Decision making – Head Vs heart vs gut

When it comes to decisions, most of us assume that our brain is the main decision making centre. Well, at least that is what science books taught us at school. Right? Not many know that there are two other body organs that help you in coming to conclusions. As the title of the article suggests, one is your heart and the other is your gut!

In the Eastern world, they have known this for ages. Over the last decade or so, neuroscience researchers have found astonishing facts – that we have complex neural networks in both our heart and gut. ‘Neural network’, in layman terms, are the connections that help our brain convey messages to different parts of the body. These cardiac (heart) and enteric (gut) neural systems exhibit all the traits of a ‘brain’ including the ability to help us make decisions.

The neural network in the gut evolved long before the head brain and can be found in single celled organisms like sea cucumbers. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. As evolution happened, and the complexity of organisms increased, it became necessary for the brain to evolve. Humans and a few other mammals have the highest capacity of intelligence.

If you think ‘so what?’, research shows that it is important to understand that each of these body parts are unique in helping you make decisions; each one is a different form of intelligence; they use different language, have different goals and operate under different criteria. For example, your brain is involved in anything to do with thinking and perception; your heart is all about emotion and values; and, your gut is about core identity and about doing/not doing.

Some of you might use language like – ‘I think this is the right thing to do’. Look at the word ‘think’ – this indicates that your brain was predominantly used to make that particular decision. If you are someone who says things like – ‘I just feel strongly about this’. ‘Feel’ indicates that your decision was made from the heart! Have you ever heard someone say ‘I just can’t digest this news’? The word ‘digest’ indicates that your gut was trying to make sense of the news. The most common phrase you would have heard is ‘I have a gut feeling…’. This is your intuition and being the most primal instinct, many times it serves us well when combined with the rational brain thinking.

It’s fascinating when we understand how these different organs works as brains to help us make better decisions.

Most of us are predominant in using one or two of our brains and this may not always be the best way to take decisions. An important discovery, for yourself, is to understand which category you fall into. One of the easy ways to do this is by watching your language (remember – think/feel/digest). Try to remember some important life incidents and the decisions you took (good/bad) and analyse which of the three, you predominantly used. Did you ignore a response from the other two? How did the situation work out for you?

If you consciously want to access your head, heart and gut to make conclusions, here is an a simple exercise. Whenever you are confused and need to make a call, defer the choice that your predominant brain wants to take. Find a few minutes of solitude. Sit quietly and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and get your heartbeat slow. Now, direct the question to each of your organs separately – address them as separate brains, for the purpose of this exercise. Closely monitor what response you receive from each brain. It is common for your predominant brain to interfere when you do this. For e.g. when directing the question to your heart, if your head brain interferes, thank it and say that you would also like to hear what your heart and gut have to say. Truly listen to what comes up. With practice, you will get better!

Try this and I would love to hear if this has helped you in making any simple or major decisions in your life.