The Psychology Of Planning

Getting Inside Your Client’s Heads

Can science enhance financial decision making… and impact sales?

Breakthrough research in Polyvagal Theory and Neuroception looks at how our internal neural-systems can influence social behavior, stress response and decision making.

by Dr. Geoffrey Vanderpal DBA, CFP®, CLU® & Dr. Randy Brazie MD, SEP®

Dr. Geoffrey Vanderpal DBA, CFP®, CLU® & Dr. Randy Brazie MD, SEP®, are coauthors of The Steadfast Leader book and Co-founders of NeuroConsulting Group LLC at

In the life and health insurance industry, financial decisions are often influenced by more than just data and numbers; they are significantly affected by human emotions and physiological responses. Understanding the intersection of neuroscience, specifically Polyvagal Theory and neuroception, can provide invaluable insights for insurance professionals seeking to optimize decision-making processes and mitigate financial biases for both clients and advisors. This article explores how these concepts can be applied in the insurance industry to improve outcomes and client interactions.

Understanding Polyvagal Theory and Neuroception

Polyvagal Theory (PVT), developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, explains how the vagus nerve influences our social behaviors and stress responses. This nerve helps regulate our heart rate, breathing, and digestive processes and is a critical component in our experiences of safety and threat. Neuroception, a term also coined by Porges, describes how our nervous systems continuously scan the environment for cues of safety or danger, often outside of our conscious awareness. Another way of looking at PVT is the relationship between the thinking and rational brain versus the autonomic or non-thinking brain that seeks to avoid danger and seeks safety, influencing our everyday actions and reactions to our environment.

Applying Neuroscience to Financial Decision-Making

In the context of financial decision-making, particularly in areas as sensitive as life and health insurance, understanding the client’s and the advisor’s physiological states can lead to more informed and less biased decisions. Here are detailed applications and examples of how this can be achieved:

Enhancing Client Interactions

Application: Advisors can use their understanding of Polyvagal Theory to create a more comforting environment for clients. By recognizing signs of distress or discomfort, which might indicate a neuroceptive response to perceived threat, advisors can adjust their approach, ensuring that clients feel safe and are in a better state to make decisions.

Example: During client meetings, an advisor notices that a client seems tense and is breathing shallowly—signs of sympathetic activation. The advisor decides to pause the discussion and offers the client a glass of water and changes the conversation to a lighter topic before circling back to financial decisions. This approach can help shift the client’s physiological state to a more “ventral vagal” mode, characterized by calmness and increased social engagement.

Training For Bias Reduction

Application: Insurance firms can provide training for their advisors on how to recognize their own physiological responses to bias triggers. For example, an advisor might subconsciously feel more wary of risk-taking in policies after experiencing a financial loss, due to their own neuroceptive sense of danger.

Example: An insurance firm implements regular training workshops that include exercises designed to help advisors recognize their physiological states and understand how these states may influence their judgment. Advisors learn techniques to self-regulate, such as deep breathing or mindfulness, to ensure they remain in a neutral state when assessing client needs and risks.

Improving Policy Design And Customer Service

Application: Understanding that clients’ decisions are influenced by how safe they feel during the interaction can lead advisors to design policies and communication strategies that enhance the perception of safety and trust.

Example: A life insurance company redesigns its policy renewal process to include a step where advisors reaffirm the benefits and safety features of the policy. By verbally reinforcing how the policy protects the client’s loved ones, advisors can engage the client’s ventral vagal state, promoting feelings of safety and encouraging more rational decision-making.

Mitigating Financial Biases In Risk Assessment

Application: By applying neuroscientific principles, advisors can better identify when their decision-making might be swayed by external pressures or internal biases, which could lead to poor risk assessment.

Example: An advisor uses a checklist that includes questions designed to identify potential biases, such as “Am I recommending this policy based on the client’s needs or my reaction to recent market events?” This process helps ensure that decisions are made based on accurate, relevant information and not on the advisor’s transient emotional states.

In the context of financial decision-making, particularly in areas as sensitive as life and health insurance, understanding the client's and the advisor's physiological states can lead to more informed and less biased decisions...

Integrating Polyvagal Theory and neuroception into insurance sales strategies can significantly enhance the advisor-client interaction, leading to increased sales and client satisfaction. By understanding and applying these neuroscience concepts, advisors can create an environment that promotes safety and trust, essential for making clients comfortable with financial decisions. This expanded discussion offers detailed applications and examples of how advisors can utilize Polyvagal Theory and neuroception to close more sales, reduce financial biases, and effectively engage with clients.

Practical Applications With Examples

Creating A Sense Of Safety To Facilitate Agreement

Application: Advisors can use Polyvagal Theory to create a physical and emotional environment that signals safety to clients’ nervous systems. This involves using a calm tone of voice, maintaining an open body posture, and ensuring the meeting space is welcoming and non-threatening.

Example: An advisor might rearrange the meeting room to be more inviting by adding plants, comfortable seating, and ensuring there is no barrier (like a desk) directly between them and the client. During the meeting, the advisor ensures to speak slowly, maintain eye contact, and nod affirmatively as the client speaks, all cues that help deactivate the client’s defensive (sympathetic) system and promote a state conducive to trust and cooperation.

Regulating Advisor’s Own Physiological State

Application: Advisors need to be aware of their own physiological states to prevent their own stress or anxiety from affecting the client. Techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or brief meditative pauses can help maintain a calm demeanor.

Example: Before entering a meeting, an advisor takes a few minutes to practice deep breathing exercises to ensure they are in a calm, centered state. This self-regulation not only helps the advisor think more clearly but also subconsciously communicates calmness to the client, facilitating a smoother, more receptive interaction.

Using Mirroring Techniques To Build Rapport

Application: Mirroring the client’s body language, tone of voice, and speaking pace can help in aligning the advisor’s and the client’s physiological states, a concept supported by Polyvagal Theory which emphasizes social engagement as a pathway to feeling safe.

Example: If a client speaks softly and sits with their hands on their lap, the advisor does the same. This nonverbal cue of similarity can enhance the client’s comfort and trust levels, making them more likely to agree to a proposed insurance plan.

Addressing Client Concerns Through Educative Dialogues

Application: By engaging in discussions that educate the client about how insurance products can secure their financial future and protect their loved ones, advisors can activate the client’s ventral vagal state, which is associated with feelings of security and social engagement.

Example: An advisor explains the benefits of a life insurance policy not just in terms of financials but also how it ensures peace of mind concerning the welfare of the client’s family. The advisor shares stories or testimonials from other clients who have benefited from similar policies, reinforcing the message of safety and care.

Handling Objections With Empathy

Application: When clients raise objections, advisors can use their understanding of neuroception to empathize and respond in ways that mitigate fear or apprehension, ensuring the client feels heard and understood.

Example: If a client is hesitant about the cost of a policy, the advisor acknowledges the concern with empathy, saying something like, “I understand that the cost is a significant consideration for you. Let’s explore how this investment protects you and aligns with your long-term financial wellbeing.” This approach can help reduce the client’s stress response and open up a pathway to discuss the value of the investment more rationally.


The integration of Polyvagal Theory and neuroception into the life and health insurance sector offers a promising avenue for enhancing financial decision-making. By better understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of how safety and threat are perceived, both clients and advisors can make more informed, unbiased financial decisions. As the industry continues to evolve, those who embrace these insights will likely find themselves better equipped to meet the needs of their clients, fostering relationships built on trust and informed understanding.

By applying Polyvagal Theory and neuroception, insurance advisors can significantly enhance their ability to connect with clients, reduce biases, and close sales effectively. These strategies focus on creating a physiological state of safety and trust, which are crucial for successful financial decisions in the life and health insurance sectors. Advisors who master these techniques are likely to see improved client relationships and higher sales success, contributing to their overall professional growth and client satisfaction.


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