How to Tap into the Wisdom of Your Mind and Your Body

Jane Herman

January 06, 2010

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Our bodies and our minds can serve in glorious partnership to increase our awareness of our environment and situation, to sharpen our decision making, and focus our actions. Unfortunately, sometimes we ignore one of these essential partners or fail to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses, and we do so at our peril. To be able to effectively make use of the contributions of both your body and mind to guide your decision making and actions it is important to understand some basics about the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Our minds “speak to us” in words " as the voices in our heads that lecture, taunt, tempt, support, criticize, encourage us, etc. Our bodies speak to us in the language of physical signs and symptoms (e.g., a churning stomach, tightness in the chest or shoulders, a warmth in our heart region, a quickening in our pulse, and other various sensations throughout our physical being). Often our bodies tell us things our minds have not yet recognized, or are not willing to acknowledge. Our minds, on the other hand, can help us explore the causes of our physical signs and symptoms and thereby lead us to a clearer understanding of what is happening in a given situation, and inform our decisions and actions with a level of subtly and sophistication that our bodies cannot. Understanding how and when to listen to your body and/or your mind is a key success tool.

The Body And The Mind Both Have A Key, But Different, Role In Major Life Decisions

Key life decisions, such as a decision to leave a job or relationship, make a significant geographic move, or change a career path, are not usually made by logic alone. Most of us realize that there is some intuition or gut-sense involved. Strictly logical decisions depend on having accurate information to consider " and yet it is virtually impossible to have all possible information in any given situation, especially since some of the relevant facts simply cannot be known in the present (e.g., What will my new boss be like? Will I ever find another person who loves me as much? Will a new state or country really give me a better living environment?). Also, it is all too easy to get bogged down in a supposedly logical self-debate between “practical considerations” versus “wishes and desires.”

In such situations it is often our bodies that push us to make our final decision. We arrive at a place of physical or emotional uncomfortableness, or actual pain that leads us to say, “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t take this anymore!” and then we decide in an instant. It is as if a switch is thrown " the debate ends and the decision is made. However, once the decision is made, our bodies are often the wrong ones to listen to when trying to figure out how to implement the major decision we have just made. As an example, when deciding to leave a current job situation, when we finally reach the “let-me-out-of-here” stage and make a decision to leave, our bodies usually continue to push us to implement our decision immediately. They want us to get moving, get it over with, so that we can get more comfortable quickly. They don’t care if we get out by telling our boss what a lousy person he/she is, or by writing a scathing email denouncing the business practices of the company we are working for, etc. " they just want us out the door. Thus, after the decision is made, it is often wise to engage your logical mind to help you plan your exit path. Let your body help you to make the decision, and then let your mind help you implement that decision in a way that will yield the best long-term result for you.

Our Bodies Can Alert Us When We Are Out Of Integrity

When we are living in integrity we operate in a state of alignment because our head, heart and feet are all moving in the same direction. But sometimes we drift off course without consciously being aware of it and it is in such situations that our bodies can serve as a sensitive early warning system. They let us know, again through physical sensations, illness, or pain, that something is wrong. They may not have the “language” to describe exactly what the problem is, but they alert us that we are in trouble and had better start looking to discover the cause. It is our logical minds " once alerted by our bodies " that can then delve deeper to uncover the specific nature of the problem so that it can be corrected.

Examples of being out of alignment can include working at a job you hate, living a lifestyle you can’t afford, or putting up with people around you who do not have your best interests at heart. We tolerate these situations because we consciously or unconsciously tell ourselves it is “necessary,” purposely don’t think about things too deeply, or get into robotic mode " simply putting one foot in front of the other without questioning if we are emotionally and spiritually on board with what we are doing.

Feelings Come Faster Than Our Ability To Articulate What Is Going On

Thomas Leonard used to say, “When you become sensitized to the messages your body is sending, you don’t just feel or sense; you naturally respond to events, people, and situations. You don’t have to ‘decide to respond’; when you are highly sensitized, you just do.” In some situations it can be a real advantage to give in to body messages in the form of feelings, senses, and intuitive hunches even before you can fully describe them. In many cases by the time you can explain or fully articulate something the opportunity inherent in the situation may have already passed. A key way to increase your sensitivity is to identify, reduce and eliminate numbing substances (including food and alcohol), behaviors (e.g., watching television, overeating), environments and situations. When you become sufficiently sensitized your body will not permit you to remain in situations which are not good for you " it will revolt even before your mind is willing to admit what is going on.

Sometimes Our Bodies Are Wrong

It is important to recognize that sometimes the messages we believe we are receiving from our bodies don’t mean what we think they do. In order to clearly hear and tap into the true wisdom inherent in the feelings and sensations of your body it is important to keep in mind the following two things:

1. It is critical to differentiate between feelings and emotional reactions:

Feelings are our body’s natural responses to what is currently going on around us in the present moment. Emotional reactions are our body/mind reaction (and quite often negative reaction) to something we are remembering that happened in the past or we are anticipating will happen in the future. Thus, as an example, there is an emotional fear reaction that Molly Gordon describes as “F.E.A.R " Fantasy Expectations Appearing Real - which occurs when FEAR takes unsupported premises about impending doom, amplifies them, and presents the alleged results as inevitable failure.”

2. Due To The Principal of Homeostasis You May Feel The Sensation of Fear or Anxiety Even In Situations That Are Not Bad For You:

Homeostasis is the tendency of a system or organism to stay the same " and it shows up as your bodies desire to stay within its “comfort zone.” Any change in thinking or behavior or environment that pushes you beyond this zone will trigger a fear reaction regardless of whether the change is good or bad for you. The larger the change and the faster the pace of change the stronger the reaction. Thus, when learning to detect and respond to the cues of your body it is essential to differentiate between cues you receive that provide you with valuable information and those that are simply an automatic negative reaction to change.

The Bottom Line

Our bodies and our minds are wise and powerful allies that can inform and support our decisions and actions. However, to make maximum use of their wisdom it is essential to understand the strengths and limitations of each, and the situations under which each speaks truthfully or lies.

Jane Herman is the Personal and Business Success Coach who helps managers, executives, and individuals take control of their lives and reinvent themselves, their careers, or their businesses. To receive a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Jane, and/or sign up for Jane's free Success Tools electronic newsletter, log onto or email her at [email protected].

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