- Thoughts for inspired living

May 29, 2008

Filing System

Filed under: John Morgan's Blog — John Morgan @ 8:19 am

I’m reading Jill Bolte Taylor‘s book, “My Stroke of Insight.” Dr. Taylor is a neuroanatomist who had stroke at the age of 37 and she, in layman’s terms, outlines the workings of the brain from both the perspective of the researcher and the stricken patient. She basically lost all her left brain functionality and had to relearn from scratch. She described herself as an infant in a woman’s body.

She discovered that her brain is a filing system of pictures words and feelings. She describes how she used this filing system to relearn and update information. Jill Bolte Taylor never met the late Dr. Dave Dobson, who some 25 years ago taught this same model of learning and updating without a degree in neuroanatomy or having the experience of a stroke.

Dave said the brain had 3 filing cabinets – pictures, words and feelings. He said that the pictures and feelings were on the right side of your brain and the words were on the left. He drew a diagram to show you how information was shared between the brain hemispheres. He said that we would get a picture of something in our mind, have a feeling response to it and then cross reference that response to a label stored on the left side in the word filing cabinet. Perhaps an example would help . . .

Let’s pretend that someone is telling you a story from their childhood about an experience with Silly Putty. Those words triggered a picture of Silly Putty in your mind. You have a feeling response to Silly Putty, like its texture or the feelings that go along with fun, and then you cross over to the other side of your brain and come out with a word or group of words to describe this lightning quick stimulus/response. You may say, “I used to press mine on the comics page and transferred the comic to the Silly Putty and then stretched the comic out of proportion.” All this cross referencing happens in the blink of an eye.

Knowing this model, you can see that the same word can have different pictures and feeling responses associated with it depending on the person’s experience. If someone tells you they are depressed and you say something like, “I know exactly how you feel,” you have made a misstatement of the highest order. You have different pictures in your mind about depression than that person and you have different feeling responses to your picture and yet you select the same label from your word file. That’s why language is so limited in communicating.

It would be helpful to find out what the person experiences when they are depressed. “What specifically is going on in your body?” is a question that would elicit more useful information to get closer to what this person means when they use the label “depressed.” Their depression may be your minor sadness or vice-versa but you’ll never know if you guess what they mean by that label by putting your associations on it.

With all of this as a backdrop, I invite you to do an updating exercise that you will find very valuable.

Find one of your scary or unfavorite words – a word that you have a visceral response to. For example, newscaster, Katie Couric has a visceral response to the word “sputum.” Now on the surface that may seem silly to you but if you recognize how the filing system works, you get a finer appreciation of how this can happen.

Now ponder your word and see what associated pictures come up for you. Once you notice the pictures, you may automatically have the feeling response to them. Here’s what to do. Take the mental picture and distort it just like my stretching of the comic on the Silly Putty. Stretch it into a funny shape or until it is unrecognizable to you. What you will notice as you do this is the feeling response to the picture begins to change. With just a little practice with changing the pictures, you will notice that you will have a different response when you encounter the trigger word. It won’t be as intense. There are other variations of this exercise. You can make the picture black and white. You can have it be out of focus. You can zoom in or out on it, make it a different color, have zigzag lines running through it, etc.

I’m not a big fan of the expression of “Change your thoughts; change your life” because it misses the point that thoughts are afterthoughts. They come as a result of the pictures and feelings you have stored in your mental filing cabinets. Quoting Dr. Dobson, “Words are the caboose on the choo-choo of life.” They don’t drive the train; they follow.

“Change your pictures; change your life” is much more effective strategy to updating your references.

All the best,


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