Physiology: A Launch Pad for Personal Transformation

 

If there is one lesson to take away from the mainstream self help industry- this is probably it.

Tony Robbins- likely the most famous personal development figure of all- is one of the pioneers when it comes to the power of physiology.  Throughout his various books and audio programs, he affirms that our emotions are a product of 2 things.
1. Our physiology (the way we move our body)
2. The questions we ask our
self (either consciously or unconsciously).

 

For the sake of this conversation, we will focus on purely the importance that physiology plays in our emotions and our subjective experience.

 

Ironically when I started reading personal development back a few years ago I started with the topic of body language and appearance. I was completely focused on my external appearance, posture, gestures, outer confidence and the reaction that I was eliciting in others. Though this approach does not deal with the inner world that we know to be so important, it is ironic how my journey has come full circle. Now years later I see the incredible value in focusing on our physiology, but for different reasons. Adopting Robbins’ belief that 80% of the way we feel (emotionally) is a product of the way we move our body (our physiology). I have spent the past 9 months working with my physiology extensively and I can attest to its effectiveness. Prior to focusing on my physiology, I have spent hours trying to think my way out of anxious, depressive and unresourceful emotional states, only to find that they get worse and spiral way out of control. Now I can get out of these negative states by simple breathing deeper and more fully, or putting a big smile on my face, or jumping up and down, or by relaxing and dropping my shoulders back and down. Overall, I have found that physiology is truly the control panel to our emotions.

 

Tony Robbins is the perfect example of how powerful of a factor physiology is in creating our emotions and the way we operate in the world.  If you watch Tony Robbins in his new documentary you will see how much he has mastered his physiology. He performs these strange rituals that get his body into state and condition his nervous system to move, breathe and operate in certain way. In one part you see him jumping on a mini trampoline. In another scene he is working on his posture while doing a breathing exercise and pumping his arms up and down. Before he gets on stage, he performs certain gestures and incantations. While on stage, his physiology is incredibly relaxed, with his shoulders back and down. This contributes to his incredible level of certainty and emotional mastery. He has been doing this stuff for the last 30+ years and his dedication to these practices is clearly second to none. He didn’t get this physiological and emotional mastery over night, he did it over day after day, month after month and year after year.  This display of mastery and the power of daily rituals, performed for weeks, months, years and decades is a theme that will be referenced over and over.

In spite of my understanding of physiology I still find myself experiencing bad moods.  I still get anxious at times.  I still get irritable. What I notice is that when I am in these states I have the tendency to go up in my head and try to think my way out of them and solve them rationally. I get super analytical and start to ask questions like “what must I believe to be feeling this way?”  A great example of this transpired earlier this year.  About six months ago, I was on my way to pick up this girl for a date and I was feeling pretty anxious. It was a shitty feeling. I was tense and my thoughts were racing and I kept trying to think my way out of it. But the more questions I asked myself, the worse my emotional state seemed to get. I had only about ten minutes left in my drive until I was going to pick her up and I was freaking out over the thought that “if I show up in this emotional state, this date is going to be terrible and will be no fun”. Then finally something that a mentor of mine has said to me a hundred times popped up in my head: “80% of the way you feel is determined by the way you move your body”. I realized my car seat was quite erect so I instantly reclined my seat back a bit, which put me in a more relaxed, laid back posture. Then I started to breathe fully and really exhaled under a 4-5 second count. Prior to that I was breathing very shallow. Then I put a smile on my face and started to laugh and think about a funny experience I had in the past. In the matter of a few seconds, my entire demeanor changed. I was now loose, fun and playful, but I didn’t make this shift by thinking my way through it. I made this shift through my physiology- mainly my posture, breathing and facial expressions. As William James said- “we’re happy because we sing, NOT we sing because we’re happy”.

The power of physiology in relationship to our emotional state is not just something Tony Robbins made up.  It is empirically supported by Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research and detailed in her Ted talk and her best selling book Presence.  Mike Cernovich, a popular self help blogger, also illustrates the importance of physiology in his book Gorilla Mindset .

To add the evidence, there was a study where they had severely depressed patients force a smile in front of a mirror for 2 hours per day. After a month they were no longer depressed. It was impossible for them to be. They had rewired and reconditioned their physiology (and subsequently their neurology) so they were no longer able to live in that depressed emotional state on a consistent basis.

Different people have different triggers. Some may respond better to posture, some may be more reliant on their breathing. But all 3 facets are important to focus on. So here is the actual equation for mastering your emotional state and therefore your experience in life:

So how do you truly master your physiology and get to this level of mastery? I wouldn’t recommend implementing everything at once. You take one part of your physiology and master it for 30 days. And by master it, I mean you constantly focus on it for every waking moment of the day. Write reminders on sticky notes and leave them in your room, by your computer, in the bathroom, in your car, etc. Wear a rubberband on your wrist to remind you to focus on it. These symbols are to remind you to enact this change at every second of your waking consciousness. After these 30 days this habit will be formed and it will be a way of being. Then you can spend the next 30 days mastering another aspect of your physiology. Truly creating a new habit in your physiology has the power to transform your world. What are some examples of what I’m talking about?

 

1. Facial expression- live with a constant grin on your face. Determine what that slight grin looks and feels like- that gives you that feeling of joy, contentment, playfulness or whatever empowering emotion you want to cultivate more of. At every moment, hold this facial expression. Live in this facial expression. Obviously your old habitual conditioning will cause your face to return to it’s default state, that is okay, don’t get mad at yourself- be compassionate to yourself if you catch yourself not practicing the new habit. Just when you see these reminders, instantly put this grin on your face. Try to spend all day with this facial expression.
2. Breathing- breathe deeply. Inhale through your nose and exhale fully through your mouth. Feel your belly expand on the inhale then return to it’s normal position. This is what I have been doing for the past 60 days. It has completely changed my emotional experience. I have seen that this has been an incredible pattern interrupt too. Every time I have a negative thought or feeling in my gut, I have noticed that deep and full breathing instantly changes my focus and releases the tension within me. Breathing is probably the greatest tool in all of personal development and psychology. What I have seen is that when something happens either internally or externally to me that causes distress, worry, anxiety, etc, my mind starts to race and this horrible feeling arises in my gut. I begin to identify with the source of this angst and my body follows. My breathing stops and gets really shallow. But when I interrupt this pattern and I focus on breathing fully, after about 4 or 5 breaths I begin to feel unstoppable. I seem to detach from the anxious feelings and thoughts by merely focusing on my breath and deepening it.  I also found out that I come to the realization, “Wow I’m still breathing, I’m still alive. This little thing or condition can’t really hurt me. This isn’t going to kill me”. It’s truly amazing the power of breathing.  On a side note, this is also why the martial arts are so powerful.
3. Posture- relax your shoulders so they move down and back, let your head sit comfortably on top of them so it is not protruding out and jolted forward. Make sure your chest is up. Find that posture that makes you feel really relaxed and do the same thing as the above exercises. Make it point to live in that for 30 days.

The reason you should only focus on one of these little things for 30 days (rather than integrating all of it) is so that you guarantee your success and ensure you are laser focused. I also realized that the past week, though I have only been obsessed and focused on my breathing, that my posture and facial expressions have improved incidentally and “come along for the ride”.  It is almost like they are all interconnected and communicate with each other in some way. When I start to breathe more fully, I realize that often times by shoulders and posture become more relaxed, as well as my tight face begins to loosen and grin.

The real power this 30 day challenge has over your life is that by constantly adjusting an aspect of your physiology, you are performing a very strong pattern interrupt. This pattern interrupt that you are performing every minute, all day, is incredibly powerful because it is breaking you out of the trance called your life. So often we live in a trance, going from one thing to another with no awareness of our thoughts, emotions or our surroundings. We just operate on auto-pilot and wonder why we do what we do. This pattern interrupt you will repeat hundreds, if not thousands of times during a single day will make you more mindful and break yourself of  the habit of being yourself. Joe Dispenza is the author of Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, and this exercise repeated hundreds of times throughout the day is the most simple and effective tool of breaking your old patterns and rewiring your neurology, physiology (and eventually your identity). This has the potential to help you detach and not over-identify with your emotions, your reputation, your performance, and your results. 
 
I look back at everything I read and I now laugh, I read over 300 books over the past 3 years. I kept wanting more and more knowledge. I wasn’t going to stop until I found the secret. I was exhausting my brain with content and information. I didn’t need anything more going into my brain. I needed to change the way I feel, the emotions I was experiencing and the world in which I was living in. This is all through experience, emotional intensity and our physiology. This is where books can really go wrong. You live in your head- you’re dead. 
 
Try this and really stick to it. Make it your #1 priority on your to-do list everyday and see what happens after 30 days.
“The real key in life is to be able to make yourself feel good when you don’t feel good, or when you don’t even want to feel good.”
Other great activities that can really help you master your physiology (and thus your psychology).

 

-Anchoring using your whole body (will be discussed in other posts)

-Power posing- abundance pose/etc.

-lifting weights

-martial arts

-intense cardio/interval training

-jumping on a rebounder or trampoline

-dancing

-strong gestures

-meditation

-deep breathing/mindfulness training

-contrast hot/cold showers- forces your body to breath and move differently

-watching funny movies/making a point to laugh hard every day

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