“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking” (Rohr, R. 1999).
Our bodies can’t be ignored when creating significant change. As a coach, noticing how my clients ‘inhabit’ themselves provides information that may never surface in our conversations. Having worked in this way with clients, I can attest to the possibilities that open up when I simply ask a client to move their attention to their body for a moment to access what information might be there. What becomes available is information that goes beyond the limitations of the rational mind, to a place where reality-creating beliefs, adaptations and narratives reside.
Joelle was such a client. A recently promoted executive, she sought out coaching to grow in her abilities to have more impact in her communication when leading meetings with board members and colleagues. In our work together we noticed how physical factors, posture, breathing, and voice often diminished her presence and ability to influence in both her professional and personal life. She discovered that submissive behaviors that thwarted her were rooted in early childhood survival strategies. Her work provided the awareness and practices to actualize how she wanted to show up, with authority, voice and connection. She practiced what it felt like to “stand on her own two feet,” and to “take a stand,” not only in attitude, but physically experiencing this, integrating real and sustained change while increasing her confidence as a leader. She had begun to move from a reactive/external point of reference to authoring her own life.
For leaders, the ability to self-regulate and recalibrate in a complex, fast-paced work environment is key to their effectiveness. This ability isn’t developed through knowledge alone. but through attention to their inner state as it is reflected in their body. I’ve noticed, however, that senior executives seem to have the most resistance to working in this way. In most circumstances they’ve gotten to where they are through their ability to exude competence and knowing, not an easy thing to suspend even in the service of a greater capacity. Often, prior to inquiring, “where do you notice this in your body,” I’ll share research with them that points to the fact old habits have built super highways which we return to in times of stress. These neural pathways can and need to be re-created for effective change to take place, and accessing the body, and not just the 10% capacity of the rational/analytical mind, will depend and accelerate the ability for this to happen.
“The body takes a shape before the mind consciously identifies a thought or feeling. Our physical being is the most direct point of intervention.” (Crawford, J. quoted in Palmer, W. and Palmer, T. 2014. p.9.)
When the physical shape of a client reflects collapse, appeasement, tightening of the jaw, inhibition, over extension (for example)…when they are ‘gutting it out’ or ‘shrinking to fit,’ this is being broadcasted both internally and externally, affecting our capacity and connection with others and ourselves. It makes sense, therefore, that our bodies hold an important key to awareness and change, the kind that makes a difference in how we perceive and are perceived.
Everyday the challenges and complexities of life are requiring more of us as leaders, and everyday science adds another bit of data or theoretical support for an embodied approach. Utilizing all information available in body, mind, emotions and the subconscious builds new neural pathways and supports increased capacities for leaders to develop their capacity to respond effectively and to create desired outcomes both in business and in life.