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"Is Your Brain Really in Charge? Exploring the Science Behind Behaviour"

All too often, we jump in to solve challenges by going straight to the brain, and in doing so, miss a crucial step. The nervous system is essential core territory for understanding how our body state influences our brain and behaviour. 

Think about these two scenarios for a moment.

Scenario A

You had a late night with a few too many drinks, you didn’t sleep so well.

How do you feel, pleasant or unpleasant? Calm, energised, agitated, exhausted?

Scenario B

You went had and early night, good quality sleep and wake up feeling refreshed?

How do you feel, pleasant or unpleasant? Calm, energised, agitated, exhausted?

 Now reflect on your stories (emotions and thoughts) in scenario A and B

What stories comes up for you?

Are they stories of clarity, curiosity, courage, and connection? Or stories of self-doubt, confusion, fear, and comparison?

How do these stories create your reality and drive your actions?

For me in scenario A, I skip my power hour, stretches, meditation and brain training, I don’t have the energy to the gym, I crave carbs and I desperately need coffee to help my brain focus.  I’m more like to be distracted, have difficulty with focus and can be short tempered with the people around me. I struggle with my energy levels throughout the day, my productivity is low and my performance less than optimal.

And in scenario B, I’m up early, follow my morning routine with ease, go to the gym, feel energised and focused, I’m creative and can connect with others with kindness and patience.  I’m able to complete complex tasks, I have enough energy to navigate the demands of the day.  I’m productive and perform at my best.

So, are you beginning to sense how your body state influences your brain and behaviour?

I know you intuitively sense how your body impacts your emotions and performance, I think we all do, but I also know from the people I’ve worked with that your internal critic is very loud when your body budget is unbalanced and the wise part of you can become deaf!

So, what is going on in the body and brain?

You know how it is when you’re driving a car, your brain will make you shift gears and engage the clutch without much thought. In fact, sometimes you can drive for miles while not actively thinking about driving, then something will pull your attention back.

But what is it that allows you to do this?

This autopilot system is called Neuroception. The detection of signals of safety and danger from inside you, your external environment, and other people, is automatic, instant and happens continuously below your awareness.

All this information is detected by your autonomic nervous system and is conveyed to the brain via interoception, this mechanism helps your brain keeps your body, with its hormones, immune system and nervous system running smoothly. 

Several parts of the brain operate together to facilitate interoception, these areas are called the interoceptive network, and it contains two specific components.

Firstly, there’s the body budget region.  This uses your past experiences and mental concepts to gauge what the body requires and then sends anticipatory instructions to the body to control its internal environment. 

 It might tell your heart and respiratory system to speed up or tell your liver to metabolise more glucose because you’re about to go for a run.

Secondly there’s the primary interoceptive cortex. This part receives messages about your internal sensations, such as your beating of your heart, or the fullness of your stomach.

Both the body budget regions and the primary interoceptive cortex form a feedback loop that helps regulate your body budget itself. Their goal is to keep you safe and your all systems in balance.

Your body budget is responsible for controlling your body’s resources, such as glucose, cortisol, and heart rate. It’s from the state of your body budget that your emotions are stimulated, and your stories are created. 

If you feel safe and balance your stories are ones of connection, curiosity, and hope.  If you feel unsafe your stories are of competition, judgement and sometimes despair. This state is shared via neuroception with the people around you.

No matter what you are doing, your body is using up resources, even if you are lying on the sofa while your organs get on with their jobs, this is called your basal metabolic rate.  You could be digesting, thinking hard, or running, it all counts.  You replenish resources by eating drinking and sleeping, relaxing and even having sex.

In scenario A your body budget became unbalanced, you had not replenished your resources sufficiently but also your resources were being diverted to detox your system from alcohol. 

This low energy state feels unpleasant, and the job of the brain is to make sense of it.  You drank too much, you didn’t sleep well so you feel yucky, it will pass, and you get on with the day best you can. This doesn’t mean you won’t have negative emotions, but you know why and that they will pass, and in fact might be a powerful reminder of how what you put into your body impacts how you feel in the future.

 But what if you felt unpleasant and agitated and you didn’t know why, and your brain just makes up a story that isn’t true or accurate?

You even use up resources thanks to your imagination, thinking about things in the future that may or may not happen or reflecting on things that happened in the past- ruminating.

Say your manager walks by you at work.  While they may do nothing more than pass you by, if a prior interaction was stressful, your interoception system will tell your body budgets that it required more energy. 

Or say you are sitting at your desk, and you’ve just had a quick look at your phone, and you read some information that makes you think about the future and now you’re worried, your interoception system will tell your body budgets that it required more energy. 

But behind the scene there are hidden stressors that impact you body budget.

When trying to handle all the signals it’s constantly receiving from inside you, your environment, and other people, sometimes your body budget can become unbalanced, which you might experience through sense of agitation, of not feeling relaxed and safe.

Often such feelings are due to a body’s lack of resources in certain situations.  It is then that your brain tries to explain the imbalance by firing off emotions.  Say you’re worked up or tired you are more likely to associate that sensation as a threat and feel fear, anxiety, judged but if you are energised and relaxed the sensation might be explained as excitement or motivation.

The brain creates emotion through a complex system that also regulates the body’s energy levels and expenditure.  What we often think of an inborn emotion, is in reality a construction made by the relationship between your brain, your interpretations of your body sensations and the culture in which you were raised and live.

What can you do to help yourself?

So, the next time you are feeling agitated, anxious, emotionally drained, lay down and rest, if you feel low, depressed, lost, take a nap, go for a walk, or call a trusted friend. 

Notice the stories your brain makes up, remember it’s trying to keep you safe, often with mental concepts and predictions that are outdated or inaccurate. 

Use activities to help rebalance your body budget. You’ll feel restored and this will mean you’ll be able to expend energy in a way that will help you create new mental concepts, reframe your mind’s focus and with it become and effective architect of a healthy, happy, and high performing life.

I provide workshops and webinars for business leaders as well as one to one coaching programs. I help people understand the mechanism of the nervous system and brain so they can optimise their health and performance.

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