This article first appeared on Happify.com
“The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” —Blaise Pascal
You glance over your shoulder and see someone at the table across. Something inside of you instantly tells you that you should keep away. If asked to explain your reasons, you simply shrug your shoulders. Or you come up with something that doesn’t even sound right. You may even convince yourself of your reasons and marvel at your rationality. Ah, the vanity of the mind!
And yet, so much of our daily lives are governed by mental processes that occur outside of conscious awareness. Scientists now differentiate between the slow and deliberate workings of the conscious mind and the almost instantaneous behaviors initiated by the vast cognition of the subconscious. How often have you thought deliberately of lifting each foot as you walk? Or consciously analyzed the meaning of a red light before deciding to stop? Luckily never, or else our lives would be marked by total inaction!
The Three Brains
Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, divides our cognition into what he calls the three brains—in our gut, around our heart, and in our head.
Remember the time your heart fluttered and it was love at first sight? Or when butterflies invaded your stomach before an important presentation? Heartfelt emotions and gut feel are not simply metaphors.
They are the messages that are conveyed to our subconscious mind through a complex web of the vagus nerve that connects mind and body. They are the decision makers behind “off-screen” thinking where reason has no access. If anything, reason is a latecomer to evolution’s party, that simply justifies the speedy decisions of its older comrades. It’s like our own personal lawyer.
This neural system generally serves us well. But what happens when the client is guilty and its lawyer is bound by law to uphold its case? For in the vast subconscious of beliefs, attitudes, intuitions and desires lie too our fears, our biased perceptions and early childhood priming. Consider it a giant storehouse that stocks everything in the world. And the glib salesperson at the door (your reason) tries to sell you everything you lay your hands on.
The Inward Journey We All Need to Make
How do we take advantage of this storehouse without falling prey to its indiscriminate salesperson? We familiarize ourselves with the storehouse by visiting it every day. And we befriend the salesperson so they give us honest advice.
Only then can we intuitively know the answer to a problem, recognize the biases of our thoughts, and be aware when we act in ways that are inconsistent with our values.
Only then can we connect to who we truly are and live an energized life that is in harmony with who we desire to become.
With that in mind, here are four simple steps towards this inward journey that will result in clarity of thought and action. Are you ready?
Practice Mindfulness Every Day
Listen to your thoughts without judgment and without attachment. Observe them with curiosity—do you spot justifications and biases that may be leading to negative outcomes?
Develop Body Awareness
Recognize subtle changes in internal body sensation and their effect on your feelings. How does your body let you know it is happy? How does it express its apprehensions?
Interpret Your Gut Feel
Understand the messages that your body is trying to convey. Is your explanation true to the facts? Is it fear masked as intuition or do you need to honor the wisdom of the vast knowing.
Connect with People
Be generous in love and in giving. It is through relationships that we build sound neural connections between the old subconscious and the new and conscious parts of our brain.
To live lives that are authentic to who we are and that make us a part of something larger than the self, we need to focus on the flow of energy and information between all of our “three” brains. For it is in the connection of mind, body and soul that lies the secret to greater intuition, morality, vitality and a truly meaningful life.