Integrated Decision Making – Your Inner “Board of Directors”

This article is by my colleague and friend Linda Marks, founder of the Institute for Emotional-Kinesthetic Psychotherapy. Linda is giving a workshop on Healing the Traumatized Heart in Newton, MA, on Saturday, May 18, from 1 – 5 pm. I’ve taken it, and it’s terrific. Click here for more information on the workshop and Linda’s other work. ©2008 Linda Marks

About 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to help design a stress management class for employees and managers at Digital Equipment Corporation. Because I was working as a body psychotherapist, I wanted to incorporate some body-centered experiential techniques into the training design. While our minds can understand self-care concepts, being able to actually apply them requires understanding them emotionally and in our bodies, not just intellectually.

How could I build a bridge between a very mental work culture and the wisdom of the body, which was so foreign to so many people? I realized that people actually reference their bodies all the time when thinking about making important decisions. How often do people act on gut feel? Isn’t it important we learn to listen to and follow our hearts? Our language is full of mind-body references, but we often think of them as metaphors rather than as literal points of guidance for our lives.

So, I developed a mind-body technique called The Inner Board of Directors, which allowed people to consciously and intentionally tap their many sources of emotional and body-based wisdom to make more integrated decisions. Since companies are run by boards of directors, it didn’t take much of a leap to understand that our own lives might benefit from being governed by an inner equivalent of this board.

The members of the Inner Board of Directors are the heart, the gut and the head. The whole self acts as moderator when an Inner Board meeting is called. The way the technique works is very simple. First, an individual determines a question s/he would like to bring before the board. It can be a simple and mundane question like, “what do I want to eat for lunch?” or a more profound and significant question like, “what do I really want to be doing with my life?” Playing with the simple and mundane questions provides a fun and non-threatening way to learn the technique.

So, I would ask the employee or manager to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths, and feel the support of their chair supporting their back, their pelvis, their legs, their tailbone….and the floor supporting their feet. And as they inhale, letting themselves feel the physical support of their chair and the floor…and as they exhale, letting their bodies very slowly and gently melt and relax into the support of the chair and the floor…And to allow their focus to move to their heart…noticing where they feel their heart in their body…and taking a moment to ask their heart the question, “What do I want for lunch?” And taking a moment for the heart to respond.

After listening to their heart, I would have them take a deep breath, and bring their attention to their gut–noticing where in their body they feel their gut when they hear the word, “gut.” And to take a moment to ask their gut, “What do I want for lunch?” And wait a moment to see how the gut responds.

After taking the moment to listen to the gut, I would have them take another deep breath, and bring their focus to their head…and ask their head the question, “What do I want for lunch?” and wait for the head to respond.

Once their head had responded, I’d invite them to revisit their heart and its response, their gut and its response and their head and its response….And then to ask the whole self to answer the question, “What do I want for lunch?” and see if they now could come up with a more integrated, whole body response. The anwer was most often, a resounding, “Yes!”

The heart might say, “I have a craving for Thai food.” The gut might say, “I don’t care what you give me, but feed me soon–I’m really hungry.” And the head might say, “You don’t have that much time to eat–better phone and do take out.” With input from all of the different inner board members, the person would decide it was time to pick up the phone, call the local Thai restaurant, and drive there to pick up a take out lunch pronto. Lunch problem solved.

After learning the technique with such a simple and mundane example, it becomes fun to convene the Inner Board for more complex decisions. I would invite you to have fun experimenting with your Inner Board, and see if making decisions becomes easier and more complete.

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