The way we think about the world comes from our body, not from our mind. If I like somebody, I might say, “I have warm feelings for her.” Why would my feelings be warm? Why wouldn’t I say, “I have orange feelings for her”? It’s probably because, when my mother held me as an infant, I was nice and toasty warm. I didn’t feel orange. I express my thoughts through metaphors that come from my body.
We all know that our minds affect our bodies. If I’m in a good mood mentally, my body may feel better as well. As I’ve noted before, the reverse is also true. It’s hard to stay mad if I force myself to smile.
The general field is referred to as metaphor theory or, more generally, as embodied cognition. Simply put, our bodies affect our thinking. Our brains are not digital computers, after all. They’re analog computers, using bodily metaphors to express our thoughts.
As it happens, I’ve used embodied cognition for years without realizing it. Before giving a big speech, I stand up straighter, flex my muscles, stretch out and up, and force myself to smile for 30 seconds. Then I’m ready. I didn’t realize it but I was practicing my bodily metaphors. I can speak more clearly (stand up straight), more powerfully (muscle flexing), and more cheerfully (smile), because of my warm-up routine.
My warm-up routine actually changes my hormones. As Amy Cuddy points out in her popular TED talk, practicing “power poses” for two minutes increases testosterone and reduces cortisol. The result is more dominance (testosterone) and less stress (cortisol). My body is priming me to give an exceptionally good speech. As Cuddy notes, it could also make me much more successful in a job interview.
I’m growing accustomed to the thought that the way I hold or move my body directly affects my thinking and mood. But what about my internal monologue? I talk to myself all the time. Is that a good thing? Do the words that I use in my monologue affect my thinking and behavior?
The answer is yes – for better and for worse. My “self-talk” affects how I perceive myself and that, in turn, affects how I behave. It’s also important how I address myself. Do I speak to myself in the first person – “I can do better than that.” Or do I speak to myself as someone else would speak to me – “Travis, you can do better than that.”
According to a recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the way I address myself makes a world of difference. If I speak as another person would address me, I gain more self-distance and perspective. I also reduce stress and make a better first impression. I can also give a better speech and will engage in “less maladaptive postevent processing”. (Whew!) In other words, I can perform better and feel better simply by choosing the right words in my internal monologue.
So, what’s it all mean? Take better care of your body to take better care of your mind. As my father used to say: “Look sharp, be sharp”. Oh… and watch your language.
(For an excellent article on how the field of embodied cognition has evolved, click here).