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Unlocking Success – How The Power Of Our 3 Brains Can Revolutionize Well-Being And Productivity

Written by: Christoffel Sneijders, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Christoffel Sneijders

The findings of the Deloitte well-being at work ¹ survey should be a major cause for concern among leaders, as they fail to deliver.

Young business man meditating during lunch break

The research under 3,150 C-suite executives, managers, and employees across four countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Uncovered that many employees are still struggling with unacceptably low levels of well-being. Moreover, most reported that their health worsened or stayed the same last year.

What is the paradox?

For respondents to this year’s survey, motivation to achieve well-being doesn’t seem to be a challenge: Eighty-four percent say that improving their well-being is a top priority this year, but a heavy workload, stressful job, and long work hours topped the list of obstacles people say are getting in the way of improving their well-being.

As a result, many employees are finding it difficult to prioritise their health and engage in

positive well-being behaviours—especially those tied to their job.

We all like to achieve our life objectives, whether personal or business goals. Leaders have the extra challenge of meeting their objectives as they have the balancing act to establish happy clients, have results for the company, and keep their employees motivated.

Still, many leaders don’t succeed in keeping these pillars in balance, even though there are thousands of self-help gurus, even more books and, yes, even more social media posts about it, as we can read in the Deloitte research.

What’s strange is that we all know what to do, as everyone who likes sports knows the adage: passion leads the way to success.

There are countless examples in sports where the passionate team beats the on-paper, better team.

It is not top-secret that wellness is an essential pillar of passion.

So why is it so hard to establish this when we know it?

To answer this question, a crucial question must be asked: Who, within us, truly controls our decisions and actions?

You would think cutting-edge science would not be needed to address this question. After millions of years of evolution, you’d think we’d have worked out by now how to get along with one another so we can keep everyone happy and engaged.

We all know it's essential for achieving our objectives. We are confronted with the constant struggle between our personal desires, collective and company needs. It's like a never-ending clash between "I want and deserve” versus “they want and need."

So many gurus, consultants, researchers, and business people have shared many insights, but pitifully none gave the real answers to these questions. As a therapist, executive coach, supervisor and visiting professor in behavioural and organisational leadership, I have always wondered what we have unlearned over the years or what we have learned that is actually not true that could be the root of finding the answer.

For this, let’s take one step back so we are on the same page and give you a little insight into the second question: Who is in charge of you? Who is inside you, deciding about your emotions and actions and, therefore, responsible for your achievements, success and wellness?

Nowadays, we still identify ourselves primarily with the neocortex, thanks in no small part to the famous words of Descartes, “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), which places great emphasis on our thinking and reasoning abilities, instead of our overall abilities as a living being.

Even though most gurus will still promote this: “mind over matter”, the uncomfortable truth is that it is “body over mind”.

Before we dive in, let’s clear the air about the puppeteers of your body.

Have you ever heard or uttered, “Follow your heart” or “Trust your gut”? These phrases, though tossed around lightly, hold a profound truth.

Our heart and gut have a brain of their own! Neuro-cardiologist Dr Armour ² and Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology Dr Michael D. Gershon ³ discovered more than 25 years ago the brains in our heart and gut, respectively. These brains are pretty much the maestros in influencing our decisions and behaviours, sometimes steering us away from achieving our goals, learning and even leading us to failure.

Here’s a science tidbit that makes our life so complex: These brains house elaborate neural networks. They've got neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells that let them function independently of the brain in our head!

The intricate dance of our existence involves the simultaneous efforts of our three brains, each with unique responsibilities and strategies to ensure our happiness and success. This delicate balance can sometimes tip, leading to occasional difficulties and setbacks.

Even though they operate with positive intentions, wanting to help us, their strategies are rooted in their biological roles, memories, and past lessons, which often conflict with each other.

Our Heart Brain operates on the principles of empathy and connection, constantly considering the repercussions of our actions on others. Meanwhile, our Gut Brain is the relentless hustler, primarily focused on self-preservation and consistently urging us to 'get things done.’

Last but not least, our Head Brain functions as the strategist. It strives to provide logical reasoning and cause-effect analysis of the contrasting inputs from the heart and gut. It tries to form a coherent strategy that aligns with our emotional and survival instincts.

This fascinating interplay within us forms the core of our triumphs and trials and how we lead our company and team as leaders.

Here's the juicy part: research has shown that our survival instinct, aka the Gut Brain, often takes the upper hand over our compassionate side, aka the Heart Brain, when faced with a choice between self-interest and empathy.

And this evolutionary biological hierarchy level makes it hard to create a passionate team thriving in well-being and success.

Mind-blowing, right?

These biological responsibilities inside us, strengthened by most business schools, have turned the workplace into an arena of combat and have pitifully been accepted as a guiding principle in the corporate world.

In most companies, the focus is not only on external competition; internal competition is also believed to be a crucial component of overall corporate success. Following this organisational philosophy has led to many offices and commercial establishments becoming miniature versions of Game of Thrones. We call that Toxic leadership.

Italian political philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli, captured this view of the world in the advice he put down for the political leaders of his time and is still a core component for leadership though in business schools:

“Is it better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved when, of the two, either must be dispensed with… for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage. Still, fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” ⁴

However, the notion that workplaces are most effective when people compete with one another has been debunked.

The realisation is that the most effective managers we know are those who care for and nurture their teams and dare to follow their heart.

That same point is brought home in the book Trillion Dollar Coach, ⁵ about Bill Campbell, who helped guide the growth of Google, Apple, and Intuit, amongst many other successful companies. Campbell saw that the formation of trusting relationships, built on teams that felt safe to be creative, was the key to the success of those enterprises. When you foster personal growth and inspire courage, complex problems get solved.

Even though many coaching and training for today’s managers and corporate leaders are focused on developing teamwork, collaboration, and creativity.

Still, it is a sad fact that, even in what we consider a more enlightened time, leaders are still encouraged to compete constantly.

This incongruent messaging that is difficult to escape creates minefields of miscommunication for leaders who want to be themselves and harmonise with others.

Let's explore the scientific evidence on why we struggle to achieve genuine well-being and success and often find ourselves limited to one or the other.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in the tipping point ⁶about two brilliant minds from Princeton University, psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson, who embarked on a mission to discover how individuals dedicated to studying the greater good, such as theology students, would act when faced with the ultimate decision between their selflessness (Gut Brain) and Compassion (Heart Brain). When the objectives and communication are not congruent.

The experiment went down like this: a group of theological students was tasked with preparing and delivering a presentation on a biblical theme to another group. Now, here's the twist. One group was deliberately given less time to reach the presentation venue, while the other had plenty of time. During their journey, they encountered a man in need—coughing, groaning, and clearly requiring assistance. So, what did the theological students do?

We might assume that these students, driven by their passion for helping others (Heart Brain) and having just read the parable of the Good Samaritan, would be the ones most likely to stop and lend a helping hand. But hold on to your seats because the results are mind-boggling!

Surprisingly, neither their inclination to help nor their knowledge of the Good Samaritan tale significantly impacted their actions. In fact, there were instances where seminary students stepped over the suffering man in their rush to deliver their speech on the parable itself. Can you believe it? Talk about a plot twist!

The real game-changer turned out to be the perceived lateness of the students. When told, "Oh, you're late," the survival mode of their Gut Brain kicked in.

The fear of being judged or rejected triggered their fight-or-flight response, leading them to prioritise their objectives and shut down their compassionate Heart Brain. Crazy, right?

Now, let's circle back to the burning question: Why is it so hard to diminish toxic leadership or increase wellness?

You see the issue based on this mind-blowing research and the biology behind our behaviour. We are biologically pruned to have an internal discussion between me and us, as sometimes the “me” direction is the best to follow, and sometimes we need to follow our “us” compass. Still, our educational and socialisation system mainly educates only one of our biological needs.

So what is the answer to eliminating toxic leadership and embedding wellness?

We have to put our effort into what is in charge inside us, meaning educating, training, and coaching our 3 Brains.

The moment leaders are more able to listen to all of their 3 Brains, the rest follows naturally.

We can teach listening skills, enrol in wellness programs, follow training in engaging leadership etc., and as long our Heart is not in, it will not happen.

Our Gut Brain will let us act like those students who stepped over the person lying on the floor.

Do you remember meeting your partner and wanting to engage with them? You did not need training or coaching in listening skills as your biology was driving you to have an interest in that person. It came naturally.

Biological everyone has 3 Brains. Hence no human being excluded has in their possession all the behaviour we need to have fantastic wellness, passion and success in our team or company.

The true beauty is that just like we can train our muscles in the Gym, we can train our 3 Brains.

As we all know by now, from brain plasticity: “what fires together wires together.” ⁷ so yes, we can train our heart brain and let biology do the rest.

Are you hungry for more mind-expanding content on how to do this? Read Christoffel Sneijders' insightful work “Relationships? Which Brain is talking?”

If you're curious about your 3 Brains (Head, Heart, Gut) preference, why not take the free test? Discover your brain dominance here.

Stay curious, my friends, and remember, the battle between Gut and Heart is a wild ride that continues to shape our world. Cheers!

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and visit my website for more info! Read more from Christoffel!

Christoffel Sneijders Brainz Magazine

Christoffel Sneijders, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Christoffel is an innovative, multidisciplinary expert in human behavior and change who motivates, inspires and challenges people to transform. His passion, authenticity, empathy and versatile knowledge in hypnosis, NLP, psychotherapy, burnout, PTSD, anxiety, trauma/grief are vital to helping his global clients create the life and outcomes they long for. He’s worked with over 10,000 people in the past 32 years. He is the author of How Men and Women Fit, a book that brings the clear understanding of how our 3 brains operate in relationships at home and at work.





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