You’ve likely heard plenty about how your mental state can impact your actions and body language. When you’re happy, you’re smiling, walking with some pep in your step, and maybe even busting out into some song and dance. But when things aren’t going your way, you’re more likely to hang your head, mope around, and keep to yourself.
Your mood manifests itself physically, and it happens whether you want it to or not. But what if I told you it worked the other way, too? That you could control your mood, emotions, and other mental capabilities using your physical movements?
There is a whole body of research suggesting that simple physical manipulations can change how you feel and how you react to and perceive information. Embodied cognition is the idea that how you move affects the way that you think and feel. It might be hard to believe, but some research even indicates that holding a pencil between your teeth when you’re upset can actually make you feel happy. The muscles in your face required to hold the pencil in place (horizontally, of course), are the same that you use to smile. When they become activated, they send pleasure signals to your brain that can, in turn, change your mood.
On the flipside, according to a BBC report, a study found that people receiving Botox to reduce laughter lines often feel decreased happiness following injections.
The point is that perhaps we are more than our minds. Your physical environment and how you react to it could be just as important to your mood and learning as what you perceive in your head. This is of particular interest because it might give you more control over how you feel, which can lead to improved mood, increased relaxation, greater confidence, and a boost in your overall positivity. Here are some ways your physicality can alter your mood.
Lie Down for Creativity and Problem Solving
When I need to clear my head, come up with some new ideas, or figure something out, I lie down. It works quite well for me. I find my creativity increases, I see options and ideas I didn’t see before, and my mind’s ability to find solutions increases greatly. Even though my body is inactive or looks like it’s resting, there’s a flurry of activity inside my brain. And apparently this doesn’t work for just me, either. Research has indicated that laying down stimulates insight. The study showed that people experienced greater success solving anagram puzzles when they were lying down compared to when they were standing. If you need a moment of clarity or are looking for some way to get yourself out of a bind, consider laying down.
Relax to Make Important Decisions
If you’ve ever made a snap decision in a stressful situation, you can likely see why this is a great idea. When you’re angry and the adrenaline is flowing or when you’re overly excited and happy, you’ll make decisions based solely on emotion. In some cases, these reactionary decisions could end up costing you. When possible, avoid making decisions under duress and do so in a relaxed state. Do whatever you need to cool down; go for a walk, do some reading, or go sit in the park. When you’re relaxed, weigh your options to help you make unclouded decisions that are likely to yield the best results. When you’re relaxed, you’re more prepared to hear and absorb new information, too.
Walk Your Way to Positivity
Studies have shown that you can improve your mood and better remember positive information if you’re carrying yourself in a way that projects happiness. Keeping your chin up, having a bounce in your step, and making sure your shoulders are up and your arms are swinging can help you retain information you want to remember, while allowing your mind to follow your body’s lead.
Other areas where your body can lead your mind are through posture and strength. For example, research has shown that when you’re feeling afraid or weak, making yourself open and big can create comfort and confidence. So when you’re sitting at the table for an important meeting, uncross your arms and roll your shoulders back; create an image of confidence that will boost your spirits. You can also make it through trying times by tensing your muscles. Pulling your muscles tight (essentially making your body feel strong) can make it easier to bear bad tastes, fight temptation, and hear difficult information.
Your body and your mind are connected in a number of ways, with each taking cues from the other. But realize that you do have power. When your mind is holding you down or making you feel unhappy, confused, or frustrated, you are not powerless. Try some of these ideas and see if they will work for you. Allow your body to lead your mind sometimes; after all, your brain could use the rest!
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Cosmetic injections depression link,” BBC News Health web site, July 25, 2013; http://www.bbc.com/news/health-22106569, last accessed January 9, 2015.
Fischer, J., et al., “Empower my decisions: The effects of power gestures on confirmatory information processing,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology November 2011; 47(6): 1146–54.
Haddon, A., “9 Surprising Ways Your Body Can Influence Your Mind,” Harper’s Bazaar web site, December 13, 2014; http://www.harpersbazaar.com/beauty/health-wellness-articles/how-your-body-influences-your-mind?%3Fsrc=rss.
Hung, I.W. and Labroo, A.A., “From Firm Muscles to Firm Willpower: Understanding the Role of Embodied Cognition in Self-Regulation,” Journal of Consumer Research April 2011; 37(6): 1046–64.
Linicki, D.M. and Byrne, D.G., “Thinking on your back: Solving anagrams faster when supine than when standing,” Cognitive Brain Research August 2005;24(3): 719–22.
McNerney, S., “A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain,” Scientific American web site, November 4, 2011; http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/11/04/a-brief-guide-to-embodied-cognition-why-you-are-not-your-brain/, last accessed January 9, 2015.
Strack, F., et al., “Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: a nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology May 1988; 54(5): 768–77.