The relationship between the mind and the body has been the subject of philosophical speculation for millennia. Here at MSB Executive we enjoy a bit of chin scratching, and it is a favourite topic of ours. Many of our team have professional training and experience as actors, which has given us a unique insight into the mind-body connection. Our understanding of it might surprise you. Yet it lies at the heart of what we do in our coaching sessions and workshops.
We all know that how we feel (inside) affects how we behave (outside). When I feel confident, I have a smile and a spring in my step. I speak brightly and energetically. When I feel stressed, I have a frown and hunched shoulders. My voice is downbeat.
If it is true that mental tension produces physical tension, it follows that by addressing our mental state, we can improve our physical state. The idea that the mind has power to bring about material change has become widespread in recent decades. The self-help bookshelves are filled with promises that we can think ourselves well, think ourselves happy, even think ourselves rich! If we change our mindset, we can change our lives.
Yet changing your mindset is not easy! Habits of thinking have deep roots and are hard to dig out, even with hours of expert support. So is there a way I can get my mojo back other than a mindset reboot?
The good news is that there is another way, and it involves practical tools and techniques that are within easy reach. And here’s the surprise: the mind-body connection works both ways. In other words, you can also work from the outside in. Simply walk up and down the corridor with a spring in your step, and let the mind take care of itself.
Can the body really lead the mind? Here at MSB Executive, we know it can. We actors experience and express a greater range of feelings than most people. I have felt gleeful, furious, scheming, blithe, hateful, hated and many shades of murderous. How on earth do I summon up all these feelings night after night?
There are two approaches I can take. Imagine that my director decides that just before ‘To be or not to be’, Hamlet is in the depths of misery and rage. We agree that to show this emotion, I must cry. So I search back for a time in childhood when I felt similar misery and rage. If I properly imagine myself back into that moment and let the feelings wash through me, the tears will come. (This technique is called Emotional Recall.)
However, six months into a run, when I am dredging up the memory for the hundred-and-fiftieth time, it has lost all its power to affect me. So I decide to try out the second approach. In the wings, I work from the outside by physicalising Hamlet’s emotion. I clench my fists and raise my shoulders. I look at the floor. I hold my mouth slightly open so my throat dries. I stop blinking so my eyes water. And I breathe in a sobbing pattern: several short sharp breaths in, followed by a long sigh out. Something strange begins to happen. A feeling of utter desolation washes through me. By the time I stagger onto stage, I am wretched and bereft.
Clearly we are not looking to promote misery and rage in our work with clients! But the fantastic news is that the same trick works with the feelings we do want to promote, especially confidence. Therefore, while you work with our excellent coaching team on new habits of thinking, we will also suggest new physical habits you can take on. These could be as simple as a different way of sitting, standing, using your hands, pronouncing a word, breathing. Not only will you look and sound happier and confident, but the feelings will follow. No special equipment required!