic & Reasoning
Associated with the [archetypal] masculine energy
Often control-oriented, needing to validate with “facts” to feel comfortable and safe
Need for objective understanding is a dominant trait
Can often operate from a place of fear and control if current logic/understanding can’t apply
Tends to operate on one level of truth: science-based and objective; failing to consider deeper truths that maybe can’t be measured or fully understood with logic alone
Conversely, here are some characteristics associated with the Right Brain or “Feeling Brain:”
Feeling, Sensing & Intuition
Associated with the [archetypal] feminine energy
Need for connection & feeling to feel comfortable and safe
Less attached to a need to validate their “truth” through objective data and “proof”
Can sometimes detach too much from needing facts to backup methodology
Associated with creativity, artistry, etc?
When and how we tap into our thinking, reasoning, and logic-based brain versus our feeling, sensing, intuitive brain is a balancing act; it is an art. Having the ability to tap into both is incredibly valuable in fostering our ability to operate functionally and with purpose in the world. More specifically as healers, therapists, and coaches, it allows us to better connect with and guide our clients to their goals with more empathy and understanding. It opens us up to greater sources of healing energy, helpful shifts in perspective, and often times allows us to find the missing link in our ability to heal and progress when anatomy/physiology and biomechanical-based thinking does not produce change.
My Personal Experience Balancing the Two & How It Has Progressed My Practice
I have noticed a significant shift in my own clinical practice over the years. Tapping more into my intuition and trusting my ability to sense and feel my way through my work with clients has drastically improved the results I have been able to get with them.
My entire life I have always been more left brain dominant, operating with a more logic and reasoning based approach. I’ve always had a tendency to overanalyze things, and to fall into the “analysis paralysis” trap. I tend to naturally operate from a place of needing to understand and control every facet and every detail in order to feel comfortable proceeding when it comes to getting anything done.
Specifically as a fitness professional, I’ve always focused more on corrective exercise, therapeutic approaches to training, and seeking to understand the detailed nuances and finer details of pain and performance. It’s what has fueled the gauntlet of continuing education courses I’ve taken and techniques I’ve learned over the years. And certainly, learning new techniques and gaining better understanding of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and neurology has helped to greatly expand my skill set to help clients.
However, I also noticed a recurring trend: every client who came in to the clinic that stumped me, or required more sessions than I thought they would, or who simply was not responding to treatments the way I would expect, always led me to question myself and my ability. I always assumed there was a ligament I wasn’t considering, or maybe a receptor I forgot to check, or a corrective exercise that might have been a better fit. What I started to realize is that what matters just as much as the science and theory behind the techniques is how effectively the techniques are applied, and how effectively I can facilitate awareness for my clients. The ability to listen to, connect with, and understand the human being in front of you is paramount to this, and no amount of anatomy-based knowledge will make up for it’s absence.
When I was first introduced to utilizing emotional corrections in my bodywork practice, I had a huge disconnect from them and had a hard time understanding how to effectively guide clients through emotional corrections. Frankly, I was uncomfortable interacting with clients in that way, and I also had a hard time helping clients make the connection between what they were experiencing in their bodies physically and how the health of their psyche and past traumatic experiences played into their symptoms. As a therapist, I believe I had disconnected from my desire and ability to connect with others on an emotional level. Why? Some of it had to do with me needing to confront some of my own demons. I had to be willing to open myself up again to feeling, rather than trying to think and analyze my way through everything. In reflecting on experiences with challenging clients, instead of wondering what muscle or exercise I might not have considered, I began to reflect more on my ability to listen to, connect with, and effectively facilitate bringing awareness to my clients.
At this point in my career, I am still evolving and learning how to best balance deductive reasoning and scientific knowledge with my intuition and ability to connect with clients. In a therapeutic setting, having to fluidly and and frequently flip between the two can be very difficult, but when mastered, it yields dramatically effective results.
In learning how to access the world through both lenses, my work with clients has become more effective and enjoyable. I have more tools to serve them, understand them, and guide them effectively through their process.
Clients’ Ability to Connect with their Thinking & Feeling Brain
As I have become more aware of my own blind spots, particularly my lack of ability to tap into my “feels,” I’ve also noticed where clients tend to fall on that spectrum. I notice that those who become trapped in the thinking brain camp often tend to be operating from a place of needing to understand and control their external environment in order to feel safe. We often fear what we don’t understand. Unfortunately, operating from this paradigm often leads to skepticism (to the point of trusting nothing and no one), lack of commitment (“analysis paralysis”), and often an inability or unwillingness to take their healing process far enough to fully resolve symptoms.
I notice that clients who are stuck in their thinking or feeling brain often stagnate in their healing process and with their training. I notice that clients who are more thinking brain dominant get stuck because they often are unwilling or unable to go deep enough, particularly with psychological aspects of their health. They have a hard time believing anything else can affect them physically other than their physical body. They can be married to the idea that if they feel it in their knee, there’s a problem in their knee. They often have a hard time letting go of their MRI results being the definitive diagnostic tool. They have a hard time appreciating the mind-body connection.
Those who fall into the “feeling brain” camp tend to be operating from a place of clinging to hope and need to connect. Sometimes this can be at the detriment of gaining true understanding and necessary validation, instead going with purely gut instinct. Faith and hope are important, but if we veer too far into this way of processing the world around us, we often can be mislead, tricked by snake oil salesmen and a lot of pseudoscience. Because of this, it can be hard to connect with those who operate from the “thinking brain” side of the spectrum. It can also make it difficult to measurably track how our therapy and training techniques are working and how to gauge the effectiveness of our treatments and training. There is something to be said about having measurable standards. It helps us to formulate better strategies over the long term, and to see what works and what doesn’t work in different scenarios.
Whether you notice yourself being more right brain or left brain dominant, whether you process information and make decisions primarily through thinking and analyzing or through feeling and intuition, and whether or not you are in the process of your own healing or are a professional facilitating the healing of another, it is important to have the self-awareness to recognize if you are stuck on one side of the spectrum.
Having the flexibility to move between our thinking and feeling brains allows us to tap into the best of both worlds, blending sharp, accurate, and logic-based reasoning with empathetic and connection-based intuition. As a health and fitness professional, technical abilities and knowledge are important, but our ability to understand, connect with, and develop trust with our clients will ultimately determine how effectively we can apply those techniques and knowledge, and to facilitate growth and healing for ourselves and those we work with.