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Moving the mind

GreenBrainIn our NLP work we often explore how our physical state influences our mind and our effect on others. Many times we come across academic research that seems to us to be catching up with the whole concept of the mind-body connection that Eastern thought and more recent studies such as NLP have at their core.

Understanding how physiology influences our state and our very perception of the world is a fascinating aspect of NLP. I’m sure you have had that experience of consciously changing your physiology and how it can change your whole approach. For example how you might ensure you’re standing upright and looking outwards just before you present to an audience. Practiced presenters know that their physical state is the key to achieving the right mental state.

Try this simple exercise. First notice where your feet are pointing (this is often easier to do standing up and certainly something to get curious about in different contexts). Next try three different positions as follows and notice how this effects how you feel inwardly and where your focus of attention is directed:

1. Feet angled slightly inward
2. Feet pointing straight ahead
3. Feet angled slightly outward

Isn’t it interesting how such a tiny change can make a difference? So where should your feet be now to create the state you would like to be in?

Here’s some more food for thought courtesy of Jeremy Dean at PsyBlog who has done a nice job of pulling together some of the most recent academic research for your interest:

1. Pose for power
If you want to feel more powerful then adopt a powerful posture. A study by Carney et al. (2010) found that when people stood or sat in powerful poses for one minute—those involving open limbs and expansive gestures—they not only felt more powerful but had increased levels of testosterone flooding their systems. Powerful poses take up more space, so spread your body and open up the arms or legs. When you dominate the space, your mind gets the message.

2. Tense up for willpower
Tensing up your muscles can help increase your willpower. In a series of 5 studies Hung and Labroo (2011) found that when people firmed up their muscles they were better able to withstand pain, resist tempting food, take an unpleasant medicine and pay attention to disturbing information. So, if you need to increase your willpower, tense your muscles. It should help.

3. Cross arms for persistence
If you’re stuck on a problem which needs persistence then try crossing your arms. Friedman and Elliot (2008) had participants do just that and found they worked longer at a set of difficult anagrams. In fact about twice as long. Their persistence led to more correct solutions.

4. Lie down for insight
If crossing your arms doesn’t work then try lying down. When Lipnicki and Byrne (2005) had anagram solvers lying down, they solved them faster. Since anagrams are a type of insight problem, lying down may help you reach creative solutions.

5. Nap for performance
While you’re lying down, why not have a nap? Napping is an art-form though. Nap too long and you’ll suffer from sleep inertia: the feeling of being drowsy for an extended period. Nap too little and there’s no point. Where’s the sweet spot? Brooks & Lack (2005) compared 5, 10, 20 and 30 minute naps to find the best length. For increased cognitive performance, vigour and wakefulness, the best naps were 10 minutes long. Benefits were seen immediately after 10 minute naps but after longer naps it took longer to wake up. Five minute naps only provided half the benefit, but were better than nothing.

6. Gesture for persuasion
The way people’s hands cut through the air while they talk is fascinating. But it’s more than just a by-product of communication. Maricchiolo et al. (2008) found that hand-gestures help increase the power of a persuasive message when compared to no use of gesture. Most effective are gestures which make what you are saying more understandable. For example, when referring to the past, point behind you.

7. And gesture for understanding
Gestures aren’t only helpful for persuading others, they also help us think. In a study of children, Cook et al. (2007) found that children who were encouraged to gesture while learning, retained more of what they learnt. Moving our hands may help us learn; more generally we actually seem to think with our hands.

8. Smile for happiness
The very act of smiling can make you feel happy, whether it’s justified or not. Strack et al. (1988) had participants holding pens in their mouths either so that it activated the muscles responsible for smiling, or not. Those whose smiling muscles were activated rated cartoons as funnier than others whose smiling muscles weren’t activated by the pen in their mouth. So, forcing a smile really does make us see the world in a better light.

9. Mimic to empathise
If you want to get inside someone’s head, you can try copying their behaviour. Those who are good at empathising do it automatically: copying accent, posture, expressions and so on. If you can copy it, you will feel it yourself and then you’ll get a hint of what others are feeling. It’s what actors have known for years: mimicry is a great way of simulating others’ emotional states.

10. Imitate to comprehend
The idea that copying helps us understand others works for thought as well as emotion. In an experiment by Adank (2010), participants found it easier to decipher an unfamiliar accent if they tried to imitate it themselves. Some psychologists go further, claiming that imitating others helps us predict what they are going to do (e.g. Pickering & Garrod, 2007).

To find out more about your own personal mind-body connection take a look at the NLP courses here at Field & Field. If you’re a complete beginner start with our 4-day fully-residential NLP Diploma. If you’ve had some NLP training already our NLP Practitioner training may be for you.

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