The Surprising Power of the Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel is the apt subtitle of Sian Beilock‘s new book How the Body Knows Its Mind.
From the publisher’s description of How the Body Knows Its Mind:
At the heart of How the Body Knows Its Mind is the tantalizing idea that our bodies ‘hack’ our brains. The way we move affects our thoughts, our decisions, and even our preferences for particular products. Called ’embodied cognition,’ this new science—of which Beilock is a foremost researcher—illuminates the power of the body and its physical surroundings to shape how we think, feel, and behave. Beilock’s findings are as varied as they are surprising. For example, pacing around the room can enhance creativity; gesturing during a speech can help ensure that you don’t draw a blank; kids learn better when their bodies are part of the learning process; walking in nature boosts concentration skills; Botox users experience less depression; and much more.
Per Kirkus Reviews, another example: “…the fad of laughter clubs, where the evening starts with forced laughter that then becomes ‘spontaneous and contagious.’Forcing a smile or a laugh can actually help to change mood—’our body has a direct line to our mind, telling us how to feel.'”
Because this mind-body connection starts immediately in our lives, Beilock emphasizes that children should be provided certain opportunities for movement. For older kids Beilock encourages more physical activity at school, both for the sake of academic achievement and mental health. There are four “R’s” as far as she’s concerned—the fourth being recess.
And movement isn’t just for kids—it helps adults too. Active adults, especially those who engage in aerobic exercise regularly, have improved brain health.
Some of her suggestions for improving the body-mind connection, taken verbatim:
- Take active breaks from work or vexing problems to give your brain a chance to regroup and reboot. Physically walking away from the problem for a few minutes may help you solve it.
- Your body’s posture and expressions are not just reflections of your mind—they can influence your mood. Stand tall to help give yourself confidence and to send a signal to those around you that you have brought your “A” game to the table. And be mindful of your facial expressions. Your brain uses your expressions as cues to feel emotions. Smiling can actually make you feel happier.
- Practice in the real conditions under which you will have to perform—whether it’s public speaking, a test or an important match. It’s also good to practice in front of others so when all eyes are on you, it’s nothing new.
- Write it out. Journaling can help you deal with the stress of a test or your worries in daily life. Physically downloading worries from your mind (by putting pen to paper) has positive performance outcomes and reducing that stress affects your health in good ways, too.
- Spend time in nature as often as you can, and find time to meditate. New science shows that a walk in the woods rejuvenates our minds and improves our ability to pay attention and focus. Meditation for even a few minutes a day can help alleviate anxiety and chronic pain. It also can help with self-control that may be helpful for working to break bad habits, like smoking.
Publishers Weekly: “While her explanations are thought provoking, they rely on varying conceptions of the term ‘body,’ weakening the central argument and making it hard to follow. It’s unlikely that readers will come away with a new understanding of cognition, but Beilock does offer an unconventional perspective that will, at the very least, stimulate the mind.”