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Decisions and life is better with our three brains

How many times, after a conflict or disagreement, have you felt that it would have been different if you knew then what you came to understand later?

Or how many times did it happen to you although logically it was right to do something you emotionally stayed away from that logical solution?

Why is it so hard to have be congruent in our thoughts and feeling?

You would think that cutting-edge science would not be needed to address this question. After millions of years of evolution and tens of thousands of human societies, you’d think we’d have worked out by now how to understand, and get along with, one another.

Philosophers and poets might have some insights, and I don’t want to tread on their turf.

However, as a therapist, coach, and associate professor of the science of behavioral organizational leadership and communication, I wonder what we have unlearned across the years, or what have we learned that is not actually true?

What is the connection between that gut-wrenching or passionate feeling in our heart, and our communication and interactions? And how can science have proven we react to stimuli seconds before we are consciously aware of them? Who is in charge inside us?

When you look at the science, you realize that human beings, the greatest thinking machines that have ever existed on this planet, don’t have much insight into how their own thinking processes work.

Current research has upended the notion that we have in our heads a single powerful mind that is home to our thoughts, emotions, and reactions. In fact, science now tells us that we have not one, but three centers of thought and memory! Each one perceives, interprets, and reacts to the world in a distinctly different way.

In addition to our well-known ‘thinking’ brain (which we will call the ‘Head Brain’), we have a ‘feeling’ brain (which we will call our ‘Heart Brain’) and a third brain — at our core — whose job it is to keep us safe. We will call this ‘self-preservation’ brain the ‘Gut Brain’.

When we get angry or upset, what triggers those feelings and emotions? If the Head Brain (or the mammal limbic, or reptilian cerebellum brain) was truly the only home to our thoughts and feelings, why is it so hard to talk ourselves out of feeling and emotion? When we feel bad, where do we feel bad? In our Head, in our Heart or in our Gut? When our hearts are broken or our guts are churning with anxiety, why is it that the dispassionately rational thoughts in our heads don’t make a dent in our emotions? When we’re inclined to blurt out things we know we shouldn’t say, what compels us to do it anyway?

In the past, the Heart and Gut Brains have been neglected (or dismissed) by Western scientific researchers. In therapy and coaching they are often referred to as the ‘unconscious mind’; you may have seen those pictures of icebergs, one tiny part above the water (our conscious mind) and 90% beneath the water (the sub- or unconscious). From this moment on, the subconscious is tangible and has a name: Heart and Gut Brain.

They don’t speak the same language as the Head Brain. Their decisions can seem illogical. They can be stubborn and, especially to people whose own Head Brains are dominant, like scientific researchers, what the other Brains contribute can be irritating and seem downright stupid.

The ability in having a good and open discussion and see things clearly our three Brains needs to be able to filter good information from bad, relevant experiences and learning from things that are dissimilar or irrelevant.

That level of insight requires a process of education. And our world is filled with people who want to train your brains to see the world as they do, or as they want you too. Even though our parents and schoolteachers have the best intentions most of them still like to colour our worldview as they see it.

As the ability to think critically is not something we are born with; it is a discipline that needs to be developed. In short, our Brains can become unmoored from the real world and start supplying us with misguided notions that it cannot distinguish from reality. When they do, we start making bad decisions based on errors in how we have interpreted our own lives and experiences.

Somewhere in our three Brains, we all have lodged some irrational beliefs. They are not always a bad thing. For many people, accepting a belief on faith alone — like a religious philosophy — is an essential.

But there are many ways that a cognitive process can go awry and disrupt our ability to make good decisions.

One of my ambitions with my 3 Brains Coach Certification training is that we can start to break out of stereotypical one Brain thinking and assist/coach people to act congruent.

To achieve this, we have to learn and be able to identify the language of our individual brains an acknowledge that sometimes only one Brain is in charge, while at other times, a combination of two or all three Brains are involved in decision-making.

That they can disagree with each other and sometime that the Gut Brain has shut down one or both of the other brains to stay safe, although that staying safe is based on an old mostly painful memory that is most of the times not applicable anymore.

With this knowledge, you will be capable of learning your own mindset and that of your client, friends, and colleagues. You will be able to break free of stereotypes and say goodbye to many misunderstandings in your life and coach your clients to do the same.


Professor organisation and behavioural leadership at IE Business School.

Clinical Hypnotherapist/psychotherapist and Executive Coach.

PS when you like to learn more about our 3 Brains and how they make decision and how to master them.

Join our 3 brains coach certification training

Learn A proven, effective way to enable successful, long-lasting change, based on scientific research. 

Learn how your three Brains—Head, Heart and Gut—are connected for powerful decision-making and how they store our memories and emotions (like stress, fear, anger, grief, sadness and frustration).

Master how to identify and solve the five main blocks that lead to depression, procrastination, anxiety/stress, addiction, ineffective decision-making and poor overall performance.

13–16 February 2020 Perth

16–19 March Gold Coast


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