The business world worships brains! It revels in the brain’s ability to quantify, analyze, sequence, strategize, execute. A big brain is brawn in the business world.
But people don’t just bring their brains to work—they bring their bodies, too … which brings us to an important piece of anatomy that every coach should be aware of.
One important function of the vagus is to warn you of danger. Think of a time when you had butterflies in your stomach, or a sickening feeling in your gut, or tension in your body. The vagus is the nerve that picks up those senses and sends information to your brain.
Why is the vagus important to know about? Because it means that, as human beings, we all have this hyper-honed antenna system subconsciously cueing us that there is either danger or safety in the environment.
Only when we are mindful of that pit in our stomachs or that tension in our bodies can we wake up our consciousness to realize “something is going on that I need to pay attention to.” But most of us don’t wake up. Instead, we sense the uncomfortableness and begin a silent narrative about what’s going on.
For example, if you have a coaching client who is becoming tense because of an uncomfortable topic, she may start crafting a silent internal narrative—e.g., “This idea sounds risky to me” or “I don’t like my coach’s style.”
The client then repeats these internal stories over and over again, which gives more and more real estate in the brain to negativity, which, in turn, triggers more stress responses, which, in turn, triggers more cortisol and adrenalin (the neurochemicals released in the fight-flight response).
Neural Nugget: The next time your client (or you) notice that pit in the stomach—guide them to pause, breathe, and pay attention to it. A deep breath can slow down the heart rate, enable them to think more clearly about what’s really going on, and determine what needs to be addressed to feel calm-and-connected.
So what kinds of scenarios send your vagal nerve into overdrive?