In my primer on ontological coaching, I noted I had not written many blog posts on somatics (i.e., relating to the body as opposed to the mind) and promised to address this soon. Today I follow through on that commitment.
For many of my coaching classmates (and most certainly for me), somatics was the most uncomfortable part of ontological coaching. We were expected to dance! My leadership career was 60% language and thoughts, 30% moods and emotions, and perhaps 10% somatics. That’s probably being generous, and the time spent on somatics was never called somatics. I had presentation coaching on how to hold my body or move about a stage. I had emotional intelligence training about body language, such as how crossing your arms can signal that you are being defensive.
I suspect my experience is typical for most leaders, and I assume they may find a deep dive into somatics similarly uncomfortable. In coaching, we meet the coachee where they are. So if we start to head down that path, we do so slowly and cautiously, testing the waters. We’ll do the same here today.
Sitting and Standing
When I moved from leading engineering to a sales role, one of the downsides was leaving behind my corner office with my beloved cherry wood desk. However, this opened new possibilities. I set up a standing desk in my new space, which was impossible in the prior area. This was 2015, and standing desks were still a novelty. I fell in love with working standing up, and it quickly became my default.
Initially, I chose to stand to build my physical fitness. I’m sure it helped with that, but what I didn’t expect was the positive impact on my mental fitness. My mind felt clearer. I felt more energetic. When I worked from a standing position, getting things done was easier. My ontological coaching experience explains why. A simple shift in how we hold our body can shift our mood and our perspective. Standing gives me energy and creates a mood of ambition.
Ironically, as a coach, standing works against me. A good coach doesn’t drive the conversation. They let the coachee drive, and they listen attentively, reflect, and ask powerful questions. As part of my coaching education, I worked with a mentor coach, Croft Edwards**. Croft reviewed recordings of my coaching sessions and offered feedback to help me grow. After the first recording, Croft suggested I get a chair with a good firm back and coach from a seated position.
It was a suggestion, not an order, so naturally, I ignored him. I’d been standing almost exclusively for over five years at this point. It was a part of my identity. I saw no need to change.
After the second session, Croft was more direct. “I want you to get a chair. When you stand, your energy is too far forward. You are driving the conversation. I want you to sit down, and when you feel the urge to drive, push your back into the chair, and let the coachee drive.”
That got my attention, and I dutifully complied. The following week of coaching was a bit comical. I had just run the Boston Marathon. My coachees were all shocked to see me sitting down. “What happened? Did you hurt yourself?” I explained Croft’s advice. In more than one session, my coachee observed that coaching from a seated position created a more comfortable, inviting space. I’ve been coaching sitting down ever since. Croft and I agreed that at 1,000 hours, I might experiment with standing again (715 and counting).
If you have an adjustable desk, consider letting the type of work dictate whether you stand or sit. Figure out what disposition is best suited for the different types of activities you are engaged in. For me, when I need to focus and get things done, standing is optimal. Sitting works much better when I need to listen intently and connect deeply with someone else.
Several clients tell me, “I am not creative.” I can relate. For several decades, I told myself the same thing. When I hear this, I usually remind them of the magical word that helps us shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. That word is “Yet.”
Consider the statement:
- I am not creative.
Contrasted with the statement:
- I am not creative yet.
By adding the word yet, we remind ourselves that we can learn and grow.
If adding “yet” to that statement isn’t enough, and you are not feeling creative, I offer a simple somatic practice to help get the creative juices flowing.
This could be any movement you enjoy – dancing, walking, running, hiking, biking, yoga, working out, etc. When you get your body moving, you shift your mood, and your brain can’t help but start generating creative ideas. This may sound too simple to be true, and it is easy to discount the advice when you read it. I encourage you to give it a try. I suspect you’ll be surprised at the results.
I’ve come to embrace the creative power of movement. Most of my blog posts get crafted during my runs.* Sometimes, I’m deliberate and start a run with a particular topic or problem in mind. More often have no plan, and the ideas start bubbling up unbidden. Either way, I generate many ideas over the course of the run.
Putting It Into Practice
As promised, we eased into somatics today with simple techniques. Here are some ways to explore somatics:
- Experiment with working from different dispositions – sitting vs. standing.
- Take note of which tasks are more effective from a standing position and which are more effective while seated.
- The next time you are looking for creativity, choose an activity where you move your body and see what ideas arise.
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** To be clear, the writing occurs in my head. I have not yet mastered the art of dictating entire blog posts on the run. I have become good at dictating one-line reminders to Siri to capture highlights. Here’s how this blog post unfolded:
- Hey Siri, remind me let’s move blog post
- Hey Siri, remind me reference ontological coaching
- Hey Siri, remind me sales standing desk
- Hey Siri, remind me Croft mentor coaching
- Hey Siri, remind me running and blogging