Whole Brain Living — by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D

Title: Whole Brain Living – The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters that Drive Our Life
Author: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D
Year: May 2021
Publisher: Hay House


As a Speech and Language Therapist, (SALT) I’m familiar with the treatment of people with strokes when it comes to loss of language and speech, also known as aphasia.

Struck by Her Stroke

So, back in 2008, when I saw Harvard professor Dr. Jill’s Ted Talk on her ‘Stroke of Insight’, I was fascinated and intrigued: a Harvard neuroscientist going through an actual stroke while being aware of what was going on and also that she managed to make a full recovery, eventually.

When I noted Dr. Jill had written a new book, on her approach to getting one’s whole brain harmonised and working fully and how everyone can use her approach to live a fuller, happier and more wholesome life, I was eager to read it. Would it shed some real light on the workings of the brain and help us to live more fully? Follow on and find out in our review!

Bringing the Brain Back Online

After her stroke, neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Taylor had a radical shift in perception on how our brains work. With help, she managed to recover from her brain haemorrhage, she needed to rebuild everything, from coordination to memory, skills, and relationships. During her therapy she got her whole brain working fully together and came through as Jill 2.0 (or now, with her new view on things, Jill 360!). Now she enjoys life more fully that ever before knowing there is actually far more to our lives than meets the eye.

“The chattering ‘monkey mind’ of my left brain went silent. With that internal dialogue circuitry shut off, I sat in the center of a completely silent brain for five full weeks. I even lost that little voice of my left-brain ego-self that could say, ‘I am an individual, separate from the whole. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.’“

The Four Characters

“Whole Brain Living” revolves around ‘The Four Characters’, an eye opening concept. The book also teaches us we don’t have one, but two amygdalas controlling our emotions. Each brain hemisphere has a thinking part and an emotional part.

The second eye opener is how immature both emotional parts are. To me, they come across as toddlers: either “No!” (Character 2’s main aim is self-protection) or Go! (Character 3 seems to LOVE everything, without fear).

Meet Your Main Characters

“Whole Brain Living” shows us how to get acquainted with our own inner Four Characters, and with that, observe how they show up in our daily lives. It helps us to identify and relate to them in within ourselves, and in others as well.

In podcasts, Dr. Jill compared the Four Characters to well-known Harry Potter characters, to more easily grasp the characters’ mind-sets:

Character 1. Left Thinking – is very organized and a goal getter; Dr. Jill named her Helen, Harry Potter aficionados will recognize Hermione.

Character 2. Left Emotion – is all about keeping safe, and can come across insecure and fearful; Dr. Jill named her Abby. Malfoy fits that description.

Character 3. Right Emotion – fun-loving, impulsive and fearless, Pigpen in Dr. Jill’s mind. The Weasley twins surely embody that role.

Character 4. Right Thinking – a blissfully relaxed state, deeply connected to everything. Dr. Jill relates to this as Queen Toad, and can be compared to the wise magician and Headmaster, Dumbledore.

Don’t Live on Auto-Pilot: Steer Your Car, Your Ship & Pilot Your Airplane!

Without knowing how our brains work, or from which part we are reacting, we have little to no control over them. We’re living on automatic, so when there’s a trigger – we’ll react, the same way over and over again – with the incredible phenomenon of a thought/emotion habit that compounds over time! So choose what you think carefully, develop a system of positive thought and stick with it for ah…the next 20 years and to the end of your life. Easy, right?

It’s interesting to learn that pure emotion only lasts 90 seconds, and by then it has run its course through our body, anything that endures longer, begins to alter our minds, brains and thence to our bodies. Our character 2’s will instantaneously recall fear patterns and keep us locked into negative limitations for the sake of ‘safety and comfort’.

Unsurprisingly, Jill has an answer for this too: the B.R.A.I.N Huddle.

B.R.A.I.N is an acronym for: Breathe, Recognize, Appreciate, Inquire and Navigate. These steps help analyse which character and part of the brain we’re basing our decisions on at that point. Very useful psychological tools, however, to make full use of them – you’ll need to invest time into becoming more self-aware. Be more vigilant about your own mental operations.


“Breathe and focus on your breath. This enables you to hit the pause button, interrupt your emotional reactivity, and bring your mind to the present moment with a focus on yourself.”

From personal experience I know how vital that first step, conscious breathing is, as it calms down our fear or Character 2. This is absolutely necessary otherwise you won’t be able to experience a state of neuroplasticity wherein your mind is more malleable to dive into, in your role as an engineer to make changes to its constructs.

“The most valuable insight I gained from this sojourn into the depths of my brain: the realization that we have the power to turn our emotional circuitry on and off by choice.”

If you apply the B.R.A.I.N Huddle technique, you can choose between the Four Characters, to better interact with yourself and people in the external world, thus improving your quality of life, and those of whom you hold near and dear.

The Four Characters in Several Scenarios

The book’s chapters go more in depth into situations as Dr. Jill explains how to work with all Four Characters in a harmonic Brain Huddle to achieve the ideal whole brain life.


Dr. Jill reintroduces us to an important part of ourselves, our brain and these innate Four Characters which we all possess, albeit undeveloped since we’ve been largely unaware of them!

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the different scenarios mentioned that our Characters can encounter; Dr. Jill’s insights on how each character could interact in such situations, and she also provides additional book sources to dig deeper into that subject.

I personally would’ve loved to have more practical reference points, tips or guidelines on the subject of conscious breathing and how to do it.

From personal experience, I am aware that in actively working with my Four Characters, that the most crucial step is in pacifying my young Abby, as she can undermine and block all efforts to choose differently, for the better.

In a world still full of conflict and war, it would be a massive step forward if we humans learn to not be led by our impulses, but to deliberately weigh our thoughts and choose a more positive path.

“When we know, understand, and nurture our own Four Characters, their relationships with one another, and their collective power within us, we promote our own cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness. This is whole-brain living. I truly believe that this is the evolutionary goal of humanity, and we are getting there one brain at a time.”

You could see “Whole Brain Living” as a book on stroke recovery, but it is intrinsically far more than that – it’s a guide to help us interact better with our own thoughts and emotions and by extension, enlightening us as to how we can help others around us too.

Book rating: 8.5/10

Dr Jill Bolte Taylor - Whole Brain Living

Dr Jill Bolte Taylor – Whole Brain Living

Find out much more about Dr. Jill in our extensive, exclusive, eye-opening, and insightful interview!

You can order her latest book discussed above: “Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Life”, from Amazon and follow her via social media on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter. In case of a STROKE, remember to ACT F.A.S.T.!

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Marleen Lam

Marleen Lam is a journalist from Holland with a background in pediatric speech therapy and sensory integration. Her passions are reading, teaching, child-development, cats, food, gardening and being outdoors. As she continues to evolve, she is enjoying getting more into mindfulness including meditation, yoga, vegan food and energy healing practices like Reiki and Jin Shin Jyutsu.

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