Human Brain and a Heart

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” -Helen Keller

In honor of Valentine’s month, we thought it appropriate to focus on the heart, and how regulating your heart rhythms can improve performance, lower stress, and decrease health care costs to individuals and organizations.
The heart is much more than the pump that sustains life. The heart is a key regulator of all systems in the body, and it powerfully influences your health, your emotions, and your ability to focus and perform at your best!

What is the Heart-Brain?

For years, the heart was viewed like any other organ in the body: one that had a specific function that the brain maintained and regulated. Through research, however, doctors discovered that the heart possesses a vast neural network, much like the brain. This discovery led to the term ‘heart brain’ being coined.

“The heart-brain’s neural circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain to learn, remember, make decisions and even feel and sense.” (McCraty, 2015, p. 5)

In fact, research shows that the heart sends information to the brain 90% of the time. Only a small amount of information is being relayed from the brain back to the heart. It has also been discovered that the information being sent from the heart up to the brain can in fact, “influence activity in the frontocortical areas and motor cortex, affecting psychological factors such as attention level, motivation, perceptual activity and emotional processing.” (McCraty, 2015, p.5)

This is perhaps one of the most interesting findings from a psychological point of view, especially for organization leaders. We are only now starting to understand how the heart influences emotions, behaviors, and performance.

Building Resiliency and Supporting Lower Stress Levels

There is no arguing the fact that the world that we live in today is highly stressful. Clients and employees are presenting with higher levels of anxiety, concerns about the future, and difficulty maintaining focus. Leaders need not only recognize this elevated stressful environment, but also understand the impact it has on their teams and target audiences.
It has long been known that stress and negative emotions have a direct effect on the heart, leading to long-term illnesses or worsening pre-existing medical conditions. Simple math would indicate that this inability to manage stress effectively is having a costly impact on both individuals and organizations.

In fact, a study conducted by the American Institute of Stress found that after including factors such as absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, increased medical costs, and increased legal costs, the total economic impact of stress on US employers was estimated at $300 billion.

The idea of learning how to build better emotional resilience began to gain traction with the effects of the 2020 pandemic, as more individuals and organizations began to explore what it takes to cultivate a resilient mind and body. Some argue that resilience is a personal state you either possess or you don’t: the HeartMath® Institute, however, presents a different perspective.

HeartMath Self-Regulation Techniques

The HeartMath® Institute defines resilience as “the capacity to prepare for, recover from, and adapt in the face of stress, adversity, trauma or challenge.” From the HeartMath Institute’s perspective, resilience is related to effective self-management and the efficient use of energy across the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual domains.

Few can argue that an individual’s ability to respond versus react in stressful situations propels that person further in life both personally and professionally, as they experience improved health and performance. Self-regulation skills create environments where people can make better decisions, think and act with integrity, and meet challenges with composure and consistency.

HearthMath Techniques at Work

Recently, I worked with an executive leader who had a difficult and challenging employee. By her own admission, my client tends to be conflict avoidant, and she was quite intimidated by this employee when she came to me. She would mention how stressful it was to work in the office and she “hated to be there” when this person was present. Although she had numerous conversations and an agreement from the employee to improve, the situation continued to devolve, and other employees began to complain about her toxic attitude.

I taught the client some HeartMath self-regulation techniques which proved to be quite powerful. Let’s examine the unfolding workplace conflict:

On a recent day when she arrived at work, the employee became belligerent and disrespectful. Normally, my client’s reaction to this behavior would be to retreat to her office, tolerate the disrespect, and hope it would pass soon. This time, however, she was able to stay present, address the employee’s behavior, all while being calm and composed. Although my client said that “her heart was racing,” she was able to stand her ground and collect her thoughts. She promptly fired the person the next morning.
This was a huge growth point for my client, and demonstrates how powerfully these techniques can work to help regulate emotions under stressful conditions.

“Self-regulation enables people to mature and meet the challenges and stresses of everyday life with resilience so they can make more intelligent decisions by aligning with their innate higher-order wisdom and expressions of care and compassion, elements we often associate with living a more conscientious life.” (McCraty, 2015, p. 9)

How Can Leaders Begin Building a Resilient Workforce?

So how do you build a better and more resilient workforce? First, one has to understand the importance of coherence.

There are several definitions of coherence depending on what area of study you are exploring. The most common definition is the quality of being logically integrated, consistent, and intelligible as in a coherent statement. From a quantum physics perspective, coherence refers to the degree of synchronization between different oscillating systems. (McCraty, 2015, p.24)

More than ever before, scientists today are leaning into the idea that an individual’s emotional state is directly tied to the physiological processes or systems operating in the body. In other words, when we are feeling good or experiencing positive feelings, it is because our physiology is operating in a coherent state. In contrast, when we feel bad or experience negative feelings, it is an indicator that our physiological system is operating in an incoherent state.

Coherence at the physiological level is measured through heart rate variability or HRV. HRV is the amount of time experienced between a single heartbeat and the next. This is always variable, but when individuals are hooked up to a tool to measure the HRV some interesting things come to light.
The image below shows the heart rate patterns and the difference in the wave shape based on the person’s emotional state and how this impacts the ability to perform.

Heart-Rhythm Patterns

From years of research, HeartMath® Institute has shown that “positive emotions in general, including self-induced positive emotions, shift the entire systems into a more globally coherent and harmonious physiological mode, one that is associated with improved system performance, ability to self-regulate, and overall well-being”. (McCraty, 2015, p. 26)

Physiological coherence is key.

Leaders Must Use HeartMath to Create Balanced Workplaces

Finding a work-life balance has always been a conversation employees discussed and yearned for, but since the pandemic occurred, it has become clear that employees are no longer willing to “just talk about it.” In fact, they are willing to go so far as to quit their jobs and seek other sources of employment that aligned with their new work-life balance, priorities, and values.

Today employees do not want to wait until retirement to enjoy their lives. They want to be able to experience personal health and wellness throughout their working years and beyond. With this shift in values and priorities in the workforce, more organizations are being challenged to find a way to provide this balance, while also maintaining productivity within the organization.

The HeartMath® Institute’s programs have proven to be highly successful in helping organizations find ways to manage employee stress, while at the same time lowering health care costs and creating a more productive and resilient workforce. It’s a win for leaders and team members. Below are three case studies that highlight the changes that resulted after the introduction of a HeartMath program.

Case Study #1: Fairfield Medical Center

Fairfield Medical Center integrated the HeartMath coherence-based stress reduction training program to all members of its staff, including nursing, allied health professionals, physicians, and residents. They then saw a significant drop in health care claims of the employees who participated in the program, as demonstrated in the chart below.

Medical Claims Data from Fairfield Medical Center

Case Study #2: Silicon Valley Technology Company

Retaining their high-quality engineers was a critical component of this Silicon Valley technology company’s strategy for future business growth and growing industry prominence and leadership.

Goals
The pilot team consisted of engineers and support staff working on the next generation computer chip. The goals were to increase:

  • Productivity
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Employee retention

The company was particularly pleased with improvements in the two metrics:

  • Metric 1: Are our meetings at work well organized? After four months of using HeartMath techniques, the positive responses increased from 31% to 50%.
  • Metric 2: Do you feel as though you should leave this organization? The affirmative responses decreased from 28% to 16%.

Case Study #3: Financial Institution

The Leadership Center implemented HeartMath tools with the executive team, district and branch managers, customer service representatives, and sales staff to create a solid foundation for their change management process and to introduce new strategies to their branch network.

Goals
To utilize HeartMath tools in a variety of business applications, including:

  • Business planning
  • Sales meetings
  • Team effectiveness
  • Change management workshops

Sustainability of HearthMath Application

Six to eight months after training, 1,300 employees were surveyed and 71% self-reported that they continued to use the HeartMath tools. Of these individuals:

  • 86% practiced in business
  • 55% practiced at home
  • 73% said their behavior changed as a result of using HeartMath
  • 82% felt it improved their overall health and wellbeing

“We are seeing that people feel more in control of their situation – not as reactive or overwhelmed. The employees who have taken the HeartMath training have experienced a shift in perspective about what’s going on around them, and have developed a more positive, energized, empowered outlook.” -Leadership Center Director

Transformational Coaching for You and Your Team

All of these impressive results emphasize the importance of resilience and coherence in creating and supporting productive teams. Today’s most successful leaders learn strategies to regulate their emotions under stressful conditions so they can encourage a positive, balanced workplace where their employees thrive, not just try to survive.

If you’re looking to enhance your leaders’ skills so they can help foster positive, more resilient employees, Churchill Leadership has customized Executive Coaching solutions for your executives, high-profile, and emerging leaders. We can craft a custom leadership training solution for your organization using a combination of innovative tools and programs, like HeartMath; industry-leading assessments; experiential learning; and targeted coaching. We help leaders at all levels hone their leadership and management skills, increase employee satisfaction, and create a culture of coherence within their organizations. Let us help you create a workplace where everyone can feel empowered to reach their full potential and achieve great success together.

Unlock the full potential of your leaders by contacting us today to create a customized executive coaching plan for your leaders’ development.

Leadership Development Services Coach Traci

Author:

Traci – Executive Coach

is a Board-Certified Professional Coach with over 20 years of work experience, including successful corporate leadership, consulting, and executive coaching. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Masters and Specialist degrees in Counseling.

Traci uses her extensive training, expertise, and experience to facilitate and choreograph accelerated movement and change in coaching her clients’ lives and businesses. Traci believes that “movement re-energizes the mind, body, and spirit, and when moving towards a goal, productive energy arises for leaders. Learning to channel and utilize this powerful energy is the key to success.” As with anything, the first step requires the most effort because a leader must choose to step out of his or her comfort zone. Though stagnation can leave us feeling frustrated or stuck, it can also be a form of comfort. Many people who are struggling to achieve their goals are dealing with familiarity with failure; in other words, an intimacy with repeating the same ineffective patterns.

Know more about coach Traci here

References
McCraty, R. (2015) Science of the Heart: Exploring the role of the heart in human performance. (Vol. 2) HeartMath Institute. https//www.heartmath.org
HeartMath Institute. (2012) Creating Coherent Sustainable Workplaces: Diverse organizations demonstrate that innovative stress reduction strategies lead to significant employee health savings. www.heartmath.com

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