The Creative Brain vs. The Reactive Brain

The image below shows different states of consciousness that are possible to inhabit in the human experience. This model shows the states on two sides of ‘the line’. To the right of the line are the states of consciousness related to “Reactive Brain”. On the left side of the line are the states of consciousness found in “Creative Brain”. As an individual moves from the left of the line to the right, their state of being becomes more contracted and less expansive.

How to use this image
Location, Location, Location. This is a tool which gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself at any moment and ask, “Where am I?” “Am I connected to what I appreciate about this moment?” “Am I frozen in a state of fear?” Most likely if you are feeling “bad” you are in a state of consciousness that is associated with Reactive Brain.

What is the Reactive Brain and Creative Brain?
The Reactive Brain is the physiological response that comes from perceiving a threat. It is a stress response, often fueled by adrenaline and cortisol, creating a sense of urgency. This urgency can manifest as fight, flee, freeze, or faint. Generally speaking, Reactive Brain states use up more energy than Creative Brain states. While existing in Reactive Brain takes force, existing in Creative Brain brings us power and connection to our essence.
(Learn more about states of consciousness from Julie Colwell at http://juliacolwell.com/)

Being with feelings without Self-Judgment
It’s important to accept that as humans we experience all of the states of consciousness shown on the Inner Map. Feeling joy is not better than feeling shame. However, leading from joy has a different quality than leading from shame. It is also important to note that feeling anger is different than acting from anger. Naming your anger internally and allowing yourself to feel it may be beneficial. Feeling angry internally then blaming and yelling at others is a self-defeating approach to those feelings. Remember to practice taking 100% responsibility for your feelings. Others are not “making” you feel them.
Some philosophies & tools of being with our feelings that are mentioned here are explained elsewhere, such as taking 100% responsibility and non-violent communication (NVC).

Speaking of Anger!
Anger can be a confusing emotion to navigate as a human. Here are some different ideas that may bring you some insight and acceptance around why you may be feeling angry

  • Anger usually comes from A) belief in one’s rightness B) Fear
  • Anger happens when you are A) Getting what you don’t want or B) Not getting what you want
  • Anger invokes the questions “What must be protected?” and “What must be restored”

Reactive Brain Vs. Creative Brain in the Body
It can be helpful to check in with the body, and note how expanded or contracted your body language is, even if your mind is not letting you know what is happening. Contraction can look like:

  • heavy shoulders turned inward (protecting the heart)
  • sitting with legs tightly pulled in toward chest
  • arms crossed and eyes looking down at the ground

Imagine the difference in a person’s body language when they are existing from states in Reactive Brain versus Creative Brain. Even if that person is not saying “I feel sad”, or “I feel joyful”, knowing these states of consciousness and what they sometimes LOOK like, can help you tune into what may be happening emotionally for you or someone else.

To locate your feelings in your own body, you can do a quick body scan. This means tuning into the sensations in your body from your toes to the top of your head. If you come across a spot with intense sensation, pause. It may be a clue to your emotional state.
You can ask yourself, does this sensation feel like mad, sad, glad, scared, or sexual?

Okay, so I located my state. I am in Reactive Brain. I labeled my feeling. I felt my feeling to the best of my ability. Now what?
Well… if the energy does not move naturally and you are stuck, it’s time to SHIFT!

Shift!

A “Shift” is an invitation to acknowledge what is naturally arising, feel it, and choose to create more expansiveness in your system afterward. It can be easy to dwell in the stories the mind tells us that arise in Reactive Brain, even when we are attempting to ‘feel our feelings’. Here are some offerings to support you in your commitment to both feel and expand!

  • Notice if you are judging yourself for your state/ feelings
  • Breathe deeply (inhale 3 seconds, exhale 3 seconds)
  • Practice acceptance towards your beautiful humanness. (Hooray you are human and alive!!)
  • Choose a shift move that feels accessible to you in the moment:
    • Dance
    • Shake any body part
    • Change your body posture from contracted pose to expansive pose
    • Breathe Deeply (again)
    • Play
    • Do something creative or silly
    • Appreciate (think of one thing you can appreciate in the moment). Gratitude!
    • Go to the bathroom! (If you are experiencing intense emotion, call a degree of freedom and take a time out to practice self-empathy.)
    • Wonder (Allow your thoughts to be based in curiosity)

Why shift?
Energy / Connection / Collaboration
You may wonder, “So, if I am meant to feel and accept all of my feelings, why shift from a state of fear to a state of joy?” Well, for one, it can be hard to collaborate with others in Reactive Brain states. While we all experience Reactive Brain states, there is less energy available to us and it can be hard to sustain. Keep in mind the idea of more expanded states (Creative Brain) and more contracted states (Reactive Brain), and how each would color your experience as a person in the world.
We can sometimes be ashamed of feeling certain emotions that arise when in Reactive Brain, for example fear, sadness, or anger. We may even pretend we are not experiencing those states so that we are considered “good people”, “good friends”, or “good at our job”. Studying states of consciousness is not about forcing yourself to be happy, or judging yourself if you realize you are moving from Reactive Brain. You have the power to feel and the power to choose not to get stuck. You are invited to experiment with feeling and expanding.

We have a helpful page of tools collected on the subject of freedom from suffering. Think of it as a directory of skills to foster, and habits to avoid. It may point you to some exciting places.

One more thing about the graphic image . . .
“Hey!? Why is sadness on the Reactive side? Sadness can be ‘positive’/desirable/”Creative” as well!”
The labels are illustrative rather than comprehensive. Placing 100 emotions/quality of experience on the image would hinder understanding. Also, rather than evaluating the label itself, check in on your experience. For example, “sadness” might exist on the “Reactive” side when it significantly inhibits your well being. When a person loses a loved one (e.g., child, life partner), the grief can certainly be on the “Creative” spectrum, and on the “Reactive” level of experience when it inhibits healthy functioning in one’s life even a year later.

Shifting Between "To Me" and "By Me" World Views

These concepts are from the folks at Conscious Leadership.

The Creative Brain (“By Me”)

Presence / Curiosity / Growth and Learning
Increased Acceptance and Trust

Beliefs

  • It’s more valuable to learn and grow than to be right
  • There are more than two possibilities
  • Approval, control and security are something I already have
  • It is valuable to question my thoughts and beliefs
  • From a distance, nothing is serious and most everything is humorous
  • All people and circumstances are my allies
  • Revealing is more valuable than concealing

Behaviors

  • Breathe
  • Significantly change my posture
  • Get curious
  • Listen consciously
  • Feel emotions
  • Speak unarguably
  • Appreciate
  • Take responsibility
  • Question my beliefs
  • Recognize unconscious beliefs
  • Create wins for all solutions

Statements

  • What can I learn from this?
  • How is the opposite as true?
  • How is this familiar?
  • I appreciate you for….
  • I take responsibility for…
  • I agree to…
  • I choose to…
  • I create…
  • This isn’t serious
  • What I hear you saying…
  • My body sensations are…

The Reactive Brain (“To Me”)

Drama / Defensiveness / Scarcity
Increased Resistance and Toxic Fear

Beliefs

  • Being right is the most important thing
  • There is a threat to me occurring out there
  • There is not “enough”
  • I need another’s approval
  • Safety and security come from outside myself
  • I need to be in “control” (of things I can’t control)
  • One side of a polarity is better than the other
  • There are only two options
  • This is serious (it’s not funny)
  • I am better than/less than
  • There is a right/wrong way
  • There is no choice
  • My story is true

Behaviors

  • Cling to an opinion
  • Find fault/Blame
  • Fight/Flee/Freeze/Faint
  • Argue
  • Rationalize/Justify
  • See others as needing help
  • Gossip
  • Get overwhelmed
  • Do whatever it takes to defend/guarantee the survival of my identity
  • Use distractions to relieve pain (food, sex, drugs, media, work)
  • Enroll others to affirm my beliefs
  • Avoid all disconfirming data
  • Attack the messenger
  • Avoid conflict
  • Force everything into polarity (right/wrong, good/bad)

Statements

  • I can’t
  • I’m right
  • It’s hard
  • I’m trying
  • It’s not my fault
  • I’m confused
  • The “fact” is
  • I have to
  • You made me
  • I’m sorry (with an excuse)
  • Always/Never
  • “Why” questions
  • You’re not listening to me
  • It’s no use
  • My way or the highway
  • They don’t get it

The Drift List

When we go unconscious, we drift below the line.  This is a list of some of the many ways we distract ourselves from being with and expressing our authentic feelings and thoughts.  These are also ways we simply leave this now moment.  Take a look below and identify your favorite ways to drift.

Anticipating
Apologizing
Arguing
Being A Good Student
Being Disorganized
Being Misunderstood
Being Overwhelmed
Being Sarcastic
Blaming
Body Aches
Checking the Phone
Cleaning
Comparing
Complaining
Compromising
Compulsive Working
Concealing
Controlling
Correcting
Coughing
Day Dreaming
Defending
Dismissing
Doing it Right
Doubting
Drinking
Drugging
Eating

Editing
Emailing
Exercising
Explaining
Evaluating
Facebooking
Figuring It Out
Freezing
Gaming
Getting Busy
Getting Confused
Getting Distracted
Getting Embarrassed
Getting Enlightened
Getting Righteous
Getting Serious
Getting Shy
Getting Sick
Getting Silly
Getting Wordy
Ignoring
Injuring Yourself
Intellectualizing
Internet Surfing
Interpreting
Interrupting
Judging

Justifying
Looking Interested
Making Lists
Managing
Netflix
Organizing
Policing
Procrastinating
Protecting
Proving
Rehearsing
Rising Above It
Rushing
Seeking Approval
Sexual Activity
Shopping
Sleeping
Smiling
Spacing Out
Texting
Trying Hard
Venting
Waiting
Watching TV
Withdrawing
Whining
Worrying

By Drifting, we remove ourselves from the possibility of feeling the emotion that is coming up for us. Often times we feel stuck within this emotion and the drift offers us a temporary relief. However, that’s it: it is temporary and does not leave if we do not take the time to acknowledge it. So, it’s time to Shift!

Helpful Books

Similar concepts and inspiring work can be found from author and teacher Gay Hendricks. His best-selling book “The Big Leap” a a great place to start:

“…go beyond your internal limits, release outdated fears and learn a whole new set of powerful skills and habits to liberate your authentic greatness.”

Check out David Emerald’s book “The Power of TED”, a resource for taking leadership of your own life.

“It is a tool for both individuals and organizations who want to create more effective communication and relationships. Learning how to transform everyday drama and opt for more growth-oriented solutions, is the priceless gift it teaches.”

The To Me / By Me ideas on this page and more is from this wonderful book, written for individuals and organizations to operate with more power and intention.

“Fear drives most leaders to make choices that are at odds with healthy relationships, vitality and balance. This fear leaves a toxic residue that won’t be as easily tolerated in an increasingly complex business environment. Conscious leadership offers the antidote to fear. These pages contain a comprehensive road map to guide you to shift from fear-based to trust-based leadership.”