I recently finished reading this book called Presence by Amy Cuddy. She is a social psychologist who’s mostly known for her Ted Talk over 3 years ago, titled, "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” Her recent book goes into further detail about the subject; and how the way in which we move, sit, and present ourselves shapes our minds.
So we all have heard about that mind/body connection. The phrase came into focus about 15 years ago when Pilates and Yoga were gaining momentum in the fitness industry and we started paying attention to how the influence of the mind and body can affect how we move and feel. Joseph Pilates used to say that the mind controlled the body and the mind could and would master the body if we practiced everyday. He didn’t expect people to master his exercises right away but he did say to do Pilates every day and be present and focus your mind on the exercises thus mastering mind over body.
That is certainly true as the muscular skeletal system is the only voluntary system in the body and it is controlled by nerve impulses from our brains that we can control with our thoughts. However, we are now discovering that control goes both ways. We know that our sensory system sends signals to the brain about temperature, touch, smell etc., but the body also sends signals to the brain on our mood interpreting our actions as anger, fear, weakness, anxiety etc. You could say that the mind doesn’t always have feelings, but that the body does and the mind interprets them.
So going back to this idea of nudging.
Nudging came from Cuddy’s book because how we think and move can’t change overnight. Habitual patterns in the body build what I like to call freeways. They are deep neuromuscular tracks. To go off these tracks takes an extreme amount of effort for both mind and body. Anything that requires effort, dedication, and time tends to be rather daunting for us in the 21st century who have lived by immediate gratification. So how can we change these patterns?
After more than 12 years working with clients, what I notice is often they become discouraged when the results they want don’t come overnight. They give up too quickly. My first Pilates studio was called The Pilates Life. I named it that because I saw Pilates as a life choice, not an exercise choice, but the philosophy of mind/body alignment and the balancing of them were things that I could relate to, build upon, and improve in my own daily activities - not just in how I moved.
The concept of Nudging is not making goals that are broad and far reaching but asking yourself what is it you can do now to get you a step forward. So if we decide we want to get in shape, what does that mean? Shape? Then we trudge ourselves to the gym and think of this shape that we want, but it makes no sense. We run on the treadmill. We join a boot camp. We start moving, and after a few weeks we get discouraged because the idea of shape is not specific. It’s not attainable because it’s nebulous. Or worse, we have decided we want to look like a supermodel or have a flat tummy and we are 20 plus pounds over weight. We are reminded everyday of what we are not…. a supermodel or what we don’t have…. a flat tummy. The goal then feels impossible because it is too far or unrealistic. How is this getting us anywhere? We become defeated and we get depressed.
What if we changed this attitude and took out the idea of “shape” or “supermodel” and just said I want to walk 3 miles a day because I have more energy and feel better. This week my goal is to walk 3 miles 3 times a day. Then guess what? We do it. We feel good and then we create another small goal. Maybe it’s 3 and a half miles, or maybe we decide to run those miles instead. The concept of shape or flat tummy is out. Our goal is specific, measurable, and attainable.
As Cuddy says “when you give yourself a self-nudge, the gap between reality and goal is narrow; it’s not daunting, which means your less likely to give up. As a result, your behavior change is more authentic, lasting and self-reinforcing.”
I talk about this with my clients when they have specific problem areas or pain. I start by asking them to make some small postural or movement change with how they sit, stand, work, or even breathe. However, some people struggle with making small reasonable changes because they believe nudging won’t get them anywhere. It happens most often post injury. We want to heal faster and get back to our former selves or better selves. This is where our goals need to change. Over a year ago, this happened to me. My brother had been begging me to go to Crossfit with him. He loves Crossfit. I love that he loves it. He has these small goals and reaches them. It pushes him forward and he has lost several pounds and has energy and gets inspired to try new things. So I went to support him. The Crossfit model is exactly the opposite of the Pilates model, but I like to try other modalities to understand trends and also help my clients along the way if they come to my studio from these places. Well after several squats, jumpboxes, the row machine, and pushing myself to complete exhaustion, I moved to stretch my hamstring, it pops. The kind of pop that as soon as you hear it you say to yourself….”This isn’t good!” I pulled my hamstring. I have never pulled a muscle. My first time at trying Crossfit and I pull a hammy. It took an entire year for that muscle to heal. During that time, I cursed myself because some of my personal goals had to be set aside. I had to baby it, I had to take it slow and I had to listen to my body. Injury is the worst. It defeats us more than anything. So much so that it affects our mood, we start to feel less than a whole person. We think about ourselves pre-injury like this special and unique perfect person. During this time, there were many modifications I had to make during Pilates and Yoga, but what I discovered was something different. I first realized that I had to be patient and realign my goals. Maybe that forearm handstand I had been trying to do in Yoga class had to wait or some of the Pilates exercises I could do before had to be modified or avoided all together. I had to make small changes that improved my progress and when I did, it elevated my mood and encouraged me to keep going. I stopped thinking about my older goals pre-hamstring. The other thing I had to learn was to stop giving my hamstring all the attention. We get obsessed about our injury. We turn off our sensors to other parts of our body. And in recovering from injury our whole body needs to be involved because nothing is separate or compartmentalized. I remember at one point I completely forgot that it was injured and accepted the fact that it might not ever get back to its former glory. Then one day I did a move and it didn’t hurt, it didn’t pull and it didn’t resist. I was overjoyed, but the thing is I had already moved on. I had already modified my goals.
So how can making small changes really affect how you feel? Well you know, it does….it just does. Get over the idea that you have to suffer through these mighty feats to create change. Those neuromuscular tracks are deep and we can’t just bulldoze our way through them, we have to slowly dig out of them. Re-patterning takes time. As we dig them out we discover all kinds of things along the way, we adjust, we realign and we keep moving forward. We have these small feats along the way. We are able to rejoice and our bodies, our minds, our confidence, and self worth is all rewarded.
This idea of nudging isn’t just for making changes in our bodies or recovering from post injury but a concept in how to change the way we think and feel. When we focus on the process and not always the goal we can change our attitudes about ourselves, our environment, and those around us. We can create long lasting changes and enjoy moments along the way.
So Nudge your way forward, as you go, you might discover what you really thought you wanted may change.