Connectedness Strength – Scientific Evidence

‘We are all connected’ always had a squishy, metaphysical, woo-woo kind of connotation to it until I learned about it as strength that helps people to be successful.   There are times that I have also had that sense of connection, completion, one-with-the-universe (OWTU) feeling though I usually have not associated it with any specific use other than feeling great.

But there is new research around this phenomenon, which is called coherence.  Coherence refers to connection – whether between individuals and their environment or within one’s self.  The phenomenon of coherence results in positive emotion and a sense of unity or oneness.  Physiologically, coherence produces synchronous communication between heart and brain.

Since this psychophysiological connection appears to be mediated through the vagal nerve, coherence can be indirectly measured through physiologic variables such as  heart rate variability (HRV).  HRV is believed to sensitively reflect heart-brain communication and to be a strong measure of health and well-being, especially as it relates to heart health and stress management.  Apparently, HRV reflects the balance between the sympathetic (flight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (housekeeping) nervous systems.

Personality types (as measured by the Big Five and temperament inventories) influences one’s ability to maintain a low HRV (the less variability, the better).     For example, do you tend to respond to stress with fight-or-flight or a sense that you are OWTU?  Your personality, to some degree, dictates that response.

Ah, I feel a bit vindicated now!

But I’m not off the hook. Though we may not want to change who we are per se, we may want to moderate and manage our personality so that we may be most effective in all aspects of our lives.  That’s sort of what maturity is all about, right?   Indeed, I spent much of my misspent youth doing the fight/flight response to some of the smallest of life obstacles instead of responding with equanimity and wisdom.

Given that I do have some choice in my behavior, personality not withstanding, I can foster this connectedness strength, even though it’s not high on my strengths list. For example, coherence is produced by slow, deep breathing, relaxation, sleep and positive emotion such as appreciation.    For me, simply being mindful and using perspective helps me to cultivate a healthier response to stress.  As you might imagine, responding with aggression or avoidance tends to have the opposite effect.

In other words, effectively managing stress fosters that heart-brain coherence and ultimately, health, resilience and well-being.   In a wonderful and ironic win-win, the sense that we are all connected also helps me to take life in stride.  Our interconnection also implies that I have a responsibility to you to maintain my equanimity in the face of adversity.  I shouldn’t give you my emotional crap.  And visa versa.  So if you can’t take care of yourself for your own sake, do it for those around you.  It’s not selfish to take care of yourself.  It’s necessary for all of our benefit.  Our heart-brain connections thank you!



Coincidence and Synergy

  • You call your friend and she tells you she was just picking up the phone to call you
  • You were just thinking you need to find a new contractor when you find your brother’s best friend is just starting a contracting business
  • You find that you and your first love’s decades long marriages ended within a month of each other.   She lives a thousand miles away and you’ve been out of touch most of that time.
  • After being recently unemployed, you run into a long-lost former colleague in an airport, who then refers you to another colleague, who offers you a job.
  • Out of a class of 37, three students and one of the faculty ages 30-50 are getting married on the same weekend.   They live hundreds of miles apart from each other and the planning occurred unbeknownst to the others.

Do you believe in coincidences?  Most people I have talked to do not, but maybe that reflects more about who’ve I’ve been hanging out with than anything else.    It would not have been the first time that my opinions are strongly influenced by a biased group selection.

I’m asking the question because I don’t really know what to think about coincidences.  Sure, a coincidence or two and it’s no big deal but sometimes those coincidences just line up like tin soldiers and I start to wonder.   The above set of coincidences are mostly unrelated but I’ve noticed that sometimes coincidences can happen repeatedly in a single chain of events.

The scientist in me explains our perception of coincidence are simply tricks of the mind.  If we are looking for coincidences, we will find coincidences.  Just as if we were looking for red Volkswagon Beetles, we’ll start to notice them everywhere where previously they were just among the masses of rush hour traffic.

Humans also have a tendency to imagine order and meaning when it does not likely exist.  Faces in the clouds, an artful dance by a plastic bag in the wind, a nefarious intention in an offhand comment.  Man wishes to make order out of chaos, and one way to do that is to believe the events in our lives have meaning rather than are just random.

But still, when you do the actual math, sometimes the statistically impossible happens.   For example, the wedding example above refers to the class I attend in Pennsylvania.  Even accounting for the fact that the weekend of our Big Day is fairly soon after we graduate, the odds that this statistical improbability happened by random chance are pretty low.

I wrote a blog some time ago about the connectedness strength theme, and how the ability to understand how all things are interconnected is believed by many people to be a key ingredient in their ability to be successful.  Sometimes I feel the scientist in me is too skeptical and cynical, and that sometimes a greater openness to the mystery of the world is in order.  Fortunately, scientists are starting to study subjects like religion and spirituality that were previously viewed as off-limits.  Maybe soon we’ll start to have a better understanding of the unseen connections between us.