Most people are familiar with the idea of a mind/body connection. We typically think of this as being the power of our thoughts to impact our body. However, did you know that your body’s position can affect your mind as well? Research shows us that the association between our brains and our bodies is a two-way street.
“Embodied cognition” is the term for the interdependent and collaborative relationship between the brain and body. Shaun Gallagher, director of the cognitive science program at the University of Central Florida was quoted in a recent blog: “In any particular instance, what’s going on inside the brain in large part may depend on what’s going on in the body as a whole, and how that body is situated in its environment.”
Upright posture affects confidence. Research published in 2009 showed that people who were sitting up straight were more likely to be confident in the things they were asked to write about themselves. People who slouched were less confident of their own thoughts.
Use of non-dominant side of your body builds creativity. It may be no accident that many creative people are left-handed. Forced to operate in a right-hand-dominated world, lefties create new, usual neural connections. Run backwards or use your non-dominant hand for a short time each day to build mental capacity and even slow the aging process.
Exercise prepares your brain for learning. Dr. John J. Ratey of Harvard says, “We really need to think about exercise to keep the brain functioning well, and that it also happens to be good for the body.” Numerous studies show that rigorous activity (at least 40 minutes four times a week) improves your brain’s functioning, regardless of age. While exercise doesn’t make you smarter, it does prep the brain for learning. Our bodies were made to move, and we must do so vigorously and regularly to maintain optimal circuits in the brain.
Body position impacts memory.You’ve left an important client meeting and are struggling to remember a vital detail. Improve your chances of recalling the information by assuming a body position similar to the one you maintained in the meeting. Like smells, textures or emotions, body position is a strong mental trigger for memory.
Emotional response depends upon body position. Psychological Science reported on research showing that people’s brains responded differently to anger-inducing stimuli, depending upon their body position. People who were lying down experienced less activity in the left prefrontal cortex (where anger is “located” in the brain) than people who were sitting up. Some researchers believe that the upright body position signals a sort of “I’m ready” state in the brain, making it more prone to react angrily. Similarly, the simple act of smiling (or frowning less) has been correlated with increased happiness, even when the smiling was forced. In fact, people whose ability to frown has been limited due to botox injections were found to be happier and less anxious, even if they did not feel more attractive.
Your body influences your mind. So what? Here’s a summary of leadership to-dos that will help your body influence your brain in positive ways:
Sit up straight. Use your non-dominant or weaker side. Exercise vigorously. Use your body to remember. Smile. Angry? Lay down. Pretty soon your brain and body will be in sync, ready to tackle any challenge – intellectual or emotional – that comes your way.