Did a double take at that headline? No surprise there! Leadership and Personal Development Coach Ruth Christie is here to explain how to balance the three decision-making parts of our bodies, in order to properly switch off these summer holidays.
2020 has been a heck of a year, and many of us are in desperate need of a decent break and some RnR, preferably with a good dose of sunshine. But let’s face it, even in a non-pandemic year, the festive season can be stressful for many of us.
If you feel like you’re dragging yourself through the final days of 2020, here are some practical tips to help keep you sane, savvy and smiling for the rest of the year.
First, let me tell you about your multiple brains…
No, that isn’t a typo. You actually have more than one brain in your body – in fact, you have three.
Neuroscience research shows us that we have complex, adaptive and fully functional neural networks in our heart and gut. These neural networks have many of the same features as our head brain, including the ability to learn and change.
Our head brain is the most complex and the largest of the three, but the gut and heart brains are significant in their own rights.
Here are just a couple of interesting insights about them:
– Case studies of patients who have had heart transplants show us that the heart brain has the ability to hold memories. Some recipients of heart transplants have taken on the tastes and preferences of their donor.
– The gut brain has approximately the same number of neurons as the brain of a cat. And if you’ve ever had a cat as a boss, you’ll already know just how clever and complex that brain is!
Why does this matter?
Now that we are beginning to understand more about the functions of the heart and gut brains, we are discovering that when we learn, remember and make decisions, it doesn’t only happen in the head.
- Have you ever found yourself wondering why something made perfect logical sense, but simply didn’t feel right?
- Do you sometimes commit to doing something you really want, but then procrastinate and find it hard to take action?
- Have you ever found yourself going round in circles about a decision because your head was saying one thing but your heart or gut was telling you something different?
If any of these sound familiar, it’s possible that your head, heart and gut brains aren’t communicating with each other, or might not be in alignment with each other.
When we are able to communicate with our multiple brains, and when they’re working together in alignment, it’s easier for us to make decisions and take actions. But many things in life (including habits and learned behaviour) can affect this, which can result in internal conflict or struggle and less happiness and fulfilment.
What happens when I’m stressed?
To begin to connect more with your head, heart and gut brains, you’ll need to be able to hear what they want to tell you. But if you’re feeling a sense of stress or overwhelm, you might not be able to tap into the wisdom of all three brains.
For example, when you’re under pressure your head might be full of an endless stream of chatter, drowning out any messages your heart or gut could be trying to send you.
Maybe uncertainty leaves you feeling a bit panicky, so you find yourself taking action without pausing to think things through logically.
Or perhaps when things feel too much, you go the other way and have little energy to take action at all.
All of these things are normal human responses, and I invite you to notice if any of them are familiar, without judging yourself for them. We’re all human and we all have some automatic responses and behaviours, some of which are more resourceful to us than others.
What can I do about this?
The great news is, there are some really easy things you can start to do straight away to handle your stress and be able to tune in to your head, heart and gut brains. Here are two simple things you can do to get started:
There are many different patterns of breathing, some of which you might have already discovered via practices such as yoga or meditation. Our breath can soothe and relax us, it can it can pep us up and energise us, and it can tell our body whether it needs to generate stress hormones.
To be able to tune in to your head, heart and gut, a balanced breathing pattern is recommended. This helps you achieve a state of balance in your autonomic nervous system so that you’re neither too stressed nor too relaxed – we call it calm alertness.
The balanced breathing pattern means your in-breath and out-breath are exactly the same length, with no pause in between. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit upright, with your feet flat on the floor and your shoulders relaxed.
- Breathe deeply and easily through your nose.
- Breathe into your diaphragm. To help you with this, place your hands on your lower abdomen. As you breathe in through your nose, expand your lower abdomen and notice your hands moving up and away as your belly inflates. Then exhale through your nose and notice your abdomen falling and lowering back down towards your spine.
- Bring your breathing into an even pattern, where your in-breath and out-breath are the same length. Ideally, breathe in for 6 seconds and out for 6 seconds (if this is too slow for you, try breathing in for 4 seconds and out for 4 seconds). This is an even rhythmic breath pattern with no pause in between the inhale and the exhale.
- Keep breathing in this pattern for a couple of minutes, or longer if you are able.
Even a few minutes of balanced breathing has a range of mental, emotional and health benefits. Additionally, practicing balanced breathing will make it easier for you to tune in to what your head, heart and gut are telling you.
Being grateful for what you have in your life is a simple and powerful practice that I recommend for everyone to improve their emotional wellbeing. During times of stress and uncertainty, it’s even more important to focus your attention on what you’re grateful for, as a way to give you some perspective and help prevent you focusing on negativity.
There are many ways you can do this, including the following:
- Experiment with starting or ending your day with gratitude. Focus on a couple of things you’re grateful for – the more specific, the better. Say them out loud or write them down.
- Write a gratitude letter (or email) to someone. Tell them what you’re grateful for and what they mean to you.
- Write a gratitude letter to yourself. What do you appreciate about yourself? Whatever it is, acknowledge yourself and express how grateful you are for you.
- Go for a walk. As you walk, pay attention to what you see around you marvel at the wonder of nature. Appreciate and be grateful for what you see.
- Start a gratitude journal. Each day, write down three things you’re grateful for in that day. Be as specific as you can and relate it to things that have happened that day in particular.
- While you practice balanced breathing, place one hand on your heart and bring to mind something you’re deeply grateful for. Really feel the emotion, and focus it in your heart space.
No matter how bad your day has been, and how challenging circumstances are, task yourself with finding things to be grateful for. The clothes you’re wearing. The roof over your head. All the phenomenal things your body does to keep you alive, without you even having to ask.
There are always lots of things to be grateful for, even in challenging times, and bringing your attention to these things will support your health and wellbeing.
And as a bonus, the more you practice emotions such as gratitude, the easier it can be for you to hear what your heart truly desires.
I recommend you get curious with yourself and start paying attention to what happens when you experiment with balanced breathing and gratitude.
Take things lightly, give yourself permission to be a beginner, and learn as you go. Every small step will make a difference.
Ruth is a Leadership and Personal Development Coach, and certified mBIT Coach and Trainer. For more tips on navigating through uncertainty, please go to ruthchristie.com
mBraining is the process of aligning and harnessing the power of your multiple brains. The suite of practical methods it provides is called mBIT: multiple Brain Integration Techniques.
The field of mBraining was developed by Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu from analysing and synthesising thousands of pieces of literature and research drawing on insights from neuroscience, NLP, cognitive linguistics and behavioural modelling.
For more information and references, please go to www.mbraining.com.