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"To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing": linking this with embodied cognition (2nd post)

(This post & the previous one in the series are downloadable combined into a Word doc or a PDF file)

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes."   Proust

"Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."    Rumi

"Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men."   Confucius

I recently wrote an initial post entitled "To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing: zazen, associative thinking & value-driven behaviour" where I linked the teaching of the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki with insights from the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, recent research findings on embodied cognition, and the centrality of our values.  In today's post I'd like to discuss these ideas further.

Personal values are important for our health.  This point is well made in the post "Purpose in life: reduces dementia risk, increases life expectancy, treats depression and builds wellbeing" and then extended in "Purpose in life: reconnecting to meaning & values"Values (unlike goals) aren't something I intend to work towards in the future ... they are about how I want to live right now ... more like a compass bearing I use to direct my journey by than like a destination that I have to travel towards to reach.  So how can we clarify what our key values are? It may be we simply know already, or we become clear very quickly once we start to think about it. A fun, helpful approach I often use here is "The respected figures" exercise (downloadable as a Word doc & as a PDF file). Do try it if you haven't already come across it ... or even if you have, it can be well worth repeating occasionally.  And it makes lots of sense to write (or speak) more fully about the most important personal values that emerge.  See the practical post "Therapeutic writing and speaking: inspiration from values (specific instructions)" and the very real benefits in increased resilience & wellbeing that are associated with this kind of reconnection.

It's likely to be very helpful to remind ourselves regularly of our values.  There are so many useful ways that we can do this ... through meditation or prayer, through reading, writing, pictures, inspiring quotations, music, through objects we carry ... see for example ideas from the posts on "Boosting self-compassion & self-encouragement ... " and from those on "Power objects, power postures, power clothes, power prayers: all ways to facilitate change".  I have already written about "power postures", saying "Of course it's obvious that how we feel affects our facial expression, our posture, our movement. Now, there's a wealth of current and emerging research showing that how we hold our face, how we position our body, how we move, powerfully affects how we think, feel & act. It even rapidly affects our biochemistry - see, for example, the 2010 paper "Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance" with its abstract reading "Humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures. But can these postures actually cause power? The results of this study confirmed our prediction that posing in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications (for a fuller description see http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6461.html)." 

In subsequent work, the research has underlined how embodied warmth & caring are often more important than embodied competence & power ... but both personally chosen compassion and personally chosen power are crucial.  Visit Harvard Business School's website to get access to the full text of researcher Amy Cuddy's papers.  I find the quite long 2011 overview - "The dynamics of warmth and competence judgments, and their outcomes in organizations" - particularly interesting.  Do look at section 4 in this paper (pages 42 to 49) with its very helpful advice about body posture, movement & facial expressions involved in warmth and competence.  For warmth/caring, the paper discusses eye contact, nodding, body orientation, openness, touch, relaxation and particularly smiling.  The great meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has written quite extensively about smiling.  He has commented "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."  You might enjoy the short article "Remember to smile" by him with it's gentle suggestions for relaxation, smiling, mindfulness & appreciation.  Possibly surprisingly, it may be worth checking out your smile in a mirror.  Very recent research - "Facial self-imitation: Objective measurement reveals no improvement without visual feedback" - underlines the helpfulness of linking visual input ("This is what it looks like") with proprioceptive feedback ("This is what it feels like").

 I have written extensively about this - see "Embodied cognition: posture & feelings", "Embodied cognition: muscle & willpower" and "Embodied cognition: what to do" with its comment: "Do it now! We can respond constructively to this increasing understanding of body-mind connections right now! How we hold our bodies now is affecting how we feel. Our facial expression now affects our thinking. How we move changes how we experience ourselves. How do I want to be at the moment - determined & strong? friendly & interested? happy & appreciative? peaceful & relaxed? We can start right now by allowing our posture, our face, our movement to have these qualities. Emotional states are complex interconnections of feelings, thoughts, images, memories, body states, impulses and behaviours. Altering one aspect of this mix has knock-on effects on all other aspects. Our bodies are a great, easily alterable doorway into this whole interlinked system - and wherever we are, we have our bodies. Wherever we are, we can make choices that affect how we want to feel, think and act ... The research findings detailed in "Embodied cognition: posture & feelings" and "Embodied cognition: muscle & willpower" (and in subsequently emerging publications) open up a whole, exciting avenue of applications - in therapy, in work environments, in our personal lives - both to combat psychological distress more effectively and also to grow our wellbeing & how we function in the world." 

And we can usefully link this as well to visualisation exercises, for example using "Implementation intentions" to take work on values & embodied cognition forward into our thoughts, feelings & behaviours during our daily lives.  In the next post - "To reach the other shore with each step of the crossing": a brief embodied cognition meditation exercise" - I detail a twelve breath practice that can be fun, centering and surprisingly helpful.  


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