mBraining: the science of effective decision-making

Combine your inner wisdon, gut instinct and mental intelligence for effective decision making, says Victor Marino 

We make up to 10,000 decisions every day – some of them momentus many of them trivial. 220 are about tea and coffee – caffeinated or decaf, grande or regular. It does not matter (too much) if you get your coffee wrong but when it comes to your work, team, finances and health, the implications can be bigger. For most decisions our own mental processing and intuition will guide us quite successully. But bigger decisions require a more complex set of insights.

Drowning in the deluge

Every moment of every day we are deluged by information. In 2008 we were consuming three times as much information as we were in 1960. In 2012, more than 204 million emails were sent every minute of every day. In 2020 we’ll be producing 44 times more data than we produce today.

The environment we make decsions in is often compromised. The constant drip, ping, ring that surrounds us creates an environment of ‘continuous disruption’. This is having a profund effect on our ability to concentrate, think, plan and decide. Our stone age designed bodies can’t cope with the modern day deluge. Confronted with endless data – our hearts beat faster, our breath becomes shallow, our bodies shift into crisis mode. Making decisions becomes difficult as we can’t access our inner wisdom unincumbered from all the noise.

Wise decision-making

Recent neuroscience findings have uncovered that we have complex and functional neural networks – or ‘brains’ – in our heart and gut as well as our head. And that these are just as critical to effective decision making as our minds. We all recognise the situation where someone is telling us a plausibly sounding line about the latest best-in-the-market product – but our gut is telling us something is not right. To make effective decisions it is key to access and utilise the power of all our intelligence centres.

Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka, in their book mBraining ‘Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff’, show that effective leaders use the three centres – head, heart and gut – naturally but not always consciously. When the 3 ‘brains’ are aligned and coherent leaders operate at their most confident and effective. When they are misaligned, decisions and judgement can become impaired. These three intelligence centres each have their own specialist functions: 

  • Head brain – for executive decisions, including analytical and creative thought
  • Heart brain – for empathy, relationships and values
  • Gut brain – for courage, motivation and action

Evidence of the different intelligences centres are littered throughout our vernacular: ‘Listen to your gut instinct’, ‘follow your heart’, ‘deep in my heart I know’, ‘my gut is telling me something is wrong’.

But in the complex and volatile business environment, leaders can overlook the intuitive and innate intelligence of their other brains. Often at work there is a dissonance between the desires of the heart and logic of the head and the sense of self that comes from our gut. In the West, we don’t much like to embrace the heart in the office but working with the heart’s wisdom is where mBraining begins.

mBraining for alignment

Using methodologies from cognitive linguistics, behavioural modelling, and informed by the latest in neuroscience, mBraining is a comprehensive system for communicating with and integrating the wisdom and intelligence of all our brains. mBraining coaching provides organisational leaders with practical methods for aligning and integrating their intelligence centres for increased levels of wisdom. It is a practical based approach that starts with balanced breathing to access the intelligence of head, heart and gut – tuning into each of them and enabling each centre to ‘talk to’ each other. This enables you to better understand your motivations and true sense of what is the best course of action.

Melissa, a HR manager in her mid 30s, came for mBraining coaching because of issues to do with compulsive overeating. She opened up with ‘Something’s wrong with me, I can’t seem to help myself’. Mellissa did use her heart for connection, and empathy but she used her gut to determine what she wanted in life – a heart based function. This lead to over indulgence and a challenge with control. Using the mBraining techniques she was able to access more of what she wanted in her life rather than short circuit her desires for life through food.

In an organisational context, the use of the gut to do a heart based job is often evidenced in the CEO who has a voracious appetite for growth. They typically have high risk drives combined with a strong bias for action through mergers and acquisitions (along with the big office and fast cars). They overlook the complex sensitivities of the heart – this can lead to spectacular failures such as we saw with the financial crisis of 2008. Fred ‘the Shred’ was not operating from his heart centre.

So where does that leave you when it comes the art of making the right call on a complex decision? The experts don’t necessarily help. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman a noble prize winner and author of the bestselling book Thinking Fast and Slow believes a lot of senior managers unconsciously think fast which is prompted by gut instinct and this all too often leads to hasty and sometimes disastrous decisions. On the other hand Malcolm Gladwell another best- selling author who wrote, Blink, Outliers and Tipping Point strongly advocates trusting your intuition and gut instinct. So, who is right? The answer is both of them. However, it is the skill of application where the real power of effective decision-making is to be found. This is where mBraining comes in. 

When you know the problem and the solution then thinking fast is the most productive and efficient approach to the task in hand. When the problem is complex and ambiguous you need to take the problem on a reflective tour of your multiple brains and clarify if your intelligence networks are aligned and harmonised. mBraining enables you to combine intuition with analysis and fast with slow thinking providing a much stronger base for safe, clear and wise decisions. Alignment of your multiple brains is key. The mBraining process can help make you wiser and more effective. Though for your coffee choice it’s a safe bet to rely on your gut instinct. 

Are you aligned?

Indicators that your 3 ‘brains’ aren’t aligned:

  • You experience internal conflict between your thoughts, feelings and actions
  • You’ve not acted upon your dreams, goals and plans
  • You do unwanted behaviours or habits but don’t know why or have difficulty stopping them
  • Something within you is making it difficult for you to motivate yourself to take action
  • You sabotage yourself from achieving your goals
  • You experience disempowering emotional states such as frustration, depression, anger, anxiety

We are all clever enough dealing with the complex challenges of modern life and its often endless demands. Business doesn’t need more ‘cleverness’ what it needs more of is wisdom. Wisdom comes from a more holistic approach to human and organisational life enabling us to make more effective decisions and take the best course of action. Balancing our heads, hearts and guts is the route map for us to be more creative, more compassionate and more courageous – at work, at home and in life.

Core competencies of the 3 brains

  • Head: consciousness, balanced perspective, flow, curiosity, learning, clarity
    Highest expression: creativity
  • Heart: peace, forgiveness, joy, trust, connection, gratitude, love, generosity
    Highest expression: compassion
  • Gut: hunger/satiety, action, will power, wellbeing, intuition 
    Highest expression: courage

mBrain decision-making tool

Coherent breathing will put your heart and autonomic nervous system into a balanced state and is a helpful step with effective decision making:

  1. Sit in a comfortable and relaxed position (rather than lying down)
  2. Keep your spine straight and shoulders relaxed, upright without tension or effort
  3. Make a short note of your problem or challenge
  4. Your eyes can be opened or closed
  5. Begin to breathe in deeply yet gently through your nose and out through either your nose or mouth, do this without force
  6. Breathe into and from your diaphragm, feel it lower on the inhalation and rise naturally on the exhalation
  7. Combine the sensations of exhalation with feelings of deep relaxation
  8. Put aside any thought of the past or future and stay focused in the present
  9. Bring the problem back into thoughts and watch and experience and further thoughts, feelings or sensations as they arise. Notice where in your body they move to and from. The conduct your own appreciative enquire. Ask of yourself “what does my heart truly want from the situation?” Stay open to any response direct your attention to your head and enquire  “ what does my head think about this?  Then move on to your gut and ask “What is my gut instinct about this?”
  10. Continue for five minutes; on completion take time to be aware of the changes in your mental, emotional and physical state 
    In your final step ask yourself with sincerity and positive expectation “What is the most efficient and effective response to this situation?”
  11. Make any notes required and resolve to take specific action.

Note: It is possible that you may need to repeat this process particularly if you have been used to relying on one specific brain and system to approach your challenges or the brains are not in alignment.


Another take on multiple brains from Richard Rohr

If we are to come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity, then we will come to that belief by developing the capacity for a simple, clear, and uncluttered presence. Those who can be present with head, heart, and body at the same time will always encounter The Presence, whether they call it God or not. For the most part, those skills are learned by letting life come at us on its own terms, and not resisting the wonderful underlying Mystery that is everywhere, all the time, and offered to us, too.


All we can do is keep out of the way, note and weep over our defensive behaviours, keep our various centers from closing down—and the Presence that is surely the Highest Power is then obvious, all-embracing, and immediately effective. The immediate embrace is from God’s side; the ineffectiveness is whatever time it takes for us to “come to believe,” which is the slow and gradual healing and reconnecting of head, heart, and body so they can operate as one.


The Power of Your " Heart Brain"

Your heart knows the truth of what is important to you. Your gut knows the essence of what IS you. Your head is to be guided accordingly.


Research is finally backing the long-time belief that conscious awareness originates from the heart. Studies have found that consciousness is an evolution of the brain and heart working together in synergy with their own “brains.” More than the general belief that the heart is merely a pump essential for life, it now appears that the heart is a contributor to conscious awareness, thoughts and decision-making.


Research into neurocardiology finds that that heart is both a sensory organ and a center for receiving and processing information, enabling it to learn, remember and make functional, independent decisions. Furthermore, studies have also found that the heart influences the higher brain centres by sending continuous messages updating the system about perception, cognition and emotional processing.


Through electromagnetic interactions the heart also connects to an extensive neural network linking the heart to the brain and the whole body. These electromagnetic interactions are far stronger than those produced by the brain, up to 60 times greater in amplitude that the brains, in fact! This means that the strong presence of the heart is a strong influence on processes throughout the body such as feelings of love, respiratory rhythms and other oscillatory systems.


The heart has immense power and influence within our bodies, as the research outlined above shows, it cannot be under-estimated when making important decisions.




Going Beyond the Words



The Tao that can be told is not the Absolute Tao…. whatsoever can be said cannot be true… do not become a victim of the words…. remember the wordless…the Tao can be communicated, but it can only be communicated from being to being…remember that truth cannot be said…. it can only be realized in silence…. when your inner talk has stopped, then it is realized…and that which is realized in silence, how can you say it in sound? It is experience…. not thought…. So as you read these words, what are you experiencing now?


Lao Tzu





Drawing Comparisons

Drawing comparisons from two seemingly different walks of life can be, to the naked eye, a waste of time. I find myself asking time and time again; in what way can basketball, Andy Murray, the water cycle and learning to drive be in any way related to finding business success in a time of economic hardship?! And yet it seems that every week I read articles that are obsessed with taking two separate entities and squashing and reshaping and hacking away at them to make one perfectly reflective of the other.


Today it is my turn to compare two things that up until recently I did not consider to be related in any which way. It was a Monday morning; the weather was nice, a cool breeze took to the air that made the dew in the grass glisten in the sun. As I was digging around in the shed I found my old golf clubs that hadn’t seen daylight since 1997 and feeling optimistic I gave them a wipe down and headed out to my local driving range.


Dressed the part and feeling quietly confident about the pink-red combo I had chosen that morning, I strutted over to the empty bay where I lined up the balls ready to hit well out into the 300 yards area. With divine focus on my foot positioning, posture, back swing and drive, I swung the club with exhilarating power … “thump” … into the ground in front of the tee. The shock waves rattled through my arms and down my spine to my perfectly positioned feet. A snort of laughter came from the bloke in the next bay. Ignoring his rudeness, I tried again; positioning my feet, posture, back swing and drive and … “thump”! In anger I tried again and again with real concentration on the movements. Now here, you may be thinking that this is the connecting part: keep trying and you will eventually succeed. Not in this case. Here I was doomed for failure and the clubs where heading back to the shed for another 16 years.   


I was feeling grumpy and discouraged and about to go home to sulk when a young boy came over to my bay. “I know why you’re hitting the ball like a donkey.” Excuse me?! Donkey?! “You’re not aiming at anything, you’re thinking too hard.” Still struck by the donkey comment I started packing my things up to go. “Be cooler, relax more.” This was not helping my soaring rage. “What on earth do you mean ‘be cooler’?” I exclaimed, desperately wanting to reduce my embarrassment and get out of there. The boy went on, “I’ve been watching you, you have good feet positioning and everything sure, but you’re not even looking out to the distance. You’ve got to imagine where you want the ball to go.” He went about setting the balls and tee out again for me to have another go. Feeling cynical but interested, I picked out my club.


“Forget about hitting the ball. Relax your body and focus all your attention on where you want the ball to go. Aim for that yellow sign out there.” Looking out into the grassy expanse of land I spotted the yellow sign about 150 yards away. That would be exactly 150 yards further that I had hit so far. “Let your mind be free of anxiety and trust your body to hit the ball.” I did as he said. I didn’t think about my feet or posture or swing. I singularly focused on the ball hitting the yellow sign 150 yards away. As I let my body move naturally, I heard the delightful “ping” of the ball being perfectly knocked off the tee and into the air. It landed just short of the yellow sign. Well I’ll be damned. Who the hell was this kid?!


When I went back to work that afternoon, I tried to apply the same lesson I had learnt that morning to a difficult project I was working on. I had been struggling over one fine detail the evening before and was finding it difficult to really nail it on the head. So I sat back and tried to distinctly identify the main outcome. I focused my energy and thoughts into where I wanted to go, how I wanted to succeed and rejected thoughts of how I was going to get there. The bigger picture became clearer and I was able to recognise what was important to prioritise my attention to.


So here is the link you have all been waiting for: golf and business. Stand back and source the bigger picture. Focus your mind, energy and excitement towards where you want to go and the mechanics of getting there will look after themselves.