We exist in two worlds, the external world, what we see and touch, and our internal world, our thoughts, emotions, and self-care. These two worlds are constantly interacting and shaping each other.
The external world can consume our lives – the demands of work and family, rushing through each day, conforming to social norms, trying to keep up with everything, leaving little time for ourselves. We tend to believe the external world drives and dominates our internal world. And here’s where it gets interesting.
Scientists now believe, and are proving, that our internal world significantly influences the external world. In other words, when we feel valued, respected, loved, and supported, we feel nurtured. And it is this nurturing that is the key to unlocking our full human potential.
Nurturing shapes more than our daily behaviour – it shapes our internal world for life. Before we reach the age of seven, our brains are operating at low frequency, like hypnosis, yet developing rapidly: still absorbing without constantly questioning. What we take in becomes our belief system and how we speak to our children becomes their inner voice.
From age seven, the developing belief system drives our subconscious mind – our behaviour, our perception of ourselves and the world, our ability to connect and form meaningful relationships, even the circumstances we are drawn to in life. When we nurture our children, delight in them, laugh and play together, they learn to delight in being themselves and in life.
We have three “brains”: the head, the heart and our gut. They each have their own intrinsic nervous systems and neurons, and can take on information, process it, store it, change and adapt. Together they span what we think and what we feel. The head is our source of thinking and rational processing; it makes meaning of things. The heart is our source of processing emotion and home of our values, from which we connect with others; and the gut is where we park safety and self-preservation, courage, and motivation.
According to renowned executive coach and mentor, Brian Gorman, all too often business leaders are either disconnected from their heart and gut brains, or if they are connected, they still screen messages from the heart and gut through their head, because rational thought must win at all costs. They veer away from depending on gut instinct and rule emotion out of the equation.
Conversely when we consider some of the most inspiration entrepreneurs, innovative thinkers and leaders around the world, it is clear that the “other two brains” the heart and gut, have been a major influence on the decisions they’ve made and subsequent actions they’ve taken.
A name that is probably popping into your head right now is Sir Richard Branson. On a local level I would also put our own inspiring Carla Kaufmann of Get Diversity as a “three brain thinker”. Effective leadership requires all three brains, especially during times of change.
When we connect to all three brains, it can improve clarity, create a connection and evoke conviction. At a corporate level, learning when to utilise each of the three brains and which ‘brain’ Is best suited to deal with any given situation is increasingly being recognised as a powerful tool for effective decision-making or driving change.
If all three of these brains – head, heart and gut are equally valued in how we think and make decisions, then emotion and nurturing can also play a key role in driving change and optimising our lives.
When we feel connected and ‘nurtured’, for our brains, which evolved to keep us alive in the wilderness, this equals safety. And when we feel safe, this allows our brains to be engaged, we become more productive, innovative, creative and we reach out to others, optimising team work and collaboration. Leaders who connect and nurture relationships spur innovation and productivity.
At a personal level, using all three brains, allows us to fully engaged with our work, our lives, and our full selves. Connecting to our heart provides what we all seek in life: our happiness and well-being. The clearest message from the longest study on happiness of 75 years conducted by Harvard University is: ‘Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.‘ More than money, recognition and fame, it is having relationships with mutual love, appreciation, and a feeling of connection – simply having relationships with heart coherence – that matters most.
So, if our thoughts, emotions and behaviour create our reality, how do we create what we want from life? How do we make our world a better place for us and future generations? Neurobiology and epigenetics are telling us that we achieve this through nurturing, being in heart coherence and at a more profound level changing our self-limiting belief systems. Science is finding our belief systems are not fixed for life! There are now ways to re-program these to ones that support us to help us achieve our goals and aspirations. Essentially science is revealing that when we live more from the internally driven world than the externally driven world, this shifts us from a fear-based consciousness to a heart-based consciousness.
Living by the externally driven world, we live the Darwinian paradigm that life is about “survival of the fittest”. It assumes that the essence of life is about survival and conjures up the image of the lion chasing us. We are in stress mode. Our fight, flight and freeze mode is activated, driven by fear. Fear closes down our “thinking brains”, eventually numbs the body, disconnecting us from ourselves and others; and ongoing stress can cause all sorts of health problems. In the external world, we are in reaction mode, relying on brute force and physical strength. We are operating at a sub-optimal level.
In the internally driven world, we seek “heart coherence”. This is a highly efficient state in which, according to the Heartmaths Institute, all of the body’s systems work together in harmony, increasing the alignment of our mind, body, emotions and spirit. The process is the object – the enjoyment of life. In the internally driven world, we are at our most powerful when we operate from our imagination and have our mind, body and spirit fully engaged to create a better reality. We are operating at peak performance.
Shifting from fear-based external consciousness to a heart-based internal consciousness is not about hugging trees, but rather about elevating humanity to a new level of consciousness to fully realise our human potential.
For centuries, women have been disempowered, often dismissed as “too emotional for a man’s world”, limited to the role of nurturer and carer, while men assumed the roles of providers and rule-makers. Thankfully over the last one hundred years or so, the women’s movement has been a considerable and persistent force in influencing change. Opportunities for women to step beyond these limitations have increased substantially but sadly, gender-based stereotypes of emotional vs. rational still exist.
The women’s movement has been instrumental in changing how society views gender roles, but this has been more focused on the external factors of equality and pay. Nurturing is seen as an emotional task and while appreciated within the family context, it has until recently, been grossly undervalued and seen as a weakness or “soft skill” in the business world. Because of this, insufficient value has been placed on women’s role in nurturing and the valuing of others.
When we begin to understand the benefits of nurturing, it becomes clear that this emotional work is not only a woman’s strength, but also has the potential to change the way we as humans live on this planet. The role that nurturing plays in shaping our internal world has an impact on our external world. It comes as little surprise that studies show that firms with women on the executive board are more profitable. Only last year, the Swiss parliament mandated that on publicly traded companies, boards of directors should have better female representation, which will be good for those companies and the Swiss economy.
By elevating the importance of nurturing, it opens it up to greater accessibility and alignment with both genders. It frees up men to have greater choice in choosing to be a homemaker or part-time worker and to share in the nurturing role with their partner. Just as valuing nurturing liberates women, it liberates men, giving them permission to fully access their hearts and whole selves to reach their full potential. Where governments mandate paid paternity leave as well as the more traditional maternity leave it further endorses the value placed on nurturing as a powerful influence on how we raise future generations. It recognises that nurturing need not be solely the domain of women.
Yet despite women’s traditional role as the nurturer, women are neither taught how to, nor encouraged to explore, utilizing caring for others as a significant strength. This secret superpower influences not only the family and the home, but also the workplace, the community, and the very foundations of society. However, nurturing is not just about the gender issue. It is about nurturing ourselves as well as others.
Some of the issues we are facing in 2020 – Black Lives Matter, the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing and dealing with the consequence of climate change – all require change. Major change is now our new normal. To manage the challenges of a global pandemic, or to rapidly transition to a post-carbon economy, we need all the benefits that nurturing provides: tapping into our potential for a boost in creativity, innovation, productivity, collaboration with others and effective change management. World leaders who have earned some of the highest praise for their responses to the COVID crisis are women, such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Earlier this year I was delighted to be invited to join the board, in October, of one of Switzerland’s largest women’s business networks, Womenway, as Director of Environment, Social and Corporate Governance. Board-members and executives make up 43% of Womenway’s community. In this role I will be driving a new strategic imperative called “Women Leading the Way” by collaborating with partners, the focus of which is to empower and inspire individual action and collaboration on local and world issues; and to create a nurturing community among Swiss and international women.
My vision is to help women recognise where our power lies, so we can learn to use our power mindfully, understanding the impact and creating realities we want for ourselves and all of humanity. And when we collaborate, our impact is magnified and multiplied. We can be the drivers of change for the world we want to live in. We are more powerful than we realise.