A Tale of Two Brains

Our brains are pretty amazing.

There’s a part of the brain (we’ll call it “Brain 1”) where we make decisions, solve problems and come up with creative ideas. When we have jobs, our companies are renting that portion of our brain.  It’s where we make intentional choices.

There’s another part of our brain (we’ll call it “Brain 2”) that runs pretty much on autopilot. It’s a wonderful part of our brain, because it helps us develop routines and habits that guide us through our lives.

Got a relationship problem you have to work out? Brain 1 goes into action.

Want to improve your life? Call on Brain 1.

When we read self-help books or inspirational books that motivate us to grow and become more effective, it’s Brain 1 that’s impacted.

Brain 1 helps us change. It helps us dream.  It helps us become better than we are.

Hooray for Brain 1 . . . !

two_brains_FIBrain 2 isn’t nearly as flashy. It runs quietly in the background.  But we couldn’t live without it.

Brain 1 says, “Let’s try something new.” Since it’s new, it takes intentional thought and effort.  But the more we do it, the less effort it takes.

Over time, it becomes routine.

It moved into Brain 2 – and we didn’t even realize it.

Remember the day you drove to your current job for the first time? You had to use your GPS, study every turn, figure out where to park and enter the building, and how to find the correct office.  Every step was intentional, and took your whole focus.

Now, you show up in your office and never thought about how to get there. You just did it.

That’s Brain 2.

That’s why they say it takes 21 days to develop a habit. Every habit starts in Brain 1 but eventually becomes the “new normal” in Brain 2.

Both parts are important, because they do different things. If we’re being chased by a hungry tiger, we don’t want to use Brain 1 to make a list of my five best responses, then prioritize and take action.

We just run. Brain 2 made that happen.

So, I’ve been thinking about life lately. It seems like the older we get, the more we live in Brain 2.

We’ve figured out how life works, and we get comfortable.

We find routines that keep us in our comfort zones, and follow those patterns day after day.

We find what works for us and stick with it.

We eat meals at the same time, have the same type of conversations with our families and watch the same shows every night.

We stay in Brain 2, living by default instead of design.

But we weren’t designed to live comfortable lives. We were designed to grow and change and make a difference.

Wilma was in her 80’s when I was in my 30’s. Everyone at church knew her for her energy and spunk.  Whenever she saw me, she wanted to know if I was still growing.

“What are you reading right now?” she would ask, sneaking up behind me and slapping me on the shoulder. No matter what I answered, she would tell me the best book she had read recently, and why it was so good.

“You said you were going to get your doctorate,” she would say. “Have you started?  Why not?”

“Are you treating your wife well? So, what have you done for her lately?”

Wilma was growing. She was involved.

She was living from Brain 1.

Here’s a simple question for today: Are you living your life from the comfort of Brain 2, or the vision of Brain 1?

There’s nothing wrong with Brain 2. We need those comfort zones as a place to rest and recover.  It’s the “home base” where we build the foundation for our life journey. It’s where we rebuild our courage and strength.

But it’s our launching pad, not our landing pad.

So, how are you going to stretch today? How will you use Brain 1 to learn or grow or make a difference?

It’s worth some intentional thought.

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Jenni Key

    I’m so glad we’re “living life together” even if it’s mainly through a blog! Man, oh man–do I need this reminder and exhortation to keep trying, risking, dreaming… thanks friend.

  • Lana Meadows

    Thank you Mike! Your blog is very encouraging. I just started a new job and it feels like brain 1 and brain 2 have been at battle. The good news….brain 1 is winning! I’m growing!