Your Body Can Change Your Thoughts

I don’t know if you’re already aware of this, but your body is doing your thinking.

In the Guardian’s excellent This Column Will Change Your Life, Oliver Burkeman summarises the basic idea of embodied cognition as “the striking idea that thinking, in some sense, is done by means of the body.”

Which implies that if we change what we do, what we think will change automatically. Four tips from Burkeman, backed by research:

  • For added willpower, grip tightly.
  • For perseverance, fold your arms.
  • For recollection, adopt the same posture as when you formed the memory.
  • For creativity, adopt a facial expression or physical posture that contradicts how you’re feeling

And of course, it doesn’t need NLP mastery to know that standing up and moving about is a great way to encourage yourself think more positive thoughts.

Burkeman distinguishes “embodied cognition” from “the power of metaphor” to influence our thoughts, “as in the finding that people who’ve just ascended an escalator give more generously to charity than those who’ve just descended.”

However, I think he’s mistaken. In fact, metaphor is exactly how embodied cognition works: thinking is done by means of the body… with metaphor as a crucial part of the body’s thinking mechanism.

Which is why Clean Language, with its power to help us perceive people’s subconscious metaphors, is so important.

It enables us to discover what the body is thinking, while the body is thinking it – in a language that both body and brain can understand. That’s the beauty of metaphor.

  • Many thanks to Alistair Donnell for the Burkeman link – I’d missed it. Check out his list of embodied cognition academic journal articles here.

3 Comments

  • Maarten Aalberse

    27/04/2011

    Ah, my favorite topic!
    Wish you could read french, Judy… because I could point you to some fascinating material…

    Coming back to the Burkemen, suggestions: It won’t come as a surprize to you, Judy, that I don’t think it’s that mechanistic. Certain gestures certainly induce certain ways of thinking and feeling, but frequently also… objections to those “other ways”.
    For instance, unclenching a fist can facilitae letting go, and… the person may hold his breath – so in a way the “holding onto” goes somewhere else. Something that can be readily observed when we’re calibrating the *whole* organism

  • Judy

    27/04/2011

    Indeed so!

  • tryne

    27/04/2011

    one of the most immediate and remarkable change methods is actually no method at all! Thats the remarkableness of it. Its no method,just doing. Like diving into water,whatever method, theres the no method of at some stage just diving in.
    leave the manual on the bank,just dive,its like bungee jumping..some stage theres only one way..let go,and dive…then the body fully engages

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