What do horses, running, and Star Trek have in common? We can learn about creative balance from each of them.

Think about your brain. Do you consider yourself "left brained" or "right brained"? We often hear that the left brain is associated with logic and analysis, while the right brain is associated with creativity, intuition, and emotion. However, I believe that the full creative process — a creative approach to life itself, as distinguished from a specific art form like painting or making a photo collage — is enabled by a healthy balance between the left and right brain. They are yin and yang and without both, the circle is incomplete.

Throughout my life journey, I've seen left and right brain influences in diverse, seemingly unrelated areas. But they're all connected in the end. One of the areas where these influences came into play for me was working with horses.

When I got my first horse, I studied the natural horsemanship ideas of "horse whisperer" Pat Parelli. I discovered that horses, like humans, display different characteristics according to left and right brain tendencies. Unlike humans, horses are prey animals who know they taste good to predators. As such, I learned it was important to keep horses in their left brain as much as possible when working with them. The horse operating from the left brain is more logical, calm, and open to learning, while the horse operating from the right brain is more instinctive and fearful. When the instinctive, more emotional part of the brain takes over, a horse tends to shy, get scared, and want to run away, which for both horse and human can be frustrating at best and dangerous at worst. Recognizing this left and right brain interplay really helped me understand my horse better.

About a year after I'd learned this, I started distance running. Amazingly enough, I came across a very similar concept but with the opposite conclusion.

Jeff Galloway, an Olympic runner and a huge proponent of incorporating walk breaks into running, advises hanging out in your right brain during a long run for the very reason that it's the more intuitive and creative side. While the logical left brain is rationalizing why you should stop with thoughts like: "This hurts!" "I'm hungry!" "I'm thirsty!" "I'll feel better tomorrow if I stop now," you can leverage the right brain to counter with imaginative phrases like: "This is FUN!" "Think how awesome it will be to cross the finish line!" and so on, to keep yourself going. Now I firmly believe that running does not hurt if done properly, but I haven't always done it properly.... Through running 10 marathons, including one on each of the seven continents, I've experienced my fair share of fatigue and left brain chatter trying to get me to stop. But I crossed the finish line every time, and it was well worth it.

And what does Star Trek have to do with all this? Well, in the original series there's a famous episode called "The Enemy Within," where Captain Kirk is split into two halves of his personality. These are commonly portrayed as "Good Kirk" and "Evil Kirk," but let's get one thing straight — there is nothing inherently good or evil about the hemispheres of the brain! So let's call them "Logical Kirk" and "Instinctive Kirk." It turns out that Logical Kirk is kind and sweet and has pure intentions, but tends to experience indecision and paralysis by analysis. Instinctive Kirk comes across as confident, but deep down he's afraid, and he's intensely aggressive and emotional. By the end of the episode, it becomes very apparent that both aspects are necessary; they complement each other to create a complete human being and a capable leader.


Which brings me to balance, the key to the bigger picture of life. Too much Instinctive Kirk and mayhem breaks out on the ship. Too much Logical Kirk and the ideas and collaboration are there but not the strength to lead and make decisions.

Likewise with running. Right brain ways to keep going can be harmful if you actually injure yourself and try to push through it too hard. Too much left brain rationalization for aches, hunger, thirst, or any number of reasons, and you'll never finish a race.

And likewise with horses. Horses in the right brain are more fearful, but can also be more sensitive, perceptive, obedient, and willing to bond. Horses overly in the left brain can become stubborn and uncooperative, pushing your buttons just because they can. Trust me, I know! :) For the human in the loop, it takes both logical left brain and creative right brain to keep pace with the natural games horses play and to become true partners with them.

How Mindfulness Helps

True creativity requires a mix of both logical processing and artistic flair. It also requires clarity and presence in the moment. Practicing mindfulness helps widen the range of creative options available to you in every moment and in every area of life. In the "space between stimulus and response," as Stephen Covey calls it, you have the power to choose your next move. The more adept you are at recognizing and pausing in that moment, the more skilled you become in choosing the response that serves you and others best. Mindful awareness keeps you in touch with your values and with who you want to be in each moment as you experience the journey of life.

Creativity isn't just about making photo collages and being artistic, even though those are really fun. It's also about creating your response in the moment and from moment to moment-the only time available to act-creating the relationships and outcomes you desire in life.

As with horses, running, and Captain Kirk, it takes a whole brain and a whole soul, fully engaged in the present moment, to be the best you can be.

Life itself is a creative process. Life itself is creation. As our friends here at Holstee say, "go out and start creating." Because you can.


Melissa Corley Carter, PhD, is a life and leadership coach who transitioned from the engineering career field to pursue her passion for life design and to help others get back in the driver's seat of their own lives. She's a native Texan living in Virginia, and she enjoys barefoot running, hot yoga, and yes, she loves making photo collages! Find out more about Melissa and mc2 Energy Coaching at her website.

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