Embodiment Practices: Getting Unstuck & Seeing the Bigger Picture

Posted by Maud Raber & Madelanne Rust D'Eye - 21 November, 2019

Ever get that feeling, where after days, weeks, or even months of hard work, your team can’t seem to move forward? The way you are working remains stuck in an ineffective, repetitive cycle, which defies logic, and from which there seems to be no way out, despite your best efforts. And in the meantime, important deadlines - and potentially valuable opportunities - are passing by. 

Situations like these bring us up against the limitations of our present ways of thinking -  whether it’s relying too heavily on a decision-making strategy, a particular interpretation of events, or a singular source of information. These situations also show us our assumptions. Every way of working has its limits and getting stuck can be a harsh reminder of this when a previously winning formula no longer works. Maybe you always deal with conflict with a colleague by leaving the conversation so the same issue keeps coming up. When you feel extremely busy, you might work many hours of overtime but not feel like you put a dent in the to-do list.


When these situations happen, there’s an opportunity to shift focus by experimenting with seeking and taking different perspectives. At RISE we are interested in how paying attention to how the embodied nature of our experience can help us to gain access to greater choice. We understand embodiment as the subjective experience of our bodies as being an integral aspect of the (individual and collective) self. By paying attention to our bodies, we bring more awareness to “how we are,” as a whole person, in a given moment; and we develop our capacity for skill, versatility, and choice about how we participate, and what elements of leadership we engage. This could include things like the space you take up in a room, in terms of posture. Are you fidgeting? Do you have backache? Maybe you have noticed your heart beating faster.

Embodiment involves tuning in to informational channels that are sensory: including sensation, emotion, impulse, and image. This information channel is a powerful one. It has been demonstrated to be the true decision-maker (many times faster than cognition) - as Antonio Damasio demonstrates. It is where right-brain creative and emotional processes are accessed. And, it is the sight of the non-linear associative process. So if you feel stuck in a particular situation, what past or potential future scenario is it linking with from the group’s or individuals’ subconscious, which might in itself contain crucial information? For example, if you are disagreeing on a topic with your colleague, are you associating this with a similar disagreement which happened a month ago and responding accordingly? An awareness of this could help you move forward.

Here are a few simple practices you can do to start to experiment with paying greater attention to what is going on with your body. If you have never tried anything like this before (and even if you have) it can feel a bit awkward. We invite you to give it a try, despite that discomfort. 

Noticing sensation
Take a moment to centre yourself, and then “scan” your body with your attention, perhaps starting from your feet and working your way up. What sensations are present? Try not to judge them as “good” or “bad”, simply welcome each one as you encounter it. This practice gives you access to your “implicit” associative memory process and can reveal responses and reactions you didn’t even know you were having.

Opening up the visual field - The "Owl's Eyes"
What better way to broaden your perspective than to try to physically open up your visual field? By changing how you orient your attention, it might impact how you see and think about a situation.  

Try this alone first - as you get more comfortable you can choose to venture out into a more public setting so you develop the capacity to do this in more challenging situations. Extend your arms straight in front of you, turning your two thumbs up in front of you. Practice slowly moving them apart from each other sideways along a horizontal line. Try to include both of your fingers and all the visual field in between them in one gaze. When you notice that you have arrived at the maximum current breadth of your visual field, see if you can keep for a moment this open perspective and rest into it, by softening your eye muscles. Can you get used to taking in more information, literally “seeing a bigger picture”, without needing to put in a lot of effort? As the latest research in embodied cognition has proved increasingly over the last years, our movement in space and our relation to people and objects in space enable us to develop cognitive, emotional and behavioural abilities and to learn to access and process an increasingly dense amount and complex quality of information.  

An executive I have been working with recently shared his experience of using this practice. He was in a board meeting, going through a budget negotiation and noticed in his frustration with a team member that he was tensing his stomach, bringing his upper body forward, clenching his fists and getting warmer. He was thinking “They really don’t get this. If only they let go of their rigidity!”. The act of noticing his physical tension meant he was better able to choose his reaction. His habitual reaction would be to step in with a “my way or the highway” response. However, he acknowledged that there might be better ways.  He centred himself for a couple of seconds (relaxing the tension in his belly, tongue and shoulders, sensing his feet on the ground and uplifting his spine in a relaxed way) and then he practised broadening his visual field in the room. He noticed that when doing this he felt more curious and creative, and found himself asking silently the question “What else? What am I not seeing that is meaningful to consider here?” - Maud

Stepping into movement
When we feel stuck for creative ideas, understandings or insights it can be useful to get up and move. Walking, stretching or noticing your breathing literally brings more oxygen and energy into your body and changes the status quo.

Try this: the next time that you feel stuck when trying to resolve an issue try clarifying the question you are trying to solve (maybe noting it down on a sheet of paper), then just let it sit there without straining to think about it. Take yourself on a 10-20 minute walk outside, somewhere that is appealing to you. Focus on the sensation of your feet on the ground and the flow of your breath, let your attention flow where it wants to flow (a squirrel, the sound of a car, what you plan to cook for dinner, etc). When you return to your desk, notice what ideas may have come to you - what new perspectives might you have? 

Don’t have time for a walk? That’s ok, try standing up and follow any impulse to stretch or move that your body may have, then move around the room, you could get a drink, and then look at the room in different ways. What new perspectives or ideas may have become available to you now? These are certainly not quick-fix solutions, but giving yourself some movement and a break from such intense focusing can be very useful.

Other practices?

What other practices do you have for getting “unstuck” or seeing the bigger picture? 

Please let us know. If you gave the practices a try and they weren’t useful, please also let us know. Or, if you feel very resistant to trying them, we would be interested to hear why.

We will be holding a webinar on Tuesday 3rd December - click below to find out more and sign up.

 

Banner image photo credit: Thierry Mesnard Photography

Topics: Leadership, Embodiment

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