Want to Feel Happier, More Confident, and More Powerful? Here’s How.

Want to Feel Happier, More Confident, More Powerful - Let Your Body Talk

Changing feelings and thoughts can be difficult (oh there’s an understatement for you!) but here’s some exciting news … there’s a back door, and it starts with your physical experience – the way you move, your surroundings, even what you’re wearing just to name a few. The research on this is growing – and the findings are fascinating …

Before it was even a concept, we were talking the talk of embodied cognition, using metaphors of physical experience to explain thoughts, feelings, emotional responses.

We talk about feeling ‘weighed down’ by guilt – connecting a physical heaviness to the emotion of guilt. We ‘warm up’ to people, others ‘leave us cold’, tying physical temperature to our emotional reactions to people. We ‘weigh up’ different options, giving heavier weighting to more important considerations. Similarly, when we talk about difficult concepts ‘going over our heads’, we align the idea of something being physically out of reach, to our understanding of a concept being similarly beyond grasp. .

The idea that our thoughts are initiated by our physical experience has been demonstrated by an impressive body of research.

Embracing the metaphor ‘something smells fishy’ – a metaphorical expression of suspicion – a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology explored the embodied cognition in fishy smells.

Researchers found that participants who were incidentally exposed to fishy smells showed increased suspicion about the intentions of others. Those participants also showed less co-operation in a task that required them to trust others to share resources or responsibilities.

Furthermore, when researchers induced suspicion in participants, those participants showed a heightened sensitivity to fishy smells, and greater accuracy in labelling fishy smells, but not other smells such as apple fragrance oil, minced onion, caramel, and orange nectar.

Another study demonstrated how the physical experience of weight influenced the perception of importance. Basing their study on the observation that heavy objects require more effort and have greater impact the body than light objects, researchers found that when people held a heavier weight, they perceived issues as more important.

Clearly not everything that is important is physically weighty – but – when we speak about people dealing with important things – addiction, break-ups, job loss, depression, we speak about how they have ‘fallen hard’, are ‘dealing with some heavy stuff’ or we ask the question, ‘how much harder do they need to fall?’.

Other research has found that participants judged a stranger more favourably when they were seated in a softer, more comfortable chair, than when they were seated in a harder chair. (All participants reported the chairs as feeling ‘normal’.)

Our thoughts, feelings, physical experience and behavior are inextricably linked. They influence each other. Change one, and the others will eventually catch up.

Thoughts and feelings are generally the most difficult to change but the promise of a recent study is that we can change our cognitions – the processes happening in our mind that might be getting in our way – by attending to our bodily experiences.

In the study, researchers found that people with a greater body awareness showed a greater propensity for mind to be influenced by their body.

What does this mean in everyday life?

Bodily experiences can influence cognition without us realising. So much of our behaviour happens before we are even aware that a decision needs to be made – or has been made.

However, by paying attention to our bodily experiences, we can lift the curtain on our seemingly automatic responses, catch them, influence them (by adjusting our physical experience), and modify behaviour.

To feel more powerful, for example, stand tall. It’s no accident that we talk about ‘shrinking away’ from, or ‘standing up to’, people or challenge.

To feel more confident, more powerful and less anxious, adopt a power pose and hold it for two minutes. Think superhero style with your body expanded, chest out, and hands on hips. 

There is a greater chance of being viewed favourably, or receiving a favourable response when the other person is physically comfortable. Perhaps this is why pillow talk is such an important part of relationships. When we feel relaxed, close, comfortable, conversation is more likely to be patient, relaxed, tender.

The metaphors we use everyday are a clue to embodied cognitions.

Thoughts and feelings can sometimes feel like they are impervious to change, as though while we were sleeping they were set in stone, locked in a vault, and guarded by black suited, unsmiling security guards. The rub is that behaviour, whether healthy or otherwise, shoots out from whatever is happening upstairs.

The good news is that there is a back door, accessible by paying attention to and modifying our bodily experiences. A behaviour, attitude, thought or feeling that isn’t working so well can be shifted by changing something in the physical environment – temperature (warm up to/ freeze out), comfort (soften up/ harden up), posture (open up to or stand up to (the positive)/ shut down to or shrink away from (the negative)), music (calm/powerful/energetic/sleepy), lighting (light up/dim down). Difficult conversation? Offer the comfy chair. Want someone to warm to your point of view? Check the temperature of the room.

The marketers and savvy store owners are already onto this, luring us with colour, images, lighting, music, smells – all without us realising. (Campbell’s Soup have increased sales by removing a spoon and adding steam (which embodies warmth) to their in-store displays.)

Armed with the knowledge that our cognitions are influenced by our bodily experiences, you have a sweet spot for effecting more positive behaviours and responding to the world more effectively.

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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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