Should you spend the money to go to that writing conference?
Pay for a professional edit on your book?
Invest in new computer equipment for your writing office?
Risk cutting back on work hours so you can write more?
Making a decision can be frightening. What if you make the wrong one and it sets you back?
If you’re struggling with a decision you need to make about your writing career, it’s probably because you’ve been using only one brain.
That’s right. You have more than one. And it’s time you recruit the other two into your decision-making process. It will make it a lot easier.
Neuroscience has discovered something fascinating over the past several years: we have complex and functional neural networks—or “brains”—in the heart and gut as well as in the head.
We used to think the brain ran the whole show, telling everything else in the body what to do, but recent research has found that’s not always true. In fact, many times the communication starts in the heart or the gut, and then travels to the brain.
The heart, for instance, has its own intrinsic nervous system and neurons (messengers) just like the brain, and it can take in information, process it, and communicate it to the brain (rather than the other way around).
Studies have found that, in some ways, the heart seems to have its own logic—not always just following orders, but going its own direction, acting independently, and sending messages to the brain that the brain then obeys. In a way, it’s like a second brain.
The gut also contains neural tissue and neurons—more than are found in the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system. Also called the “second brain” because of its size and complexity, the gut has been found in studies to be involved not only in digestion and overall health, but also in emotions, mood, and decisions.
Scientists from Florida State University reported in 2017 that gut-to-brain signals have a powerful influence on us. The “gut feelings” we get are real messages from this complex system that can stop us from making mistakes.
All of this research has led to a new field of leadership development called “multiple brain integration techniques (mBIT).” In a nutshell, research from Henwood and Soosalu found that incorporating all three “brains” when making decisions resulted in a wiser decision-making process that provided increased benefits to everyone involved.
People being people, however, we have our strengths and weakness. We all tend to favor one of our brains over the other two.
Below are abbreviated descriptions of each of the three brains. Review them all, and see if you can figure out which is your strongest one:
1. The Head
You’re mostly interested in gathering the facts, weighing the pros and cons, and figuring things out logically. You try not to let your emotions interfere too much, as you believe they can just get in the way of deciding what’s right or what’s best. You may make spreadsheets or charts to help you compare the potential outcomes of each decision you’re considering.
2. The Heart
Your feelings and emotions rule, and you put a high priority on your values and your connections with others. You focus on what’s important to you in life and experience an emotional link to your dreams and aspirations. When making decisions, you always take into account those things you care about, what your desires are, and how the decision will affect your important relationships.
3. The Gut
You are an intuitive person who finds it easy to tune in to energy, vibes, and unseen messages from the world around you. You get a “feeling” of what your decision should be, but you may have a hard time explaining your choice to others. Your decision power can be cryptic and secretive, or you may feel like you hear a “little voice” telling you which way to go.
Once you figure out your strongest brain, what’s important is that you don’t go against it when making decisions. Here’s how it works.
Think about a risk you’re considering taking in your writing career. Maybe you’re contemplating self-publishing, switching to another genre, or starting a new podcast.
Put that risk into the form of a question—something like:
I’m going to use the “should I self publish” question as an example. Put the question in front of you, and start by focusing on the logical answer (your head). Take your emotions out of it. Pretend you’re Mr. Spock from Star Trek, and write down your answer.
For the example, the brain might say,Self-publishing will take a significant investment, and you’re short on finances right now. You have a readership established, so it’s possible you could sell a significant number of copies, but you need to find the money, so it’s best to wait.
Then consider your emotions and your relationships (the heart). What do you desire? What do you feel like you want to do? What decision would have the best (if any) affect on your relationships? Write down your answer.
You’ve long wanted to self-publish. The idea of having control over the entire process excites you. It sounds fun! Your family would be proud. You should do it.
Finally, take a deep breath, center yourself, and tune into the energy around you (the gut). Allow your sixth sense to take over, and do your best to envision your future. If you had to make a quick, gut decision right now, what would it be? Write down your answer.
This is the right decision for your future. You should go for it. Otherwise, you may lose your motivation and excitement for writing.
Now examine all three of your answers. Do they agree? If so, you’re good to go. Move forward with your decision!
If one or more disagree, however, as is the case in the above example, you’ve got some more thinking to do.
No matter what, never go against your strongest brain—that won’t make you happy. So if you’re strongest brain is the head, you need to do some more brainstorming and come up with another option.
If your strongest brain and one other agree, however, you can probably still go ahead with your decision. It’s worthwhile, however, to take some time to see if there’s a way to make the third brain happy, too. You might put in some extra hours at work, for example, or cut back for a few months to save some money to fund the project.
The next time you’re facing a tough decision in your writing career, try this system. You may find that having three brains to consult rather than just one makes the process a lot easier. Having all three, or at least two out of the three, agreeing that you should move forward can also give you the courage you need to take a risk when necessary.
Take the three-brain quiz to discover your dominant brain and what it means for you as a writer in Colleen’s new book, Writer Get Noticed!Get your free chapter here.
Henwood, S., & Soosalu, G. (2014, October). The Three Brains of Leadership: Harnessing the Wisdom within. Paper presented at ILA 16th Global Leadership Summit, San Diego, CA. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274699861_The_three_brains_of_Leadership_Harnasing_the_Wisdom_within
Colleen M. Storyinspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her first non-fiction book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018, and her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews' INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, is a strengths-based guide to help writers break the spell of invisibility and discover unique author platforms that will draw readers their way. With over 20 years in the creative industry, Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com) and Writer CEO (writerceo.com). Please see her author website (colleenmstory.com) or follow her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).
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Fascinating research study! Thank you for applying it to writing! This has bee my experience as well.
Super cool, right? I thought so too! :O)
Wow. Just wow. what i've known intuitively all my life, turns out to be true! I love it when that happens. Thanks for this, Colleen.
Intuition rocks! :O)
I am definitely a gut a person hands down. I do listen to it and then the brain gets involved. Unfortunately I rarely use my heart.
Sounds like you know your dominant two, Jeri. That's a good start.
I've always used these 3 methods, but never thought there was any science to it. I was always told it was just "intuition" or "sixth sense". Thank you immensely, Colleen for this valuable information and your research! I'll definitely get your book.
So glad it was helpful, Christine! :O)
I love the new "brain" research, Colleen! How long have we heard people say, "I'm going with my gut" or "Listen to your heart"? I'm on deadline, but I can't wait to read your book. May you have much success with it!
It's true! And now we know there was more to those sayings than we thought. Thanks Fae! :O)
This is so interesting. I have a writing partner who often speaks about "feeling it in my gut". I always kind of thought that might be impossible. I'm wrong! lol
Ha ha. I like that about this research too—helps us respect each other's differences.
This explains why, lately, I write out an elaborate writing schedule to follow for the day and another part of me scoffs at it and grabs the cheetos and my crocheting project. Help!
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I found it impossible to decide which is strongest. I tend to use all 3, but often the head gets busy planning and working out how to do what one of the others has decided.
We all use all three, but we tend to be stronger in one or two at most usually. It sounds like you may be strongest in the heart or gut if your brain is simply carrying out their instructions? There's more info in the book that helps you figure it out, or you can Google the research and find more information.
having the third option can make it easier when warring with oneself.
Usually it's best to go with your dominant brain, then, but yes. Nice to have a tie-breaker!
Wow. That would explain why some heart transplant patients assume some of the characteristics of their donors.
Thanks for the information, Coleen.
[…] Tamar Sloan examines the emotionally intelligent writer, while Colleen M. Story advises that the best writing decisions are made using all three brains (yes, that says […]