Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed. 

—Thich Nhat Hanh

Many of my clients come to me for help in making high-stakes decisions. They’re working hard to tackle some of society’s most pressing problems— racism, homophobia, poverty. Many are on the verge of burn out. They need to figure out how to keep making an impact while also sustaining their energy and having time for loved ones.

Although my clients are very smart people, they can still feel stumped by these high-stakes decisions. They can feel paralyzed, sometimes, and not get a good sense of which decision is really the one they need to make. 

They’ve been raised in a culture that privileges the head and neglects the body, and they need to learn how to access their intuition so that they can make the best decision possible. 

Sound familiar?

The problem is, our skull-brains can’t figure everything out on their own.

Hold it… skull-brain? What’s that? 

In your old school biology textbook, you probably learned that your brain was the organ of soft nervous tissue in your skull. Unfortunately, that’s only partially right. 

The more neuroscientists study the brain, the more they realize that the activity of the brain is not isolated to the head. 

Instead, the brain encompasses all the nerves that run through your body including extensive networks of nerves in your heart, intestines, and other major organ systems. These nerves run up from your body, through your brainstem, limbic system, and finally to your cortex. Many neuroscientists now use the word “skull-brain” to talk about the part of the brain in your head and “body-brain” to refer to the entire system.

We access implicit memory when we act, think, or feel a certain way, and we can’t explain why. 

If the elements of the body-brain are disconnected from each other, information has a harder time flowing and you’ll have a harder time accessing your intuition.

On the other hand, if the parts of the system are well-linked together in a working whole, the information from all the parts will be able to travel in a harmonious flow. When your brain is integrated, you will be more likely to feel good and be able to access the wisdom of your body.

So how do you maximize your ability to access your full intelligence?

Like all humans, you grow thousands of new neurons every day to help hold new information. And you learn new things by forming and strengthening the links between your neurons (the basic building blocks of your skull-brain). 

You can exercise your brain just like a muscle. Just like you’d lift weights to strengthen certain muscles, when you repeatedly focus your attention in certain ways, you increase and strengthen the links between the neurons that are associated with whatever it is that you’re focusing on. Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to change, and when you focus your attention, you activate and amplify neuroplasticity. 

For example, if you play lots of video games, the parts of your brain associated with video game-playing will be stronger. If you practice law, the parts of your brain associated with retaining information about and discerning how to interpret your field of law will be stronger. If you practice paying attention to what’s going on within you, you can strengthen your ability to access your inner guidance. 

What you practice, you become. As neuroscientist Donald Hebb wrote in 1949, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” 

Let’s say you’re facing a really high-stakes situation, and you want to make a good decision. 

Try as it might, your skull-brain can’t figure everything out on its own. Your decisions will be so much better informed if you have access to your entire body-brain system.

The more you focus your attention on what’s going on within you, the easier it becomes to pay attention. By repeatedly focusing your attention on the messages you receive, you strengthen your ability to access your intuition and the more second-nature making good decisions becomes. The positive feedback loop goes on. 

An Evidence-Based Practice for Integrating the Full Brain & Making High-Stakes Decisions

Many self-awareness practices can strengthen your sense of mental clarity and intuition. The unifying thread that runs between most of the practices I teach is the journal. 

When you dedicate time to observing your inner and outer experiences, you strengthen your ability to access the wisdom to make well-informed decisions. There are all sorts of research on the benefits of journaling. One of my favorites is the discovery that simply writing about a challenging experience can lower physiological reactivity and increase our sense of wellbeing.

I invite you to practice. If you have a journal, grab it now. If not, just get a piece of paper and a pen. Then, set a timer for five minutes (you can take more time if you’d like). When you’re ready, I invite you to write your responses to the following questions. You can answer the questions in any order or choose one to focus on. The key thing is to keep your hand moving without censoring yourself. 

Here we go— 

What is a challenging situation in my life? What am I feeling about it? What do I need? 

Write for the entire five minutes.

When you’re complete— How do you feel? You may not feel much at all, as you may need more time to practice. Or you may feel a small sense of relief. 

Either way, I invite you to keep coming back. And know that each time you focus within, you strengthen your brain and your ability to find your path forward.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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