A big step forward in reason is when we gain the logical recognition that the brain needs to synchronize and coordinate its operations effectively in order to function well as an integrated being instead of a collection of parts that don’t mesh well.
Then the question becomes: What’s a reasonable way to synchronize our mental operations?
The heart provides that function since its own tiny, primitive brain sends signals up through the nervous system (spinal column and vagus nerve) and into the brain. These signals then branch throughout the brain, inviting different regions to get on board with whatever is happening emotionally.
This focusing effect can be pretty obvious when emotions are intense. Notice how a jolt of fear, such as the sensation that you’re falling, immediately grabs your attention and gets your whole brain focused. When you’re in a state of intense emotion, you’re probably not succumbing to lots of irrelevant or distracting thoughts. Your whole brain quickly gets on board and coordinates operations.
Also notice that your head-brain can trigger these emotional states. The head-brain communicates with the heart-brain too, but it’s a thinner channel with less bandwidth. So it can send a signal like, “immediate danger,” and the heart will bounce that back up into the head-brain 100x stronger with intense emotion. But when the heart is generating intense emotion, it takes a while for it to calm down, and the head-brain can’t really argue with it.
It’s trickier to observe that when emotions are less intense, the synchronizing effect is still there. Do you notice that it’s easier to come up with jokes and humorous observations when you’re feeling playful, for instance? Once you’re warmed up into a playful state, your brain synchronizes operations to that state, so you can be more creatively funny. But how much more difficult is it to try being funny when you’re not feeling particularly playful? Too much of your brain isn’t on board with that intention, and so you feel resistance inside. And you may not feel very creative either.
More generally, people sometimes refer to a playful or social sync state as being “in the moment.” Notice that when you’re in the moment, you’re feeling some emotion in your heart. Those feelings are actually helping your brain to coordinate operations.
The effect is similar to playing music for a crowd and watching everyone dance together. The music invites people to coordinate their movements. Not everyone will dance to the beat, but the effect is very noticeable at the macro level. It’s clear that large numbers of individuals are synching up, but they’re not synching to each other directly. They’re synching to the beat of the music. If they all align with that one signal, they’ll align pretty well with each other too.
Now imagine if the whole planet played one song at one time globally, and everyone on earth agreed to dance to it at the same time. That would be nearly 8 billion people dancing in sync. Your brain has about 11 times as many neurons as the world currently has people, so that’s even more complex to coordinate. Your individual neurons don’t all communicate with each other directly to synchronize operations.
There are lots of ways to attempt to coordinate people’s movements, but music is one proven method. Similarly, the heart has a proven track record of helping to coordinate mental functioning.
What are the best emotional states for good mental coordination? You might think these would neutral states, such as feeling little or no emotion at all. Or maybe you’d assume they’re rah-rah emotional states where you pump yourself up to go out and conquer the world. But good choices are the calmer and more peaceful emotions like appreciation, gratitude, love, compassion, connection, empathy, and caring. So you’re definitely feeling something, but the feelings aren’t super intense. These are focusing feelings that can be sustained for hours with practice.
When you put yourself into one these calmer yet positive states, such as by recalling pleasant memories or thinking of people you care about, they help your whole brain to be more balanced and coordinated. In these states you make better and more consistent decisions. And it’s easier to be creative too.
As a rule of thumb, it’s unwise to make decisions when you’re too far outside of these states. You won’t likely make the best decisions if you do so out of desperation, for instance. Try to at least raise yourself from desperation to hopefulness with a twist of self-compassion if you can.
Your best thinking arises more reliably when you utilize a reliable sync state. This is how you can make consistent decisions without second-guessing yourself so much.
These are especially good states for making the toughest life decisions. It’s delightful to see how much clarity can come through when we pause and take a moment to reconnect with feelings of appreciation and caring, and then take a fresh look at our options. We’ll often generate much better options in these states, and we argue and debate with ourselves a lot less.
I find that a really quick way to sync to a desirable emotional state of being is just to say aloud to reality: Thank you for my life.
I feel some positive emotion when I say that, sometimes a surge of appreciation or love or connectedness, and then it calms down into a nice peaceful, centered state. This is a beautiful state for making aligned decisions or for flowing into creative work. It helps me focus on what matters to me.
Another thing you can do – and I’ll share this in the form of a simple invitation – is to nudge the people around you to coordinate better to a positive sync state as well. This is good for them and for you. So right now, I invite you to share something on social media, via email, or in person that will influence people to sync to a positive emotional state.
You could share a brief one-line message, a photo, some encouraging words, a thank you note, or anything that inspires you.
I recommend that you pick something from your own inner wisdom. Do this by synching to a positive emotional state like appreciation, gratitude, or caring first. Center yourself there. Then while you’re in that state of being, ask your mind to give you an idea that will help someone else feel more internally aligned. Trust whatever comes through, and share it with whomever you like.
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