Gut Feelings Are Data Too

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One of the attributes of a great leader is the ability to make great decisions.

Psychology regards decision making as the cognitive process involving selecting a way forward from a pool of alternatives. Every decision making process produces a final choice that is filtered through the values, preferences and beliefs of the decision maker.

Decisions require judgement and problem solving. These functions are generally attributed to the pre frontal cortex in the brain. Knowing this, and that decision making is a process, some might say that the leader should only use their logical brain to make these decisions. A neuroleader knows better! They understand the neurobiology behind decision making and realise that there are many parts being played, not only in the brain. They know to listen to their heart and gut because the feelings they both transmit can provide realtime data to aid the decision making process and ensure a great outcome.

Dr. Dan Siegel, a renowned clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director at Mindful Insight, explains the science behind this in a leadership master class.

“We now know that the intestines, our gut, has a set of neural net processors that function like sophisticated computers. The computers we have at home are linear processors, and they can do all sorts of fancy things quickly, but the really sophisticated computers are those that are in a spider-web-like network called parallel distributed processing. We have these parallel processors called PDP models that are in our intestines and also around our heart. So the heartfelt feelings that we have are not just poetic metaphors of the ‘gut instinct’ and ‘heartfelt feelings’ but instead are really sophisticated processors. Now, it’s not rational—meaning it’s not a logical thing where you could say, ‘A went to B went to C.’ But it is a very important way in which our whole being is processing information, and often this source of bodily wisdom is very useful when contemplating an organisation’s direction.”

Information processors in the internal organs called viscera, process information and send signals from the body to the spinal cord layer called Lamina 1.  It  carries information from the intestines, heart, muscles, and bones upward through the spinal cord. Part of this information goes to the deepest part of the brain, the brainstem, and influences heart rate, respiration, and other processes like that and another portion goes to the hypothalamus and influences the endocrine system and hormones. A different branch takes data to the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

There are related areas in the PFC that are quick to communicate with each other and are all working together in decision making. When a neuroleader listens to their gut, their decisions are not made on logic alone.  They’re using their gut to give them a holistic summation of which direction they should go and when.

Just as it is unwise to make all decisions on logic alone, the same is true of instantly responding to every gut feeling. Gut feelings and a heartfelt sense provide valuable wisdom but sometimes gut feelings can lead us astray. The secret to a leader making the best possible decisions is to use the data from the body coupled with the judgement and problem solving attributes of the PFC.

In today’s fast paced marketplace a leader is constantly being asked to make decisions. Now that we know the behind the scenes neurobiology, it stands to reason that to make the best decisions we need to have leaders with effective functioning of the various components of the brain and body that result in a healthy decision making system. The i4 Neuroleader program teaches leaders how to create this through the Performance pillar of Integration. It’s the most up to date Personal Leadership model that combines the latest findings in neuroscience with everything we already know about leadership.

To find out more about how you can become a neuroleader and make better decisions, you can download a copy of our program guide or contact our team for more information.

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