After the summer holidays, many of us are preparing to go back to school or work, and for me, as an academic and teacher, September just feels like the beginning of my new year. That’s when I reflect on where I am, where I want to be, and set new goals. But whatever your career area or stage of life, reflection on your progress is an extremely useful regular practice to complete at certain periods throughout the year.


As you might already know, around December to January each year, I always share an article offering some tips, tools and resources about goal-setting and planning for the year ahead. This is not so much about making new year’s resolutions (which are only to be forgotten a week later!), but rather, showing you ways to make an intentional start to the coming year. Then, later in the year – both to add some accountability and to mark your journey – at the half-way point, around June, I usually invite you to reflect on how you’re doing in relation to those intentions or goals.

  • Are you ‘on target’?
  • Do you need to make any changes in direction, or adjust your sights to ensure that you achieve what you set out to do?
  • Or have your goals changed?
  • Do you need to set a new plan in place?

Now that we’re coming into the third quarter of the year, this is another good time for checking-in on how your year is going so far; or for those of you whose academic year begins right now, it’s a time for future planning.

To help you with this, I’d like draw your attention to my article and free download on designing the year you want. And specifically, I want to concentrate on one element of this resource: the exercise that invites us to reflect from our head, our heart and our gut.

Your 3 Brains

You have probably heard the term ‘gut instinct’ or the phrase ‘my head says X, but my heart says Y’ – and here is an opportunity to gather information from all three areas or ‘brains’ in your body.

This is an interesting exercise that helps you to access the resources of your whole self – mind, body and spirit; or head, heart and gut. You will find it very useful – if a little strange, especially if you are used to only considering one way of thinking, feeling or decision-making. If you’re a rational kind of person who primarily uses cerebral logic and reasoning to draw conclusions, it might feel oddly uncomfortable to consider what you feel in your heart, or to notice what your ‘gut response’ is. And vice versa – if you usually feel your way through life with emotion as your guide, thinking things through with logical analysis, or giving an instinctive gut response may not come naturally to you. But this is the very crux of the exercise – by using new ways of thinking, feeling and intuiting, flexibility is the key to giving a full-bodied, holistic response to decision-making.

By asking in turn what your head, your heart and your gut think, feel and intuit, you will gain a more rounded and comprehensive view of the matter you are considering. You will discover what kind of advice or information each of these ‘brains’ has for you. Then, you can use all of this wisdom to make a decision or guide your next steps.

The Science Says It

This isn’t just woo-woo – according to neuroscience, there are three brains in the body: the brain we usually refer to as such – in our head; another brain in our heart, and the third brain – in our gut. Each of these organs is filled with neurotransmitters, neurons and ganglia, forming rich neural networks that are continuously sending messages to one another – hence scientists calling all three of them ‘brains’.  Stephen Porges coined the term ‘neuroception’ to describe how the whole body reacts to its environment – especially when threat is perceived. The three brains communicate with one another, releasing hormones and endorphins, as appropriate to the situation.

We have only just started to scratch the surface of what is possible in terms of the potential of our whole nervous system with regard to our leadership practice and life.

For more on this, take a look at Lyn Christian’s TEDxTalk: Head, heart, and gut instincts backed by science, in which she explains how integrative exercises – combining head, heart and body – are backed up by neuroscience, and how she used a similar exercise to inform her to make a life-changing decision. She skilfully mentions a range of experts in the field, including Judith de Lozier on the powerful effect of words in triggering physical responses, despite them being only representations – not threats or material things themselves.

Also in terms of academic research, Soosalu et al talk about the “head (analytical/cognitive), heart (emotional/affective), and gut (intuition)” all being involved in decision-making.

3 Brains to Design or Refresh Your Year

If you want to go further into this, I encourage you to check out those links and references. But first of all, look at and download my resource to design the year you want and complete the exercise, which takes you step by step through a very simple process to help you to access all those internal resources.

This mindful, wholehearted, gutsy way of considering your options and making decisions will help you to:

  1. Determine Your Priorities – Recognise what is important for you to achieve over the next few months to take you nearer to your goals.
  2. Be Intentional – Set your intentions, and have clarity on who and what you need in order to succeed, to be accountable, and to get support.
  3. Make your way forward – Decide what you must do. What is non-negotiable to take you forward? Commit to a routine and take steps that accelerate you towards your goals and get you where you want to be.

Since this is the beginning of a new academic year (and for the rest of us, the three-quarter milestone towards achieving the goals we set months earlier), it’s a great time to reflect on where we are and where we want to go. If you want to use this time of year as a  “temporal landmark” and reinvigorate yourself and your plans with extra zest and increased motivation, you can do no better than to take a look at my article, 6 Ways to Leverage the Fresh Start Effect.

No matter how far you have (or haven’t) accomplished your goals or achieved the outcomes you intended, using your head, heart and gut and making a fresh start is a brilliant way to let feel wholly informed and head in the direction you want to go with new energy, momentum and intention. Employ all three brains combined, and use my six simple approaches and you will soon be back on track for the year you want – or perhaps on a new and even better journey.



If you’d like more, please feel free to download Designing Your Leadership Self-Reflection Practice – Guided Writing Prompts – packed with tips, tools, and guided prompts to launch your leadership self-reflection practice as you continue to strengthen your leadership.

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