Your gut brain is smarter than your head brain thinks
Buried in our intestines, deep inside its tissue, is a thin layer of neurons, the same cells that you find in your cerebral cortex. There are over 500 million neurons in the gut, which is about the same amount as you would find in a cat’s brain. These are spread out along the gut, which extends from your neck down to your rectum. This brain doesn’t “speak” in the method you are used to, but along with managing digestion, it does process certain types of memory, and communicates with the brain to manage the secretion of key chemicals such as serotonin (which mediates your mood), and communicates with the head brain through a connection called the vagus nerve. Your gut brain, or enteric nervous system (ENS) as scientists call it, even has the same sleep cycle as the head brain; when your head brain is in “Rapid Eye Movement” mode, your gut enters “Rapid Gut Movement”, and scientists believe that this process affects your dreams and memory consolidation. Scientists now are confident that gut instinct is a genuine part of the human brain.
Modern life requires too many decisions to ignore gut instinct
Some of the most powerful names in business, from Richard Branson to Oprah Winfrey to Warren Buffet, credit their success with following their gut. Understanding the powers of intuition are even more important in today’s fast-paced business climate. The amount of information we process daily is unmatched in history. A recent UCLA study calculated that we process more than 174 newspapers worth of information daily – or five times more data than we received 20 years ago. More and more, we’re being asked to make decisions faster, with less time, and more stress.
Making better decisions and listening to your gut
A common denominator in the profiles of successful business leaders is their ability to trust their gut instinct, particularly when presented with data. In these times of statistical overload, the difference between success and failure often comes down to how leaders “feel” about the data, and whether it confirms their gut instinct.
The gut brain communicates through a number of modalities, including: Hunger signals and meal initiation, Satiety signals, Taste signals, Muscle tension, Visceral sensation. You can note these signals in language, in phrases such as “that guy left a sour taste in my mouth”, or “We’re just not hungry enough”. Noting these indicators in language can not only help you to understand where your decisions are coming from, but also those thinking patterns in others around you.
Listening to your gut instinct requires a quiet mind
In Japanese culture, businessmen learn the practice of “haragei”; the art of listening to gut instinct. They are taught to use the silences in conversation (which are generally longer and more comfortable than Western meetings could handle), to listen to their gut and be guided by their instincts. Michihiro Matsumoto, author of “The Unspoken Way” suggests that to practice haragei, you must breathe correctly. Calm, synchronous breathing (in breaths of the same length as out breaths) relaxes the nervous system and gives your head brain the space and silence to “hear” the signals coming to you from the gut.
In traditional Chinese medicine, developed over thousands of years, practitioners recognise the link between emotions and organ systems, and developed techniques to improve the gut-head connection, still practiced by Taoists, Qigong and Tai Chi practitioners today. In the Taoist tradition, each person assumes responsibility for the emotions that arise within, regardless of the external events that trigger the emotions. Taoist exercises take us into our bodies and transform emotions by transforming the associated physiological systems. Exercises such as The Inner Smile and Six Healing Sounds exercises help balance and integrate our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, promoting health, resilience, and vitality.
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