How Your Physiology and Emotions Impact Performance

How Your Physiology and Emotions Impact Performance

A senior monk, named Tanzan, and a junior monk, named Ekido, were traveling together through the countryside. They soon came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side. The two monks glanced at one another. They had taken vows never to touch a woman.

Then, without a word, Tanzan picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and continued on his journey. Ekido couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed, then three. Finally, Ekido couldn’t contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman! How could you carry that woman on your shoulders?” Tanzan looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

In 2007, when I was a 30-year-old tech CEO in Vancouver, Canada, I, much like Ekido, would often obsess over pointless things. I acted on unconscious “shoulds” vs. being a more free and open thinker who, like Tanzan, could respond quickly and directly to what was needed in the moment without regard for rules, dogma or the expectations of others.

I assumed the most critical thing required for success as a business leader was “clear thinking,” and that emotions and physiology didn’t play an important role in that. It seemed obvious to me that emotions could cause a loss of control or result in irrational decisions. By being cool, calm and collected (read: emotionally flat and robotic in action), I thought I’d have the best chances of success.

What I didn’t understand was that clear thinking is rooted in our emotions and physiology.

The more out of contact we are with our emotions and our physiology, the more impulsive and irrational we actually become.

Human beings are not machines. Ignoring this fact is like being a competitive racecar driver who refuses to hire expert mechanics to look under the hood.

In his well-researched and insightful book, “Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership,” Dr. Alan Watkins puts it like this:

Many executives, unable to concede that their decisions are emotionally driven, may instead embrace the idea that their decisions are based on their ‘commercial experience.’ Which is ironic, considering ‘commercial experience’ is really just emotionally-laden data that is unconscious…stored in parts of their brain they don’t know about, resurfacing when they are asked to make a decision today. They may not call it emotion but that is exactly what it is.

In fact, scientific research shows that emotions and rationality don’t stand in opposition to each other. They go hand-in-hand.

Feeling supersedes thinking, and without feeling we are incapable of making rational decisions, or any decision at all. Emotions can of course disrupt reasoning, but without emotions there can be no reasoning.

Lack of contact between thinking and feeling is what makes certain individuals so good at rationalizing. If you’ve ever listened to the ramblings of a psychopathic individual you’ll know exactly what I mean. The more out of contact we are with our emotions and physiology—our core self—the easier it is for us to self-deceive.

Emotion, or e-motion, is simply energy in motion. It’s what happens in the nexus between body and mind. And, increasingly, people and organizations are realizing that managing energy, not time, is crucial to high performance.

To increase performance, it is vital to understand how to work on each level, from depth to surface:

Physiology ► Emotion ► Feeling ► Thinking ► Behavior ► Results

If we want to guarantee that people actually do the right things to deliver the results we want, we need to understand what really drives their behavior. The answer is thinking. What we think determines what we do. But getting to grips with thinking isn’t enough to lift performance either, because what we think or how well we think is determined by something more fundamental in the human system – and that’s how we feel. How we feel has a very direct impact on what we think. There is, of course, a reciprocal relationship between thinking and feeling. How we think affects how we feel; and how we feel affects how we think. But in the arm wrestle between the two it is the feeling that triumphs, feeling is the active ingredient that determines what we do…. 

…So in order to change the quality of someone’s thinking, so they will behave differently, improve performance and achieve better results, we actually have to change the way they feel….

…But how we feel is determined by something even deeper in the human system and that is raw emotion, or more accurately e-motion (energy in motion)

Energy in motion. But what generates the energy?

The most cutting-edge scientific understanding of the heart has revealed that the heart is far from just a pump:

  • Energy is created automatically in the body, mainly by the heart
  • The heart acts like a “brain”—a neural network with identical characteristics of the brain
  • The heart creates hormones
  • The heart is the most powerful signal generator in the human body

This is one reason many high-performing “corporate athletes” (as well as real athletes) regularly engage in various heart centered breathing practices.

Great (not good) business performance is about clear thinking, rooted in strong contact with the emotional and physiological body, coupled with the the ability to generate more positive energy-in-motion. This demands learning how to create more coherence in mind, heart and body.

Are you in strong and moment-by-moment contact with your physiology and emotions?

What would be possible for you if you were able to make decisions more accurately and confidently in a fraction of the time, and using a fraction of the energy, than you currently do?


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