• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • Even if you make your living with your head, you can’t afford to disregard your body.

    My dad was the first person in his family to go to college. His father and brother spent much of their lives working in lumber mills, roofing, and doing other manual labor, but my dad realized that he’d much rather build relationships as a sales professional…and he was very good at it! Though I briefly had a job attempting to build swimming pools when I was younger, I settled on the “knowledge worker” path myself, pretty early on.

    What I’ve learned since then, though, is that even if you make your living with your head, you can’t afford to disregard your body. Particularly if you’re involved in complex collaborative work, you need to stay in touch with the physical sensations you experience—the dryness in your mouth, the tightness in your throat, or the lump in your stomach. These are important clues to how your emotions are affecting your clarity of thought, your decisions, and your relationships. With this information you can take action to manage whatever obstacles are getting in your way. But first you have to notice the clues in your body.

    Getting better at paying attention to body experiences is a valuable aspect of various kinds of mindfulness and focusing practices. A full head-to-toe body scan is one common practice. But when you’re at work and fully engaged in thinking, it can be a little challenging to do this. You can always step out of the office, down the hall, out on the street. But the closer you can bring your body awareness to the work you actually do, the more effective it will be.

    One strategy is to get accustomed to doing a simple quick checkin that emerges naturally from what you do day to day. If you’re in a daily standup meeting, use that time to really feel your feet. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, take a few moments a couple of times a day to notice the familiar sensations of sitting so they become a little less familiar and a little more interesting. If you do a lot of typing, move your shoulders to bring awareness away from your fingers (they operate much like mini-brains, always in motion, always fiddling) and closer to your core. Even a little awareness in any part of your body makes it more possible to notice what else is going on—such as the sensations that accompany fear, anger, or resistance.

    Try It: Choose a work-related activity you do every day: writing code, going to standup meetings, creating status reports, leading discussions. Find a body part that is engaged in that task (shoulders, feet, neck, feet, or diaphragm—whatever you actually use to do the work). Before you begin the activity, take just a moment to notice that body part. See if you can keep awareness on it from time to time during the activity. Make it a habit to tune in every time you do the activity.

    Photo: Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company, ca. 1921, from Wikimedia Commons