25 May 2022 Decision-Making From the Heart: Gaining Mental Clarity Through Heart-Brain Coherence
Recently, Carlos and I had to make a tough decision regarding our kids’ schooling. As usually happens when we have to decide something big, I started to lose my marbles.
We submitted ourselves to the same process we always do when making an important decision: made our list of pros and cons, spent countless hours debating every item, and then, while Carlos slept, I stayed up all night, obsessing over every detail of the conversation in my head.
A week and a few migraines later, it was clear we both knew what we wanted to do. Now it was time to worry about how to tell our kids.
“But mom, you promised me we wouldn’t change schools anymore!” my daughter cried.
She was right; I had promised. It’d been her fifth school move in five years, and I genuinely believed we’d found the perfect fit. I made a mental promise never to make any promises again.
In a desperate attempt to assuage the kids, we started offering pets as school-moving incentives. Would you like a fish? A cat? A dog? I knew the prize situation was getting out of hand when we started seriously considering chickens. I made a mental promise never to offer animals as rewards again.
A whole month later, my mind was still spinning. Moving schools was literally the only thing I thought, spoke, or dreamt about.
On a day when Carlos took a flight to Bilbao to have lunch in a restaurant on his bucket list, I had a moment of awareness. While Carlos and his friends took down ten bottles of wine and ate the best meat of their lives, I was still fretting over the list of pros and cons.
“I was thinking we could go over point two on the con list another time,” I said when Carlos got back from Bilbao.
“Lunch was great. Thanks for asking! The place was amazing.”
“Seriously, love, we need to talk about this.”
“Talk about what? I thought we’d already made up our minds.”
For a (very brief) moment, I wished I were more like Carlos; able to switch gears so seamlessly. In his mind, the decision was made; the only logical thing to do was to move on with his life, enjoying it to the fullest. The way I saw it, there was still an application to fill out, questions to ask, Directors to meet, interviews to coerce our children into acing. How could I possibly disconnect from this?
Given that Carlos was no longer interested in the topic, I decided to seek out the counsel of friends.
“Monica, I think you’re making a mistake,” one person said after listening to my 15-minute impassioned speech. “It sounds like you’re making a decision based on your emotions.”
I didn’t like the accusation, but I appreciated her honesty. More importantly, her words got me thinking. I’d always made decisions using my mind (hence the overthinking and endless list-making). What if I could do things differently this time? What if I could learn to make decisions from the heart?
In a moment of synchronicity, both my holistic doctor and Instagram feed suggested I try check out heart-brain coherence.
I started reading some fascinating articles from the HeartMath Institute. Somewhat recently, scientists have discovered 40,000 specialized brain cells that live in heart. They’re called sensory neurites, and they have the capacity to shut down or open up blood flow to the heart and brain based on our perceptions. These sensory neurites explain why we sometimes feel light-headed upon processing difficult news. When we perceive news as bad, the sensory neurites in the heart literally block the flow of blood to the brain, making us feel faint.
Most incredibly of all, we have the power to change what our sensory neurites do. Through a process called “heart-brain coherence,” we can calm our sensory neurites down and begin to respond more favorably to seemingly challenging situations.
Armed with this knowledge and my trusty emWave2 brain-heart monitor, I decided to give coherence a try. I carved out extra time in my day, meditating three times instead of two. I followed scientist Gregg Braden’s advice and closed my eyes, placing my hand on my heart. I extended my exhale so it was longer than my inhale. Then I conjured up mental images of beautiful everyday things: the newly sprouted flowers in my yard, the tanned, smiling faces of my children when they frolic on the beach in the summertime. Almost immediately, I felt my body relax. For the first time in weeks, I stopped thinking about the school situation. In a matter of minutes, I’d found peace.
After practicing the coherence meditation enough times, I gained mental clarity. I realized that my mistake hadn’t been our decision; it was my habit of second-guessing myself that literally drove me nuts.
“Stop being so hard on yourself,” a friend said recently when I explained that this will be my 10-year-old daughter’s sixth school. “The fact that you’ve moved schools so many times doesn’t make you fickle. It means you’re doing the best you can for your kids. Maybe the problem isn’t you; maybe the problem is finding a good school.”
As she said those words, I could almost feel my sensory neurites open.
Ultimately, our power lies not in the decisions we make, but in how we perceive the changes that happen in our lives. With my newfound ability to enhance the brain cells in my heart, I feel confident not just in the decision we’ve made, but in my ability to handle whatever challenges this new adventure may bring.