Do you find yourself in situations where you know what the right behavior is, but are unable to actually act on it? Did you know that your body can actually help you to shift your behavior? I am finding in my executive coaching work that my clients create faster and more sustained shifts in their leadership behaviors when they tap into the wisdom in their bodies. The latest neuroscience research on the mind body connection shows us how much of our leadership behavior is actually embodied. To change this behavior requires us getting in touch with what is happening in our bodies. Yes, all that reprimanding from my mom about “don’t slouch”, “watch your posture”, “smile, it will make you feel better” actually works!
According to this TEDTalk by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy “Your body language shapes who you are“ our bodies can actually help us change our minds, change our behavior, and significantly improve our leadership outcomes. It’s what I call Whole Body Leadership. In her research, candidates who embodied certain power poses (like those by Wonder Woman) prior to job interviews got the job! I had a chance to interview one of the leading embodiment experts, Richard Strozzi-Heckler of the Strozzi Institute about how we can connect and learn from our bodies to grow in our leadership.
According to Strozzi, author of The Leadership Dojo and The Art of Somatic Coaching, when we work with embodiment we get in touch with our core life energy (the life force that moves through all of us, also known as “chi” or “prana” in various traditions). It creates shifts in our “being” which creates sustained results in our “doing”. We make choices that are wiser, more skillful, and more compassionate.
For the most of us who spend most of our time in our heads, access to the vast intelligence in our entire nervous system has been atrophied. Strozzi referenced research suggesting we have three “brains” in our body. Our nervous system has more neuron receptors in our heart and gut than in our brain. By utilizing the power of all three of our “brains” we create quicker and more sustained shifts in our leadership behaviors. Neuroscience suggests that in order to learn something new in a sustained way, it takes 3,000 repetitions. In our body memory it takes 300 repetitions.
Indeed, as validated by Amy Cuddy’s research findings, research shows our communication impact is based 7% on the content of what we say, and 93% on our presence (or “being” – a combination of our attitude, how we hold ourselves, our intentions).
Why Embodied Learning Works Better
I have found in my executive coaching work that as we work with helping leaders become more mindful of what is happening in their bodies, they are able to be more at choice in responding to stress triggers, proactively create shifts in their body, and handle situations more skillfully. Why does this work? According to Strozzi, our biological structure, created in our first five to seven years of life, makes certain behaviors more habitual than others. We each have a unique stress response formed in our early years. Some of us respond to stress through anger, others by pleasing, and still others by avoiding. These often unconscious responses to triggers shows up in our leadership behaviors and are fairly resistant to change because they are our survival response. This is why knowing the right behaviors is not enough. We must actually reprogram the body with new behaviors.
Five Ways to Practice Whole Body Leadership
Expand self-awareness and awareness of others. Effective leadership requires strong self-awareness. “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” Friedrich Nietzsche. Getting in touch with our body connects us with our emotions. We connect with what makes us come alive and what deadens us. As we connect with our own aliveness it helps us become more aware of where passion and energy lie in others.
Lead through stressful situations. Our 24/7 work lives create lots of opportunities for stress. We know stress lowers productivity, creativity, and even “in the moment” emotional intelligence. Our body awareness can help us learn how to recognize stress as it occurs and escalates. In moments of high stress, we can use our body to actually calm ourselves down. In his book “Positive Intelligence” best selling author Sherzad Chamine talks about physical exercises like breathing and body movement, that can get us calmer and centered to be able to respond in more emotionally intelligent ways.
Shift your presence. Effective leadership requires strong sense of presence and confidence. In her TEDTalk Amy Cuddy shares research that suggests that “we are influenced by our own non-verbals”. Our bodies actually help change our minds. Her research shows that the most powerful people have high levels of testosterone (assertiveness and confidence and optimism) and low levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). Her research showed that just shifting our posture into a “power pose” for 2 minutes actually releases hormones that lower our cortisol and increase our testosterone. In the research, those who tried this before a job interview significantly increased their “presence” factor to win the job.
Shift your perspective. Effective leadership requires the ability to shift our perspective, to be able to see an issue from other points of view. We get stuck when we can only see one possible way of behaving in a situation. On the other hand trying on different perspectives on a situation empowers us because we can not only expand our thinking but also make a choice that is more empowered. Shifting our bodies (literally moving ourselves to a different view or changing our body postures) opens up new possibilities.
Learn new behaviors to overcome leadership challenges. Training our body with certain practices and postures intentionally as we approach different situations allows us to shift our very being. Just like a “power pose” or a “smile” can shift our state of being, practicing other “ways of being” in our bodies enables shifts in our behavior that are sustained, significantly more than just information absorbed cognitively. This is the science of somatic learning.
Where are you finding yourself challenged in your leadership? How does this show up in your body and in your posture? If you’re interested in expanding your access to your own body’s wisdom, I invite you to explore my book “Wired for Authenticity” where the first practice of authenticity is Befriend Your Body.
A version of this post first appeared on my Forbes leadership blog.
If this resonated for you, please comment, subscribe, and share with others.