‘Physical intelligence’ is the latest buzz phrase in well-being. So sit up straight, unlock your shoulders, and feel the power…
Ever thought you have your best ideas while walking and talking, or that you feel more confident when you’re standing up straight with your shoulders back? That’s your physical intelligence at work. In fact, we’re 45% more likely to have an innovative idea when walking rather than sitting. What’s more, paced breathing increases cognitive function by 62%.
Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton, authors of Physical Intelligence (Simon & Schuster), say, “Physical intelligence is about actively managing the balance of body chemicals through breath, posture and thought.”
They have narrowed this ‘physical intelligence’ down to four components: strength, flexibility, resilience and endurance.
Strength is about having a robust and stable foundation that enables us to take risks, stand our own ground, and do the right thing. Yet faced with an argumentative teen, a manipulative boss, or grumpy spouse, most of us roll over like a docile Labrador puppy, then kick ourselves later, wishing we’d had more backbone.
Add some physical intelligence into the mix, though, and a high-fiving confidence reboot could be yours by simply changing your posture.
“First, you need an open and expansive body,” says Claire.
“We need to literally take up more space to feel fully empowered.” Why? Because expansive posture equals testosterone, which equals an assertive attitude. And yes, women need testosterone as well, just in smaller doses. This applies to your seated posture, too.
To instantly focus your thoughts, try this exercise: put your feet flat on the ground, lengthen your spine and notice how your focus improves.
If you’re dealing with a particularly tricky e-mail, expand your body before you respond. Open your shoulders and ensure your head is up and not pitched forward. “You need to be in a stance that feels open and healthy, where you can breathe well,” says Claire.
We all need resilience to bounce back when things go wrong.
“Good resilience allows you to let go of the past and build a strong immune system,” says Patricia.
Serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine are the optimism hormones – and you can get more of these resilience boosters pumping through your system by looking at setbacks as something you can learn from. It will help you stay optimistic and move on.
Research proves that optimists earn more and are able to keep going for longer when faced with tough tasks.
A great physical intelligence technique for leaving setbacks in the past is to imagine you are wearing them like a coat, then visualise taking the coat off and stepping forward unencumbered. “Simply moving forward will give you a dopamine boost,” says Claire.
And you might have noticed that by simply moving your body, your mood will instantly lift. If you remember skipping as a child, you’ll recognise that feeling of jumping for joy. Next time you’re feeling blue, find a quiet space and jump. Or just keep your feet on the floor and have a little bounce. You’ll quickly notice how you feel more optimistic.
To get things into perspective, try this visualisation method. Think of a setback – for example, the moment a friend rejected you. Remember the moment of impact. Take an imaginary camera and zoom right in to it. Now take that camera and pull right back, so that you see the whole scene, including events in the past and present. See, also, that you’re not alone in this. Others have experienced what you’re going through. This is a very human feeling.
Flexibility is a rather lovely trait. It’s about being creative, having high self-esteem and respect for others.
“When you’re flexible, you’re more able to adapt and create great relationships,” says Patricia.
“Flexible people are more innovative.” And when life changes, they can roll with the punches. “Often, our first reaction to a life change is to brace ourselves and tense up. But a tense body can lead to blinkered thinking and inhibited creativity.”
The winning cocktail for flexibility is a balance of four hormones: oxytocin (the cuddle hormone), dopamine (key to creative problem-solving), DHEA (the precursor to testosterone, which you need for excitement), and serotonin (which enables focus and balance).
Keeping these four hormones levelled is simpler than it sounds – and we can do it by relaxing our muscles. Notice where you are storing tension and unlock it. If your shoulders are tensed, for example, shrug them up and let them go, or try a simple torso twist – keep knees and hips facing forward then cross your left arm over your body and press your left hand against your outer right thigh. Hold for several breaths. Turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Switch sides.
A bit of unstructured chaos could also help innovation. “If you want to be thinking divergently, with lots of ideas, a messy space can stimulate more creative thinking,” says Claire, “whereas if you need to make a decision and narrow down your thoughts, then a clean and uncluttered environment will help.”
If you’re dealing with a tricky work or family problem, try walking or preparing dinner together while you talk. Varied movements help spark ideas and expansive thinking.
Endurance is the capacity for having staying power and determination; being able to achieve long-term goals.
“It’s about planning and perseverance,” says Claire. We need DHEA for muscle strength and confidence. We also need dopamine, which gives us a feel-good hit every time we tick off one of our goals. To harness the dopamine reward system, first get a clear mental image of the thing you want; next, practise not just seeing your goal but also each milestone along the route. Every time you reach a goal, you’ll get a feel-good dopamine hit to keep you on track.
You might want to find a cheerleader. “Positive feedback changes the body chemistry,” says Patricia.
“People are like plants – we need to be watered twice as much as we need to be pruned.”
Fortunately, women are good at supporting each other – and just a quick phone call every morning to check in and say, “What are you doing today? You can do it!” can help. “It’s like running a marathon and being exhausted, then seeing your friends in the crowd.” Seek out all the people who are cheering you on. And in turn ask, who am I championing? Pay it forward.
When you want to achieve something difficult, firm your muscles – clench your fists, lift your pelvic floor and tell yourself, “I can do this!”›Muscle-firming boosts testosterone and dopamine, securing your resolve and fuelling your willpower.
By Sharon Walker