Let your Body do the Thinking

Athletes are always coached on getting their head in the game.  “The Inner Game of Tennis” is a classic book that introduced mindset into sports.  What about the inverse? Can we get our bodies into activities that we traditionally see as “brain” activities?  What would happen if knowledge workers started using their bodies?

Joseph Campbell said “we have intelligence in our whole body, not just our brains.”  It seems that we’re overusing our brains, and stopped listening to our bodies. It’s easy to rely on our brains because brainpower is the path of least resistance.  You can train your brain much more quickly than your body’s intelligence.

Although it’s easier to use your brain, the body often knows something before the brain does. For example, have you had the experience of meeting someone and getting a bad feeling about them even though they were perfectly polite?  Your body knew something was wrong, but your brain wasn’t sure why. If you can get attuned to these feelings, your body can alert your brain that there is something to think about.  

I have a friend who told me that she shifted her leadership stance from her head to her legs. She said that she feels so much more powerful and grounded. Wow, cool huh? I haven’t figured out how to do this yet.

As someone who lives primarily in my head, I find it hard to understand thinking with the body. Then the other night I saw it while I was giving an Improv Workshop for Agile teams. Not only did I see intelligence in the body, but I saw intelligence between the group’s bodies.  I’ll explain.

First, we did an exercise where each person says their name and does some kind of a gesture or body movement.  The rest of the group mimics the movement and says the person’s name. The participants reported that getting their bodies connected (in an HR appropriate way) through movement seemed to help them know each other in a different way than a typical icebreaker.  Typical icebreakers are brain-dominant activities where you go around the room and introduce yourself. Sometimes there’s a fun fact thrown in, but rarely is there bodily movement, and I’ve never seen synced body movement. In his book “If I Understood you would I have this look on my Face?” Alan Alda cites a study that proved that marching and tapping in unison improved cohesion and collaboration in a group.  This is the reasoning behind military marching.

Next we did an exercise using Personas to create customer empathy.   In order to better understand a customer or use, many teams create a poster of a fictional person and give them a name and attributes.  In this exercise I asked the participants to actual become that person, walk like them, think about how they feel, how they look, where they live, etc.  Then we got into groups of three and asked each other questions as that character. One participant noted that writing a persona on paper was literally ‘arm’s length’.  He said ‘I would think in my head what this person might think in their head. But when you get into their body, and interact with people as if you are that customer, it gives you a totally different level of insight.”  They were quite literally shifting the thinking into their bodies.

Are you attuned to the intelligence in your body?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!