Recently, I was listening to a podcast by the Tim Ferriss Show (which I highly recommend and will include a link at the end of this post) called Tony Robbins – On Achievement Versus Fulfillment. I learned a lot from this podcast, but I want to dive into one specific part. Tony Robbins is one of my favorite people to listen to and learn from. He is a high-performance coach who has worked with Bill Clinton, Princess Diana, and Serena Williams to name a few. Obviously, he’s got an incredible resume. One of the things he brought up that caught my attention was his fascination with the heart-brain connection, and how you can use this science to gain better clarity in your decisions.
He said, “When they [heart and brain] are in alignment, human beings are able to resolve internal conflicts.” What he means by this, is that most people’s normal everyday brain waves and heart rates look jagged, irregular, and not similar. However, he recommends one simple technique that when it is completed, the brain waves and heart rates smooth out and they actually line up with each other.
I decided to look more into this, and found an article about the Heart-Brain Connection by HeartMath Institute (Link included below). Take a look at this picture:
(Picture from the HeartMath Institute)
What the picture is showing is that a person’s initial respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure are incredibly sharp and different. However, after the exercise, they smooth out and become coherent with each other. The sheer science of it is fascinating, but what I find more intriguing is what it can do for you. This coherence is “a state of optimal function.” The HeartMath Institute says that when we are in this optimal state, “our physiological systems function more efficiently, we experience greater emotional stability, and we also have increased mental clarity and cognitive function.” Basically, when the body and the brain work together, they work better.
The article also mentions that when we are stressed, anxious, or experience negative emotions our heart pattern can actually inhibit our cognitive function. But, the opposite is true, too. When we experience positive emotions, our cognitive function is increased.
So, if you want to think better and feel better, this can really benefit you.
So how can exactly do you get your body into this coherent state? Well, in the podcast, Tony Robbins does an exercise where you put both hands on your heart, close your eyes, and think of three things you are grateful for. This is what he recommends: imagine a situation that you are grateful for, and activate all your senses as if you were there. Feel what you felt, smell what you smelt, hear what you heard, see what you saw… etc. Go through three different experiences. This should only take about two minutes, and at the end of the exercise Tim Ferriss comments on how incredible his phase change was. And HeartMath Institute also backs up the benefits of appreciation with this picture:
(Picture from the HeartMath Institute)
If you think about it, it makes sense. It’s really hard, or nearly impossible, to feel negative feelings while simultaneously feeling appreciative.
Also, because of the improved cognitive function and sense of clarity, it provides an incredible opportunity to make better decisions. If you are struggling with a decision, or feel anxious about something, Tony Robbins suggests doing this exercise and finishing it with asking yourself “All I need to do is…” or “All I need to think about is…”
He says most people will find an answer. I know I did.
If this exercise is initially difficult for you, the HeartMath Institute recommends starting out with a simple breathing technique. Breathe in for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, repeat. This will also help your heart reach a coherent state which will affect the rest of your body because breathing has powerful effects on the heart’s rhythm.
Let’s be real. Anxiety is not fun. Stress is not fun. Anger is not fun. And they are definitely not benefiting you. So, if you are feeling any of these unhelpful emotions, I really encourage you to try this simple exercise. And remember the incredible physical benefits! HeartMath says, “Psychologically, coherence is experienced as a calm, balanced, yet energized and responsive state that is conducive to everyday functioning and interaction, including the performance of tasks requiring mental acuity, focus, problem-solving, and decision-making, as well as physical activity and coordination.”
So maybe before a big basketball game, high-stakes test, or at work when you know you have to deal with a coworker that really annoys you, try this out.
To top it off, I have one more piece of information that I found incredibly intriguing. The heart is more than a mindless blood-pumping machine. There might actually be more truth to why hearts represent love, or why it can be considered synonymous with the soul. HeartMath explains that our hearts actually have their own little nervous system compromised of very sophisticated nerves. “Containing over 40,000 neurons, this “little brain” gives the heart the ability to independently sense, process information, make decisions, and even to demonstrate a type of learning and memory. ”
So, there might be more behind the phrase: “Think with your heart.”
I hope you got as much out of this information as I did. If you want to dive more into it links will be included below. Thanks for reading and remember – be grateful!
Heart Math Institute Article:
(If you want to skip to the part that pertains to this blog post it is 1:07:20, and if you want to skip to where he goes through the exercise it is around 1:10:00)