The Science of Love and Sh*t (Part 1)

May 15, 2019

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. In this episode, we're unpacking the biology of love. For more in this series, check out: Love and Sh*t (Part 2) and Neurobiology of Love: Exploring the Science of Desire.

So often, the concept of love gets stuck. 

It gets stuck in a Disney fairytale of one man and one woman. A "Happily Ever After" love story that we must find. And if you don’t find it? Or you find it outside of those narrowly defined confines? That’s it. Game over. You’ve screwed up your life. 

We’re fed a false definition and image of what love is. And it sets us up for a giant fall because then our expectations don't match reality.

The Cinderella Story is not at all what love is... in either real life, or in a physiological context. That’s not actually what happens. 

So what does brain science have to tell us about love? 

From a neurobiological perspective, the experience of “love” requires two things:

  1. Eye contact
  2. An agreement in that moment for mutual care

By that standard, we experience love all the time! 

Love is multi-dimensional.

It only takes a micro-moment. And it can happen in small ways that we might otherwise fail to notice:

  • With the barista who makes our morning coffee.
  • With our Uber driver. With our dog or cat.
  • As we hold a door open for a stranger.
  • And yes, with our friends and family too!

It’s not necessary to limit our definition of love to big romantic feelings, and “bolt of lightning” moments. Instead, we can normalize its presence at every turn. 

We're shortchanged by binary concepts of love. The idea that the world is made for one man and one woman, and all other relationships are secondary, is patently false. Because friendships, chosen family, chosen partners — who may not be romantic partners — are such an important part of building up your life’s durable resources. 

“Love is investing in the well-being of another human for their own sake. It’s so powerful to think about — from a friendship perspective, especially. When you choose to be on the other end of that phone at 3 a.m., you’re investing in another human for their own sake.” - Noelle Cordeaux

Connection: The Eyes Have It

When you’re a little kid and you go to daycare, nursery school or the park, one of the first things you learn is how to make friends with somebody else. And it usually starts with eye contact. 

Think about a three year-old that looks up shyly and smiles. This is humanity’s purest form of putting out what's called a “bid for attention”. It’s a way of saying with their eyes: “Will you be friends with me?” 

That’s where it starts for grown-ups too.

But we’re stuck in our phones all the time, so fixated on the text we need to read or the picture we want to post that we forget to make eye contact with people around us. We close ourselves off to new experiences. When we do, we miss the very micro-moments of connection that feed us in a way that responding to a new email notification never will.

It takes courage...

... to sit on the bus, a park bench, or alone in a restaurant and actually look up at the world. To be the one deciding to make eye contact, smiling at people and making that bid for attention and engagement. 

Here's the payoff:

When you make eye contact with someone and share what’s called a micro-moment of positive emotional experience — and it could be as little as three seconds long — here's what happens next. Your nervous system calms down. Your endocrine system kicks in. You start this pulsing of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in the body.

This small exchange has enough potency to change the lens that you see the world through. It generates optimism.

The Positivity Spiral

When we put ourselves out there in this way, we’re actually broadening our own resources. And it has a lot to do with the eyes, and building our capacity to physically see things differently. 

If you are walking around in your head (or your phone), you literally won’t notice details. You don’t see colors, or physically engage the world around you. 

By contrast, if you’re connected to yourself and others, and you’re in a state where you’re pressing yourself to notice and emote, you’ll see more physically. And when you do, here's what could happen next:

You might notice a roadside stand you’ve never been to, and have the best sandwich of your life. Then you get to talking with the person at the counter, and have a real moment of laughter together. 

That all puts you in such a good mood that when you go home and greet the person who’s there waiting for you, they catch this warm energy coming off of you and think: “Damn, I really love this person.” They look right into your eyes and hold your gaze. You feel a smile spread across your face. They smile back, bigger now. And so it goes...

That’s the positivity spiral. It just expands everything in your world.

Ready for Love & Sh*t: Part 2? Check it out here.

Curious about a career in coaching?

Relationship coaching remains one of the most sought after specialties. If you’d like to help others navigate this terrain, come check out JRNI Life Coach Training. We offer a program that's every bit as unique as you are. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a force for good in the world of coaching.

JRNI Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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