We spend a lot of time thinking. I mean, a lot. And certainly one of the greatest gifts we have as humans is the ability to think about what we are thinking about, which is also known as metacognition. But one of our other greatest gifts is the fact that we have a body. Without it, we wouldn’t get anywhere very easily. Nevertheless, it is something we can ignore until something goes wrong with it. And thanks to Descartes, we continue to carry residue of the idea that our mind and body function independently. When you really “think” about it, that is sort of absurd (Yes, I did just make one statement to argue with an integral point in Descartes’ philosophy). But what is the value of our body then besides the obvious? Can it make us better leaders at work and in our lives? Absolutely.
Shusterman (2006) acknowledges the role of the body in accomplishing goals and increasing self-efficacy through his application of Somaesthetics, which is the “use, appreciation, and knowledge of one’s own body.” He sees physical movement as one of the greatest expressions of free will and thus our own agency. He also posits that all great thinkers can improve their awareness and regulation of action by training this sensitive somatic instrument. He specifically cites the use of the breath as a means to greater calm and to ease of thinking and action. The greatest yogis and mediation experts know this, too. Moreover, the use of movement and the body in practices, such as yoga, are a means of developing the harmonious functioning of the person as an integrated whole instead of seeing the body and the mind as separate. The body and our attention to it impacts our cognitive processes, our ability to absorb knowledge, and of course, our ability to move to accomplish any goal. Similar to Shusterman, Mutrie and Faulkner (2004) cite research that supports regular physical movement as a direct treatment of mental disorders and establish the link between physical activity, the brain, and well-being. These authors also find that physical activity is capable of strengthening self-efficacy, creating a feeling of control, and influencing optimism as well.
So, what’s the practical application of this? Well, consider the following: How often do you sit still and forget that your legs haven’t moved in over an hour? Probably too often. Research shows that prolonged sitting contributes to a deterioration of our overall health and doesn’t allow us to do our best thinking. Getting up from your desk every 45 minutes or at least every hour is a great way to keep the brain working well and to take care of your sensitive somatic instrument. And don’t talk to me about meetings! If you’re setting up meetings that last longer than an hour (which I seriously don’t recommend unless absolutely necessary), it is worth giving people a break at the one hour mark. That is, only if you want their best input.
What works well for you? How do you take care of your body as well as your mind?