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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‘Brave’ doesn’t always feel like certain, or strong, or ready. In fact, it rarely does. That what makes it brave.♥️
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #parentingtips
We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting

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