Every now and then, I have the pleasure of seeing how my education and early career as a bench biologist can have some connection with the work I am now doing. I have been aware of the work of the Institute of HeartMath for many years, but in reading a book called “The Compassionate Life” by Marc Ian Barasch, I became reacquainted with the work of HeartMath and considered how it applies to our interactions at work.
The Institute of HeartMath is a group of scientists who not only the heart, but it has a mission to maximize the heart’s interaction with the brain. If this sounds too “out there”, keep reading. This institute has been studying something called “Heart Rate Variability” patterns, small beat irregularities in heart rhythm. What they’ve noticed is that certain patterns seem to correlate with specific emotional states, including compassion, love, and forgiveness.
HeartMath research indicates that just imagining our heart glowing with warmth produces a physiologic effect that correlates with feelings of compassion and loving kindness. This may prove that we have more control over our moods than we think. To top it off, the electromagnetic field generated with the emotional states of compassion, love, and forgiveness (called “coherence”) can affect a person’s brain waves – and simultaneously go on to affect another’s brain waves. So emotions are proving – scientifically – to be catching after all.
Finally, the heart has its own “brain” of sorts – consisting of some 40,000 neurons and associated cells that resemble the brain’s cortex. Research is showing that the heart can learn and send out dopamine (a pleasure chemical that influences behavior) and oxytocin (a chemical associated with the feeling of love). In addition, there is evidence that some sensory information is sent directly to the heart before it even travels to the brain.
What this means to you
So what does all of this research mean to leadership and organizations? In my mind, it means we need to give the heart its due at work. If we listen to our heart first, are we able to increase our emotional intelligence and improve our interactions and relationships with others? Should we begin to give emotions more credibility at work?
Why not put more of your heart into your work and the relationships that you have with those around you? It isn’t coincidental that brain coherence increases immune function. It looks like compassion, love, and forgiveness is actually proving scientifically to be better for you and better for your followers in more ways than one.