Neuroscientists have discovered the source of wisdom. Not only are our brains regenerative and plastic, we actually have three of them. We have a brain located in our head, our heart and our gut. The work of the HeartMath Institute* has demonstrated that the area around our heart is loaded with neurology that connects us to our environment, determines our sense of aliveness and expands our access to our intuition. Dr. Michael Gerson, author of The Second Brain is among a growing group of researchers proving that our digestive tract, and in particular our small intestine, contains more neurons then our head.
Are You a Head, Heart or Gut Type?
We each have a bias to use one brain center more than the other two. Some people are more head types, others heart types and still others are gut types. Additionally, we are all at different levels of development within each center of intelligence. Overreliance on one brain or underdevelopment of any of the brains makes us one-dimensional thinkers, limits our potential and leads to poor decision-making capacity.
One of my past clients is a very effective CEO partly because he is an amazingly fluid communicator and a great thinker and speaker on his feet. With no prepared notes, he can speak to groups of five or five hundred for hours and clearly assess a complex situation. He comes from the gut. His clear insights just flow out of him. He rarely knows what he’s going to say before he says it. People trust him because he filters nothing, he’s transparent.
In contrast, there are leaders who get “stuck in their head.” Words come out of their mouths but with no emotion, empathy or connection to those around them. They rose to their level of responsibility because of their ability to perform quick analysis and their skillfulness with written or rehearsed communication. They are brilliant at pattern recognition and teasing out what’s most important. Yet without access to their heart intelligence, they miss the emotional queues of their audience and even themselves. These executives often derail in their careers due to their limited listening skills and inability to read the political tea leaves in their organization. The head brain will only take you so far.
Being ruled by one’s heart brain has it’s pitfalls as well. If being numb or disconnected from one’s emotions is the downside for head types, being whipped around by emotions can be the curse of heart types. High level use of our heart brain means we trust the subtle messages our heart sends us and we are able to use our emotions to better understand how we are processing our external reality.
Low level use of our heart brain leads to emotional reactivity. There is such thing as trusting our emotions too much. Emotions such as fear, hurt and anger are often reactions to a flawed interpretation of what’s going on around us. Not every emotion is a valid reflection of what others are doing. A high EQ is the result of doing enough self-reflection to understand that we are the cause of our emotional reactivity. High level use of our heart brain results in conscious emotional expression, low level use results in blaming others for how we feel.
How to Access More Wisdom
Deepening your wisdom and broadening your intelligence starts with your awareness of your three brains. This awareness is a big leap for most people. We are neurologically and culturally conditioned to think that all of our intelligence can be measured with an IQ test. We love to pathologize everything. Our culture idolizes people with high IQs, GPAs and those with degrees from elite schools who can do complex math problems in their heads. We distrust those who we judge rely too much on their intuition or feelings.
If you want to tap wisdom value each brain equally. You’ll also become wiser when you begin to view the head, heart and gut intelligences operating as equally important, interrelated software programs versus three separate modes. This perspective allows you greater access to the full gifts of your creativity, insight and judgment.
Your wisdom will increase when you stop believing that the head brain is the captain of your intelligence ship. Science shows that it’s actually the gut brain that’s best equipped to make an initial evaluation of a situation and then direct the heart and head brains what to do next. The head brain is more of an analyzer and processor of information rather than the generator of original ideas or a portal to deeper knowing.
Practical Tips for Multiple Brain Development
The best way to gain better access to your intelligence via all three of your brains is through practice. As you notice each brain at work you will begin to recognize its unique personality. If you want to gain insight or clarity from your gut brain slow down your decision-making, go for a walk, take your mind off the decision. You can also picture the physical location of your gut brain (just below your naval) and imagine that it’s the center of your nervous system. Pay attention to any GI track disturbances; until you get those healed you will not be able to access that part of your intelligence.
If want to develop your heart brain pay attention to your emotions, in particular your grief and shame. Remember that sorrow is a part of life, not something to repress. Remind yourself that shame is built on a set of false beliefs about your worthiness. How much do you allow yourself to feel sad? What are the ways you try to avoid it? If you find yourself angry a lot, look beneath that for unacknowledged hurt, fear and grief. Experience and express your emotions and you’ll have greater access to your heart brain, not to mention a healthier heart and cardio system.
People don’t need more of the quick answers and problem-solving that come from your head. They need that deep wisdom that comes from your gut and the compassion that comes from your heart.