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Your Body Speaks Its Mind When It Comes To Deciding
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Some of us talk about a "gut feeling" facing us before difficult decisions. We might feel our heart rate increase before something we find to be dangerous or doubtful, or we might feel a tangible sense of calm and relief before something we find to be in line with our deepest convictions. Whether are decisions are good or bad, however - whether they make us feel relaxed or on edge - we can say with certainty that our bodies speak their minds when it comes to deciding.
A certain amount of skepticism goes along with these gut reactions. We might think that our body's opinions of a course of action is just a coincidence, or that the link between the body and the mind is nothing more than folk wisdom. We might find it surprising, then, that there's a scientifically-based explanation for the sixth sense our bodies sometimes exhibit in the face of a difficult decision.
At least two physiological processes link our bodies and minds: stress and relaxation. The first of these, stress, is well-known to many of us. When we perceive danger in our vicinity - either tangible physical danger or mental uncertainty - our body's sympathetic nervous system activates. The sympathetic nervous system is a mechanism evolved to allow us to cope with threatening situations by maximizing the body's efficiency for certain tasks at the cost of certain other bodily systems. Our capacities for growth, reproduction, and accessing memory are sacrificed for an increased heart rate, increased sensitivity to environmental fluctuations and cues, and a more efficient rate of oxygen delivery to our muscles. This allows us to exert more strength, react more quickly, and notice potential dangerous around us.
The cost, however, often causes us feelings of profound discomfort. Increased oxygen usage in our muscles leads to a buildup of waste products, which in turn leads to muscle aches and feelings of fatigue. Our sensitivity to environmental cues diminishes our capacity for accessing memories and orienting ourselves in our environment, leading to feelings of rootlessness, dizziness, and overall uncertainty. And our increased heart rate leads to a more rapid digestive process, causing a buildup of acid in our stomach and damage to our internal organs - literally, a gut reaction.
Since these stress responses build up in our bodies and minds when we feel threatened, we can use them as a guide to how we feel about a decision. If we believe that a decision will lead to a positive outcome for us, we likely won't feel stressed about it. If we believe that a decision will lead to a negative outcome, however - or if we feel ambivalent about a decision, causing us to feel a sense of rootless dread or anxiety - then we'll start to experience these pains and this sense of mental panic. From this, we might conclude that we don't want to follow a certain course of action, or that we need to look at our patterns of thinking about a topic in order to convince ourselves that what we're doing is ultimately the best thing for us.
When we're convinced of that, we experience the other reaction that represents a link between body and mind: the relaxation response. Discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson and first discussed in his 1975 book, The Relaxation Response, the relaxation response acts as a natural counterpart to the stress response. In a relaxed state, the body feels a sense of deep connection to its environment, the heart rate and oxygen usage rate slows, and a mild trance-like state overcomes our mind. Because of the trance-like effects of the relaxation response, it may not be the best state to enter into prior to a decision being made. But if we notice that a decision, once made, leads us to the relaxation response, we know that we feel relieved at the probable outcome of the decision: we know that this decision reduces, rather than augments, our anxiety. And this can be a very good sign that this was the right decision to have made.
It's important not to trust to our body entirely when it comes to difficult decisions. What our body tells us when we make a decision ultimately has to do more with our feelings about the outcome than about the outcome itself: if we have a subconscious desire for failure, then we may feel the relaxation response when we choose a defeatist option and the stress response when we choose a risky option, but one that will ultimately lead to our success. The mere presence of relaxation, then, isn't a guarantee that our choice is the correct one for the situation. But by letting our bodies speak their mind - we can learn more about what we believe, on a deep level of consciousness, about our options: we learn more about our patterns of thought. And if we don't like those patterns, it's only through recognizing them - only through listening to what our bodies tell us - that we can start to take steps to change our patterns of thought, to put ourselves in the position to minimize our overall stress in the face of a decision.
Generative NLP are a refreshingly plain spoken resource and training centre for the MythoSelf® Process that is based in South West London and was founded in 2001 by Charles Moore who is one of only a handful of people who has the privilege of being in a close mentoring relationship with the models creator, Joseph Riggio Ph.D. from the beginning.
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