It’s challenging to make better decisions
After all, we’d like to think that we always make the best decision, given the information available.
But, if you’re anything like me, you’ve decided things you’ve later regretted. And, given the sheer number of decisions we have to make each day, it’s easy to suffer from ‘decision overwhelm’ and make the wrong ones.
Straightforward decision-making such as, ‘Shall I get up now?’ or ‘What shall I have for breakfast’ might not have a major impact on your life in the long-term. But sometimes more important or even life-changing decisions need to be made.
Big decisions might have many facets to consider;
- How will the decision affect your life and those who are important to you?
- Will it contribute to your happiness?
- Does it fit with your values?
- What are the financial implications?
- Etc, etc.
These questions need answers
Yet finding those answers and weighing up so many diverse factors can produce stress, and leave us going round and round in circles — and still decision-less!
The problem is that many of us decide using only one or possibly two of our three brains. And if you’re only using one brain, how can you hope to make better decisions?
Yes. As well as the brain in your head, you also have a brain in your gut and another in your heart.
But are they really ‘brains’?
Well, yes, in fact, they are. The definition of a brain is ‘a complex, adaptive, neural network’. Without going into the technical details, this means your heart and gut brains can also perceive, assimilate and process information. They can each remember and adapt to new circumstances and information.
Your cardiac (heart) brain and your enteric (gut) brain do not have as many neurons as your cephalic (head) brain. But they still possess all the characteristics of your head brain — including neural plasticity.
Each of our three brains handles a different aspect of the decision-making process. So it makes sense that combining the knowledge of all three brains is going to lead us to better decisions. We’ll develop better leadership (of our own life or leadership of others) with less stress — and more confidence.
The 3 brain concept isn’t new
Many esoteric and ancient teachings and disciplines going back over two thousand years show that referencing three souls or forms of intelligence is more the norm than the exception. But now we also have scientific evidence of our three brains.
And isn’t it better to use all 3 intelligences rather than just one?
Consequences of one-brain thinking
Just thinking things through using your head brain can cause purely logical decision-making, devoid of compassion, values, or love. Using only your gut brain can mean you’re too reactive. Gut reactions might be great in a life-or-death situation, but not so great with the type of decisions we make day-to-day. And using only our heart to decide might cause us to be too ‘soft’, illogical, or even to be taken advantage of.
By using all 3 brains, we can learn to make better, more sustainable and wiser decisions.
Your Heart Brain
Your heart brain generates the body’s most influential and extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field ; sixty times greater in amplitude than the head brain. It permeates every cell in your body. The magnetic component is about five thousand times stronger than the head brain’s magnetic field and is detectable several feet away from the body. It’s in constant communication with your head and gut brains via the vagus nerve.
It’s responsible for how you relate to others, love, passions, purpose, dreams and goals, values, joy, trust, appreciation and compassion — and, importantly — the opposite of those.
Your Gut Brain
Your gut brain’s prime functions are self-preservation, sense of identity, courage and action (or non-action!). At a very basic level, your gut brain determines what’s ‘you’ and what’s not ‘you’ and gets rid of anything that falls into the latter category. So if you eat something that doesn’t agree with you, your gut will try to eliminate it. This might be through diarrhoea, vomiting or both — what fun!
You can’t ‘think’ your way out of either of these things. They are your gut brain’s way of making sure you get to live another day. The gut brain also produces valium in times of massive stress to suppress panic. In fact, your gut is a veritable chemical factory. It produces 85% of the body’s serotonin (a neurotransmitter which is involved in learning, behaviour, depression, ageing, sleep and memory) and contains 70% of your immune system. At its highest expression, your gut brain provides you with the courage to take action.
Your Head Brain
Your head brain makes meaning of situations, and behaviours, thinks, is logical, analyses and has cognitive perception. It can also do the reverse of those functions! At its highest expression, it’s infinitely creative.
No doubt you already have an idea about the possibilities of making better decisions using all three of your wonderful brains. Those decisions are likely to be less stressful to make, and more aligned with who you are.
You don’t have to look very far to discover the language that supports how we use our three brains. This makes me believe that we’ve known about these three brains for maybe thousands of years but that, in many cultures, that knowledge has slipped into our unconscious. Perhaps we’ve valued intellectual, logical, head-based ‘thinking’ above heart and gut responses.
What if our 3 brain languages were not metaphorical but actually steeped in ancient wisdom?
Let’s look at some head, heart and gut brain expressions with our knowledge of the three brains:
- Follow your heart
- Be true to your heart
- My heart’s not in it anymore
- To thine own heart be true
- She wears her heart on her sleeve
- He’s really taken it to heart
- He stole my heart
- With all your heart
- A change of heart
- A bleeding heart
- Heart of gold/stone
- Heart goes out to
- Feeling disheartened
- In your heart of hearts
- True to your values
- Follow your passion
- A heart-to-heart talk
- From the bottom of my heart
- With all my heart
Your emotional heart
Your heart handles your emoting process, for how you get along with others, your values, dreams, passion, and compassion. Look at the heart sayings again. They clearly refer to the emotional and relational aspects of our personalities — not the logical, rational and analytical.
- Had a belly-full or guts-full
- Can’t stomach something
- Being hungry for something
- Got no guts (courage)
- Bust a gut
- Kick in the guts
- Gut feeling
- An army marches on its stomach
- Having a strong stomach
- Trust your gut
- Follow your gut instincts
- Guts to make the call
- Gutsy move
- Have the courage of your convictions
- Act on instinct
- Gutsy decision
- Gut check moment
- Take a leap of faith
The gut gets you moving and taking action. It gives you the courage to act according to what’s important to you — your values. It protects you (self-preservation) and your sense of identity. You can see these roles reflected in the gut expressions above.
- I need to get my head around this
- Use your head
- Let’s get our heads together
- Hold head up high
- Hide head in the sand
- Have a good head on your shoulders
- Have head screwed on right
- Have rocks in the head
The ‘head’ language is clearly referencing our intellectual ‘thinking’ (as opposed to our emotional or instinctive responses), the making of meaning and cognitive perception.
There are probably hundreds more of these expressions
But I’m sure you get the idea! When you look at each of these sayings considering your knowledge of the three brains, you can see how each set of expressions clearly references the aspects that each brain controls.
We even have language that describes the conflict we sometimes experience
- My head says one thing, but my heart says another
- My heart wants to get involved, but in my gut, I’m afraid of getting hurt again
- I rationalised the situation when really I should have just gone with my gut feel
- My heart’s no longer in it, but I keep telling myself that I need the money
- Listening to your heart or following your head
- Struggling between emotions and reason
- Caught between your instincts and logic
So how do you talk to each brain and how do you know which brain is answering?
Get into a relaxed state first
You can do this through meditation or through balanced breathing for about five minutes. Balanced breathing balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems so you feel relaxed yet alert. You achieve this state by taking deep breaths in for about 5 seconds and then breathing out for about five seconds. As you breathe in, imagine breathing in a sense of love or appreciation into your heart. And on the out breath, breathe the love and appreciation into your gut.
Now, you can ask each brain what it thinks
Remember, your head brain is very wordy; you’ll get rational (or irrational), intellectualised answers.
You won’t get long, wordy answers from your heart and gut brains
When you receive responses from your heart brain, you might only get one or two words, a picture, or a feeling/emotion. Likewise, your gut brain will not give you a lengthy answer, perhaps a word or two and/or an image, more likely some physical feeling in your stomach, often rumbling. Remember it’s only about the size of a cat’s brain. So long ‘answers’ indicate interference or ‘translation’ by your head!
Start with your heart
Ask it “What do you truly want in this situation?” Make a note of any answers — without judgement or interference from your head!
Then ask your head what it really wants.
Ask your gut what it deeply wants.
You may have to check in with each brain more than once, and you can ask your head brain to come up with some creative solutions that will meet each brains needs, thus achieving a better, and more authentic decision. Or have a look at my SHIFT coaching if you’d like some help.
Clients often have rumbling tummies during our sessions. They’ll say, “How come my stomach only rumbles when I come to see you?” I reply “I don’t know – ask your stomach!” I’ll encourage them to get quiet and listen. And they always come up with an answer that is completely valid for their situation.
The key is to pay attention to those feelings and rumblings, rather than overriding them with logic from your head brain!
The 3-brain connection
The vagus nerve connects the brainstem to the body and is part of a circuit connecting the head, heart, and gut. When we involve each of our brains in the decision-making process, we create a road map for successfully negotiating our way through life.
Today we have even more knowledge
Neurolinguistics and behavioural modelling, backed by neuroscience and ancient wisdom, provide skills and techniques to take advantage of this combined knowledge; to evolve our decision-making using all three brains.
Don’t we use our 3 brains already?
I think some of us do, sometimes. But there may be constraints that prevent us from integrating the three neural networks consistently for making better decisions. For example, when I worked as a Human resources Manager, some years ago, my very logical engineering and accounting colleagues frowned upon my heart brain knowledge and responses, despite being in a people-based role.
When I volunteered my opinion at team meetings, they’d say, “Never mind how you feel — What do you think?” They were wonderful people, but without the knowledge I have now, I could not explain my heart brain feelings about issues in ways that their analytical head brains could understand.
I began using my heart brain less and less
I realise now that the heart brain functions are essential for working with people. Likewise, if you’re not taking action on something you feel passionate about, it’s most likely your gut brain is providing you with the stumbling block.
At the deepest level, you can make better decisions
By learning how to involve all three of your wonderful brains in decision-making, you will not only make the best decisions for you, but also bring more compassion, creativity, and courage to the world, and reconnect with your purpose.
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