The Three Brains – and How to Use Them Properly

After some years of research, you’ll come across a widely accepted view, that there are three natural distinctions in the nature of being human; thinking, feeling and doing.

Let’s assume that, if nature created such clear and distinctly different functions, then it would also make sense to allocate those functions to separate elements of the body. Just like we have organs to pump blood, eyes to see, hands to grasp etc.

Differentiation is key to functional complex life. Stem cells differentiate into functional organs, which specialise in specific distinct areas of responsibility.

  1. Thinking. Point to the place in your body where thinking originates. Yes, that’s right, you pointed to your head. That is your thinking brain.
  2. Feeling. Point to the place in your body where feeling originates. Hmm.. a little more difficult, but usually we end up pointing to our heart. And this is correct – we have an emotional brain, that does our emotional thinking, centred in our heart.
  3. Doing (taking action). Point to the place in your body where doing originates. That’s often harder. Mostly because our body itself does the actual doing, and we can’t really point to our whole body. But we have a separate brain that manages our motor instincts, and produces the drive to act. It sits in our gut, or abdomen. It’s our ‘doing’ brain.

In order for us to function relatively well, we need to have all three brains working together, in harmony, in communication. Integration.

That doesn’t mean they all have to be working at the same time. There’s a time and a place for thinking, feeling and taking action. When our three brains are all working nicely together, they communicate, co-operate, delegate, and take the lead at the right time.

Just like the members of a functional team. Knowing when and where to do our thing, and when not to. At the same time as valuing the contribution of all team members equally.

Interestingly, each of these brains, has the capacity to take over and run the show.

You’ve heard of analysis paralysis. That’s the thinking brain stalling progress.

You’ve heard people give up, lose heart, not care, and become apathetic, disengaged. Watching tv or eating chocolate is a better option than doing anything else. Their heart’s not in it.

You’ve heard of people being paralysed by fear, unable to move, frozen and petrified. Lacking the courage to move forward into the unknown, risking failure and defeat. They don’t have the guts to try.

With coaching, we can tie the three brains together.

Somewhat controversially – we can also assign a hierarchy to the various functions.

  1. Feeling in the heart is our highest function. Connection, love, empathy, appreciation and compassion. Also the root of spirituality.
  2. Doing from our gut is the second highest function. Because we live in a physical world, where we experience results, which are the effect of actions.
  3. Analytical thinking is actually our lowest function – even though it is the thing which appears to separate us from all other animals.

The head (thinking brain) is a tool for analysis only. For information processing.

The heart (feeling brain) is a tool for connecting. For experiencing meaning and purpose.

The hand (doing brain) is a tool for taking action. For creating results.

In the classic book by Timothy Gallwey called ‘The Inner Game’. Gallwey shows that performance in a sport increases effortlessly when we don’t interrupt with thinking. Our bodies take action – and immediately experience feedback. We don’t need to think about it – if we simply watch closely (focus intently), with a goal in mind, our bodily intelligence will move us closer to that goal automatically.

When looking to improve our performance in business or even life – we need to use the same principle.

But instead of training our bodies, we are actually training our minds. And so we need to introduce a method for change in our mind, not our body. This is where reflective analysis comes in – and is critical.

With tennis swing – the cycle is as follows:

Swing – observe result (feedback) – adjust – swing. And we improve.

With performance in life – the cycle is as follows:

Act – measure/observe result (feedback) – reflect/analyse (adjust) – try again. If the result is better, we have improved. If the result is worse, we have learned what doesn’t work.

And so reflection is critical. This is a summary of the process:

  1. Decide on the one thing you are going to focus on achieving, and the behaviour that is responsible for it.
  2. Take action.
  3. Record the result.
  4. Reflect on what happened, and what might improve the result, moving you closer to your goal. Decide on what you are going to do differently.
  5. Test that new action.
  6. Record and reflect and repeat.

Here is a common example of how this might look in real life.

Problem – I’m not getting the results I want. A typical behavioural trait that causes this, is lack of persistent focussed effort. Call it self-control, sticking with it, not giving up etc.

So a good behavioural trait to develop, is doing what you said you’d do, what you wanted to do when you were thinking about it carefully and clearly.

So you will record (get feedback on) whether you complete tasks you commit to. Make a spreadsheet, three columns:

  1. What I said I would do.
  2. When I said I would do it.
  3. Did I do it (yes or no).

Then you simply record your actions.

After a period of time, you will have a list of tasks, with either a yes or no.

Reflect on what happened. Ask yourself what you could do, that would improve your performance on ‘doing what you said you would do’. State what you are going to do differently.

Start testing it – with your list of ‘what you said you would do’.

After a while, reflect on whether the change worked, or even if you managed to implement the change. It’s all feedback – and the reflection phase is where you have the opportunity to interrupt the habitual pattern, analyse it, and upgrade it for a more effective thinking pattern.

Life is good.