Nothing great can be accomplished without enormous effort. To achieve your goals, you must be clear about what you want to achieve, then you have to doggedly pursue it — with vision, patience, persistence, absolute determination, and a few calculated, informed risks…being prepared to fail and learning as you go. Desire creates energy.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia Peyton of Companies in Motion.
Patricia has spent 30 years working with Fortune 100 and FTSE 1000 organisations globally to help individuals and teams improve their performance. She is the Managing Director of Sphere International, Director of Companies in Motion and author of award-winning book Physical Intelligence (Simon & Schuster). She has dedicated her career to helping individuals and teams enhance their performance through leadership, sales and communications consulting and training. She sits on the Board of Trustees at Emerson College.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up the oldest of three with two younger brothers, in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. Unusual for the time (mid-1960’s), my parents (wisely) divorced when I was six and my mother, brothers and I grew up in my grandmother’s modest home where the four of us shared her spare bedroom. So, I was raised by two incredibly strong, kind women in an environment where we had a lot of love but not a lot of anything else. Also living with us was my mother’s brother, who had Cerebral Palsy. He grew up during a time when that was not yet well understood and never received a solid education. Regardless, he was very bright, had clear natural talents, and was very hard working. In retrospect, I believe growing up with him gave me a greater sensitivity to people with disabilities and a better understanding of the importance of inclusivity. My first loves as a child were dancing and reading. I begged for dance lessons from the moment I could speak and also used to wake my mother up in the middle of the night asking her to read books to me. Luckily for me, she agreed to both. I still can’t get enough of either — two passions that have served me well. I was a theatre “nerd” and some of my favorite childhood memories are of times spent singing and dancing in recitals and musicals. The friends I made during that time remain among my closest. I was also very studious and truly loved school. Although relatively quiet and never a part of the “in” crowd, I have always been a “people person.” I care about and tend to get along with all sorts of people.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
Growing up I wanted to be an ambassador or a Broadway dancer. I was injured young, eliminating the dream of being a professional dancer, and (right or wrong) was told in my twenties that most ambassadorships are “bought” — placing that at least temporarily out of reach. In college, I started studying broadcast journalism, (part of my determination to conquer shyness while leveraging my writing ability), but I found that work wasn’t intellectually stimulating enough for me. (This was in the days before Oprah or Christiane Amanpour — pretty much men in suits behind desks. Had Oprah and Christiane been on air, I believe I would have felt differently.) So, I began studying Organizational Behavior, which I found fascinating, and I started working in a small consulting firm the day after I graduated. The work was endlessly interesting to me and very rewarding. After working for two small consulting firms and a large, global organization, I realized that I preferred a smaller environment where I could better see and feel the impact I was having. I also found that I preferred being my own boss and creating the culture in which I and others worked. I am a naturally strategic thinker and enjoy problem solving and setting direction. I also am extremely focused on the quality of work and don’t respond well to cutting corners I believe are important. All of that led to an interest in leading a team and eventually being an entrepreneur, which led me to co-found Sphere International. I have the strong work ethic and drive required for entrepreneurship and care deeply about the success of my clients, focusing very clearly on creating customized solutions and operating in my client’s best interest. I believe that level of care and focus comes across clearly to my clients, which builds trust and has become an important part of my brand and my success. Establishing Sphere International gave me the authority to build the kind of organization that I believe serves my client’s best interests and the flexibility to pursue other interests, such as being a Trustee at my alma mater, Emerson College and a Director at Companies in Motion. With Companies in Motion, I have been able to combine my business background with my lifelong love of dance and my voice training, building upon the techniques I learned years ago with those developed by my co-author and Companies in Motion founder, Claire Dale. It has been a fascinating and fulfilling part of my career journey.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Very early in my career, I was working for a small, bootstrap stage consulting company in Boston. My family was in Philadelphia; my grandmother was getting older and I decided I wanted to be back there. By chance, a client spoke highly about a similar company based in Philadelphia. I called them to investigate job opportunities and was offered an interview with the founder and hired shortly thereafter. At the time, I was 25 years old and the company was also very young and thinly staffed. All of the work was customized and we were working with Fortune 100 and 500 companies. The founder was very demanding (as were our clients) and brilliant and insisted on the highest quality — which I appreciated because quality is aligned with my values. I learned a great deal from her about how to develop solutions that bring about genuine behavior change and how to be absolutely client-focused through exceptional questioning and listening skills, both crucial for gathering the information needed for deep customization. She also immediately gave me significant responsibility and autonomy. I remember at the age of 26 presenting on my own to a room full of Goldman Sachs Managing Directors in London after a week of in-depth analysis, and traveling to Singapore alone at 27 to provide strategic direction at the quarterly planning meeting for another leading global bank — the only woman in a room of over 40 men — in both cases, drawing on my dance and voice background for confidence and presence. The opportunity to work with the world’s leading organizations enabled/forced me to quickly develop in-depth business acumen and enhanced my credibility and confidence. The challenges of working long hours with tight deadlines and exacting work requirements, enabled me to develop more efficient processes, without sacrificing quality. I went on to become their Chief Design Officer before co-founding Sphere International, which I still run in addition to serving as a Director at Companies in Motion. I continue to use the skills I developed there every single day.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Fifteen years ago, I made a mistake that has turned into a funny story and provided an important lesson that is especially relevant right now. (To get the true sense of the moment, as you read this, imagine Lucille Ball playing me.) At the time, I had just started working on a project for Cisco Systems. Cisco had recently purchased WebEx and the Cisco team had just started conducting meetings via WebEx. The afternoon before the first of those meetings (my first-ever webinar), I received a brand new computer — the first computer I ever had with a built in camera, not that I knew where it was yet or how it worked. The initial meeting via WebEx (where the client team in London — people I did not know — would be sharing their screen and walking me through their CRM system) was scheduled for 6am my time on the west coast. My husband accidentally turned off the alarm; I woke up at 5:55am and flew across the house to my office (in my PJs, face unwashed, teeth unbrushed, hair wild). I dialed in to the call; (no one had joined yet), then clicked on the link. A message flashed across the screen too quickly to read it in full, but one phrase leapt out — “enable video.” I dropped like a shot from my chair to the floor, snaked my hand up to increase the volume on the phone (a hard-wired land line — no cordless phone in the house), crawled out of the office, and sprinted across the house to grab a blouse, brush and makeup. I crawled back into the office, and got ready sitting on the floor, (yes…putting makeup on my unwashed face) then popped back up in my chair. Just at that moment, other people started to join the call and ultimately decided that we would not need to share video. I teach people the importance of preparation and hadn’t follow my own advice! I learned an important webinar lesson very early…never again would I participate in a virtual meeting without understanding the technology ahead of time — and to the best of my ability, making sure that I was camera ready! In the current environment of endless webinars, I am very grateful to have learned that lesson early — and now, among other things, teach people how to sell and communicate in a virtual environment.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Let’s begin at the individual level, then expand to the organizational level.
- My grandfather passed away when I was six years old but I can still clearly remember his strong advice to find work I enjoyed because I would likely spend more hours there than with my family. That might sound obvious, but too many people are doing work they don’t enjoy, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to thrive in that role and in their lives because it drains motivation and happiness, unless they can tap into intrinsic motivation such as providing for family. (I understand that we don’t all have the luxury of choice, but if we do, we should choose work we enjoy.) That doesn’t mean that you should expect to start in your dream job on day one or will follow a straight path to that dream job. We must have realistic expectations alongside our big dreams and be flexible about the route we take to reach the dream. (For example, don’t expect to be promoted to a management role a few months out of college.) It also doesn’t mean that there won’t be aspects of your role at any stage of your career that aren’t your favorite. That never ends. (I still don’t like reviewing legal contracts but it is sometimes necessary — and not where I spend the majority of my time.)
- It is also important to be true to yourself and bring your whole self to your role. Authenticity and vulnerability aren’t just buzzwords. They can enhance your credibility and relatability and help you make connections — and also will generally help you feel more comfortable in your role. At the same time, we need to read the environment and share appropriately.
- Personally, I need optimism almost as much as I need air, as well as challenge. Both help drive me forward. I believe in my own ability to succeed, continually look for the silver lining in any situation, keep things in perspective, and resist catastrophizing things. This may not work for everyone but is key for me.
- Most organizations appreciate and reward initiative and in most organizations today, all team members are expected or at least invited to innovate by finding new and better ways of doing things. Think creatively, do your homework but trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to share your perspective and ideas. Most of us start out as individual contributors where we may not be able to set direction or significantly influence the culture in which we are working. However, we can always influence how we behave or respond to the environment around us.
- Pay attention to your brand. According to the famous Jeff Bezos quote, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” We all have our own unique brand and should give careful thought to what we want ours to be and how to convey that. Characteristics that I believe serve everyone well are behaving with the utmost professionalism, demonstrating a commitment to excellence in your field — becoming a master at your craft, (which is different than perfection, unless you’re in a field that requires it, such as space exploration), and being respectful of and grateful for others — no matter how senior your role.
- Nothing great can be accomplished without enormous effort. To achieve your goals, you must be clear about what you want to achieve, then you have to doggedly pursue it — with vision, patience, persistence, absolute determination, and a few calculated, informed risks…being prepared to fail and learning as you go. Desire creates energy.
- I also believe that we would all be better served if more organizations were more client-focused. Virtually every organization is in business to make money or raise money, and one of the most effective ways to make money is through happy clients. That doesn’t mean that you should erode profit to unhealthy levels to satisfy client demands; (you can’t make clients happy if you’re not in business). I am simply suggesting that a client-centric approach to running your business will ultimately enable you to grow that business more quickly and efficiently. Be flexible and responsive to their needs and receptive to their feedback — seek it out. Happy clients will do more business with you.
- In addition to happy clients we need happy employees. Trust-based cultures fuel employee satisfaction (and employee satisfaction fuels customer satisfaction). The importance of trust can’t be over-stated. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s research, published in The Trust Factor, reports that in organizations that share information broadly and intentionally build relationships, and where leaders ask for support, there is 76% more engagement, people have 106% more energy, they are 50% more productive, 29% more satisfied with their lives, have 13% fewer days sick and 40% fewer cases of burnout. He has tested oxytocin (our social bonding and trust chemical) levels in the bloodstream of thousands of employees across many industries and cultures and has shown that trust and purpose reinforce each other, raising oxytocin levels over a longer period. There is simply no substitute for trust. Especially right now, the world needs more oxytocin!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
While not career-related, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, had a significant impact on me as a child. Our class read it when I was 12 or 13 and we performed the play in class; I played Anne Frank. Her story touched me deeply and I felt a strong personal connection to her. My heart broke for her at the same time that I marveled at the strength of her spirit — her resilience, hope, optimism, the promise of her intelligence and talent, even the normalcy (relatively speaking) of her thoughts and the routines that the families established while in hiding, despite all of the deprivations and fear. I felt physical pain when I learned that she was on the last train to Auschwitz and didn’t survive. A gentle child, I remember feeling confusion, disbelief, and even rage (perhaps for the first time), toward whomever it was who turned them in. I can still transport myself back to that classroom, feel how I felt then — the pain is all still there. That’s interesting because one of the books that has had an impact on my Physical Intelligence co-author, Claire Dale, is Descartes Error — by Antonio Damasio — which contains the fundamental neuroscience that addresses how our body is intelligent and informative. His theory of somatic markers shows that experiences are remembered in the body in a chemical imprint of a moment in time, and that the body is part of the mind, and the mind is part of the body; body and emotions are absolutely entwined and inseparable. No doubt, many people living through this COVID crisis will carry somatic markers from this time with them throughout their lives, just as I can go right back to that classroom and feel that pain.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
There are so many wonderful quotes, but I return time and again to something very simple. Years ago, I had the opportunity to win a key piece of business where I was in competition with incumbent providers. Ultimately, I was awarded the entire curriculum, but soon discovered that one of the incumbents had created and delivered a solution virtually identical to what I would be creating for one part of that curriculum. I advised the client to leave that piece of the curriculum with the incumbent vs. paying me to recreate it. Yes, I earned less, but I gained enormous trust. That client remains a close friend and client to this day. As mentioned earlier, I believe that if you operate in the best interests of your clients, it will always come back to benefit you. There is no substitute for authenticity and integrity. Without them, trust is impossible — and we’ve already talked about the impact of trust on cultures and organizational performance. With me, what you see is what you get. I have no guile or jealousy. I’m fiercely competitive and I also truly want to see all good people succeed. That doesn’t mean I’m not strategic…but any strategy I employ is guided by that sense of authenticity and integrity. In that spirit, the quote that serves as a life lesson for me is, “Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
While Physical Intelligence is always relevant for every human being on the planet, it is particularly relevant as we navigate the COVID 19 crisis. Given that, the Companies in Motion team has been very busy since the start of the crisis supporting clients with even more consulting, training, coaching, and podcasts than usual on how to build or maintain Physical Intelligence in order to more effectively navigate the crisis for themselves or guide their teams or organizations through the crisis. Most recently, as organizations are realizing that they need to revisit how they support their employees and what that means for their overall culture, we have been working on deeper consulting engagements to help them create Physically Intelligent cultures that support motivation and productivity, increasing resilience and endurance, while enhancing trust. For example, we recently spoke at a global Google event (famous for its focus on employee wellbeing) and will be speaking as part of a global leadership forum this week. In addition, we are in the process of creating a Physical Intelligence online program for consumers so that more people can access the Physical Intelligence concepts beyond reading the book. We also are creating an accreditation program for coaches so that they can bring Physical Intelligence concepts out to their clients. We’ve been asked to create versions of the book for children and teens, which we would love to do because children and teens are under so much more pressure than when we were their ages. Beyond that, we are always studying the latest neuroscience research and developing techniques to help people incorporate those new findings into their lives.
Physiology drives our performance, so the sooner more people understand and live more physically intelligent lives, the better off we all will be. Physical Intelligence doesn’t just sit alongside our cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ), it underpins them. We describe Physical Intelligence as the most important human intelligence for the 21st century (acknowledging that AI is likely to be the most important non-human intelligence).
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
To answer that, it’s important to first understand a bit more about Physical Intelligence. At this moment, focus on the pace of your heartbeat. Feel the movement of your breath entering and leaving your body. Feel the shape of your spine. Capture the feeling of your current mood and what is creating that mood today. As you focus on each of those, you will likely become more aware of and more actively present in your body.
Right now, hundreds of chemicals (neurotransmitters and hormones) are racing through each of our bodies, in our bloodstream and nervous system. Those chemicals largely dictate how we think, feel, speak and behave. Yet, most of us operate at the mercy of those chemicals — experiencing reactions, emotions and thoughts without realizing that we can strategically influence them. Physical Intelligence is the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of those chemicals through how we move, breathe, think and interact, so that we can achieve more, stress less, and live and work more happily.
That’s important because the current pace of change is increasing stress levels worldwide. Stress was the number one symptom Googled in 2018 and in 2019, the WHO redefined burnout calling it a “syndrome” and tying burnout to “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. In 2019, an estimated 1 million workers were absent every day due to stress. All of that was measured before COVID hit, so the current rates will likely be higher.
Human beings are not evolving as quickly as the pace of change and most people have not been trained to cope with the degree of change around us. There are over 100 Physical Intelligence techniques in four key areas: Strength (inner strength, confidence, appropriate risk taking), Flexibility (creative/innovation, collaboration, adaptability), Resilience (bouncing back from adversity, developing a learning mindset) and Endurance (sustaining effort over the long term with patience, planning and persistence) — all underpinned by neuroscience and easy to incorporate into your day to day life. Some only take seconds. Each element plays a role in helping us cope with the burden of stress. These techniques will give anyone a running start at managing stress.
Paced Breathing: The first thing we should do the moment we experience stress is to practice paced breathing, which involves breathing diaphragmatically in a steady, rhythmic pattern — breathing in and out in a regular ratio — counting the in and out breaths in your mind. Don’t push or pull the length of the breath — discover the rhythm that works for you. You might choose an even count in and out, such as 4 in and 4 out or an uneven count in and out, such as 5 in and 7 out. If you are feeling panicked, aim for a longer out breath because that helps dispel more CO2, which is heavier than oxygen and can build up in our lungs, raising cortisol (stress chemical) levels. It also boosts DHEA (vitality chemical), fundamental to our long- range emotional and mental stability.
Posture: The amount of time many of us spend hunched over screens, with jutting chin and curved spine, literally puts us in the position of defeat, inhibiting acetylcholine (balance chemical essential for recovery) from reaching our brain, and reducing the amount of space for our lungs to expand, which impedes our breathing. Shallow breathing raises CO2 levels, which elevates cortisol, reducing the quality of our cognitive function and mental and emotional performance. In other words, posture really matters. Sit/stand with your feel flat on the floor hip or shoulder width apart, ground yourself (imagine your feet are rooted to the ground holding you stable but not rigid, knees unlocked), straighten your spine (imagine a string from the top of your head suspending you from the ceiling), and bring your shoulders down so that they are sitting on your back (imagine that you have weights on your elbows holding your shoulders in place, then picture them floating away from you toward opposite sides of the room). Pay attention to your posture throughout the day, especially if you spend long hours in front of the screen. Posture also influences how confident we feel and how we’re perceived. Research indicates that we look to those with open, expansive posture to lead us during times of crisis.
Building Resilience: Resilience is our ability to bounce back from adversity and disappointment, develop and maintain a learning mindset and remain optimistic in the face of failure and challenge. Resilience relies on well-functioning adrenals. Too often, especially in this past year, many of us have been working flat out with our foot on that accelerator, sometimes not even letting up through the weekend. That drains our adrenal glands and can send us into overdrive and eventually burnout, which is a very serious life-threatening condition. Life is a balancing act and those adrenals need time to recover after we have pushed them hard. Applying resilience resources to our busy life style is vital. One quick tip to build Resilience is to schedule rest and recovery activities into your calendar by writing REST in blocks throughout the week: REST stands for Retreat, Eat, Sleep, and Treat. RETREAT refers to stepping away from all external stimuli — picture the tennis player with a towel over their heads between sets — blocking out opponents, fans, coaches, etc. Find at least a few moments every week, if not each day to disconnect. EAT: Of course, we mean you should eat healthfully, lean protein, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, with high sugar and simple carbohydrates eliminated or kept to a real minimum. (They create a toxic environment in our body.) SLEEP is essential for resilience. Aim for 7–9 hours per night. That can be challenging if you have young children, but know the ideal and inch toward it as well as you can by going to sleep earlier or taking naps, if possible, as needed. TREAT refers to restorative treats, not the sugary, salty or alcoholic kind — things like walks, a cup of soothing tea, a hot bath, playing with the kids, reading a book — whatever restores YOU. At critical times, one or all of these four things can fall out of our schedule, which is why it is important to schedule them in and do your best to honor those windows.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Paced Breathing: The brain is a high consumer of energy and needs a good oxygen supply, which means that effective breathing practice using the Paced Breathing technique (described above) every day also leads to a fit and healthy mind and helps with mental clarity. Clarity and quality of thought improve if we breathe well, and we also achieve superb emotional self-regulation, enabling us to improve our vitality and perform at the top of our game regardless of our role. The rate of change in our heartbeat as pressure builds is the critical factor for stability and high cognitive function. This is called our heart rate variability (HRV). Paced breathing helps us improve our HRV and become more mentally and emotionally stable and confident. It improves the production of DHEA, produced in the adrenal glands, so that when we are under pressure we are more likely to be able to handle the situation with clarity, balance and control. In one study with a group of 100 investment bankers, after practicing 40 minutes of paced breathing each day (20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening) for 21 days with 3 coaching sessions, they experienced a 42% reduction in stress symptoms and a 62% improvement in cognitive function on complex decision-making tasks…pretty compelling. Meditation and mindfulness, also help with mental fitness.
Sleep: Equally important to optimize our mind is sufficient sleep. Sleep has a bigger impact on brain function than any waking activity — there is no more powerful brain enhancer. I call it my silver bullet and discovered its importance for cognitive function when I was in a role that required constant global travel. I quickly figured out that I needed to sacrifice food and freshly washed hair for sleep because of the impact sleep had on my brain function. When we sleep, we consolidate memories and experiences, detox the brain of waste products and regenerate brain cells. This makes a profound difference on our daily performance, enabling us to think clearly and deeply, focus well and handle multiple challenges with ease. Pay attention to sleep quantity (as mentioned above, aim for 7–9 hours per night — no arguments, please — this is backed up by countless studies) and sleep quality — we need a combination of light, REM and deep sleep. In light sleep we file memories, process emotions and regulate our metabolism. During REM sleep, the brain replenishes neurotransmitters that organize our neural networks, which are essential for remembering, learning, performance and problem-solving, and we synthesize new neurons, dream and detox the brain. In deep sleep the body builds and repairs itself, secreting maximum HGH (human growth hormone) in this phase. We come in and out of REM during our sleep cycles, with the amount of time spent in REM increasing with each subsequent sleep cycle. If the final cycles of sleep are cut short or missed altogether, you’ll be short on REM sleep, which may cause brain fog. Alcohol, sleep medication and antidepressants all interfere with REM sleep. Establish a sleep protocol to help you fall and stay asleep.
Allocating Time Wisely: The executive function of our brains, carried out by the pre-frontal cortex, is extremely energy hungry. In fact, brain activity as a whole consumes up to 20% of the body’s energy — more than any other single organ. Breathing techniques, exercise, sleep and diet are critical factors in having enough energy. However, even when we are well-rested and have plenty of energy, after two hours of thinking about complex things and making decisions, the neural connections degrade because the myelin sheaths that insulate our nerves get worn down and reduce in thickness. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on tasks that require difficult thinking when our brain is fresh. Afterwards we can start to pick up the smaller pieces — answering non-critical emails, scheduling calls etc. Many of us do the reverse. If that describes you, consider revisiting how you approach your day.
Moving Our Body: Body movement enhances brain connections and function in various ways, which improves mental focus. We can’t free our mind until we free our body. Space in our bodies gives us more mental and emotional space. Our insular cortex functions better, the quality of data is more refined, our perceptions tend to feel wide and deep and we may feel ‘whole’, rather than bothered by conflicting thoughts and feelings. Too much muscular tension uses up valuable energy to no effect and often creates discomfort and pain caused by high cortisol and low oxytocin, dopamine (pleasure/reward chemical), DHEA and serotonin (happiness chemical) levels. Twisting at the waist a couple of times each day is especially important because it releases serotonin (95% of which is produced by independent neurons in our gut). Serotonin plays an important role in the suppleness of the connective tissue between our muscles and bones. Improving physical flexibility changes our internal chemistry, lowers cortisol and improves mental and emotional flexibility, transforming the feeling of being ‘in the grip’ of stressors to feeling open and adaptable to them. There is a growing body of research that shows that yoga and Pilates classes help develop mental agility, as will other flexibility stretches.
Exercising Strategically: Different kinds of exercise impact our mental and emotional performance in different ways:
— For complex thinking, problem-solving and multitasking: try weight lifting.
— For memory improvement: try aerobic exercise, especially high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
— To integrate thoughts and emotions and deal with fear and anxiety: try whole-body stretches such as downward and upward dog or forward bends.
— Attention, visual processing and switching between tasks: try circuit training.
— Control over cravings and appetite regulation: try HIIT — ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is reduced by aerobic exercise.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
All of the above! I have a daily Physical Intelligence protocol and also use other Physical Intelligence techniques situationally, as needed. My daily protocol begins and ends with paced breathing (from the moment I wake up and as I drift off to sleep) — at least ten minutes to start and end every day, with additional time spent on paced breathing during open moments throughout the day, aiming for that magic 40-minute mark. When I have a small window, I now lapse into paced breathing almost automatically and get up and move my body. In the beginning, it helps to put a reminder in your work space. I like to begin the day with meditation (usually an abundance meditation) and yoga. We teach a super-charged centering technique that involves visualization called Your “I” that is one of my favorites. (Imagine a capital letter I in your body with the top bar running between your shoulders, bottom bar running between your hips and center bar running through your body connecting them. Use your imagination — let it run wild — and create an I that gives you whatever you need most at that moment — inner strength, receptivity to other perspectives, resilience, etc.). I have a wardrobe of “Is” and choose the one I need for specific situations. For example, my “I” when presenting to a large group is very different than the one I need for a day of writing or collaborating with a small group. Visualization is also a very important part of goal setting. Dopamine — the great motivator is closely connected to the visual cortex of the brain and gives us sustained drive and focus, making it important to visualize our goals, as well as the process of achieving them.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
One great technique to clear your mind and help you refocus on a new task is the Shake Out. It is like rebooting a computer, but for your body, because it literally shakes up your “chemical cocktail” including precursors for some of our feel-good chemicals that can get stagnant and settle at the base of our spine if we don’t get enough of the right movement throughout the day. A Shake Out also helps us shift our mindset by flushing out the chemistry of negative emotion. All emotions are chemicals — strands of proteins — neuropeptides that arrive at receptor cells and set off a chain of events. Negative emotions, if not expressed, can get stuck in receptor cells, like the wrong key stuck in a lock, making feelings such as frustration and worry linger. Shaking or Punching Out helps to dislodge those stuck neuropeptides. Identify what you need to shift your focus away from, or what negative emotion you want to let go of. Then, standing or seated, fold forward from the waist, as far as is possible. Relax your upper body, especially your neck. Try to invert your spine by getting your head beneath your knees (but only if you can do so without injury). Take a deep breath in. On the out breath, vigorously shake your shoulders and torso while making a long ‘ah’ sound’. Repeat and enhance/exaggerate the movement — really let yourself go — until all tension is gone. (This can look a bit extreme and is best done in private.) Roll up slowly with your head coming last. Notice how you feel. You may feel a little happier, and more focused. Return to this movement whenever you feel blocked, frustrated, overwhelmed, or when you want to calm your mind and focus on the future.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
I am extremely disciplined by nature and very much a creature of habit. I have worked from home for decades and am rarely distracted, possibly because I enjoy my work and work in a field where missing deadlines isn’t an option. My habits fall into two main categories: personal wellbeing and work effectiveness.
For personal wellbeing, I follow a daily Physical Intelligence protocol that plays a big part in my success and overall wellness: In addition to paced breathing, meditation and yoga, I work on physical flexibility the moment I get out of bed by scanning my body from head to toe to identify where I am holding tension (usually shoulders and neck for me because of time in front of the screen — everyone is different) and work on stretches to alleviate that tension. I smile at myself in the mirror after I brush my teeth to boost serotonin. As I walk across the house to my office or to work out, I walk in a winner pose (good posture with my arms up in a V as if I’ve just crossed the finish line) to put the chemistry of confidence in place. I center myself by choosing whichever “I” is best for the moment and pay attention to my posture as I sit down at the computer and throughout the day (another opportunity for a written reminder). I focus on using the computer camera during videoconferences to boost oxytocin. In addition, I have been eating healthfully for decades, and give myself short restorative breaks to remain resilient, and treat myself to one small square of good quality 70% dark chocolate after dinner to end the day with another serotonin boost.
In terms of work, I do my best to spend the first two hours of the day on the most challenging tasks to take advantage of the executive function of my brain when it is at its best. I also actively manage my calendar, blocking windows not just for rest and recovery but for key tasks to help avoid becoming over-committed. I try to minimize the number of times I need to touch any one document. I regularly examine processes to find ways to work more efficiently and turn those processes into new habits if they are repeated. I could do a better job of delegating to the team and would counsel everyone to develop that ability. With regard to the team, diligently choosing self-motivated, consummate professionals I trust to execute at the highest level without micro-management is key — as is making sure to celebrate successes and express appreciation for effort, as well as outcomes; (schedule it in so that you don’t forget — appreciation is motivating and also boosts your oxytocin). Another important habit is scheduling events that bring the team together, as is regularly checking in to be sure that everyone is doing well — mentally, emotionally and physically. Keeping things in perspective, remaining optimistic, and maintaining a sense of humor all help keep everyone sane and focused on the right things.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop new habits is by “habit stacking” — in other words, placing the new behavior you would like to develop into a habit next to something you already do every day, such as brushing your teeth, making a cup of coffee or tea, sitting down at your desk, etc. Set reasonable, achievable targets to set yourself up for success and keep you motivated (e.g., 5 push ups per day vs. 50). To break a bad habit, figure out what it’s feeding and replace it with a good habit (using habit stacking) that offers the same benefit. For example, if the habit you want to break is eating a piece of candy mid-afternoon, decide if you are really feeding your sweet tooth, (in which case, a cup of tea with some honey or a low-sugar energy bar might satisfy that need) or maybe you just need a restorative break, (in which case, you can replace the candy with time spent doing something else you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, etc.).
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
We describe the “Flow” state as the ability to be fully engaged and effortlessly performing at peak. While adrenalin (fear/excitement chemical) gets us going and acetylcholine enables us to recover, it is our relative levels of cortisol and DHEA that dictate how we get going and how we recover — and determine whether or not we are in a state of Flow. Too much cortisol drags down our levels of the four ‘feel-good’ chemicals — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and testosterone (power/control chemical) — whereas DHEA boosts them. If you doubt yourself, worry, feel anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed, or often wake up on a Monday feeling low, yearning for more sleep and wishing it was Friday, then cortisol is running too high. If you are enthusiastic, motivated and passionate as you move into your day and are content and receptive when you relax and recover, then DHEA levels are high and you are in great shape to take on new challenges. Physical Intelligence enables us to feel more of the latter and is an important part of each individual’s personal transformation, enabling them to spend more time in a high DHEA state , which make a state of “Flow” possible. The body is a complex and miraculous system performing trillions of operations every second, including many chemical interactions that we can’t and wouldn’t want to influence. However, there are certain key chemicals that we can and should want to influence. The more we understand about the neuroscience that underpins our behavior, the more we can exercise control over the balance of chemicals that we can influence, increasing the impact we can have on our strength, flexibility, resilience and endurance, ultimately enabling us to spend more time in “Flow.”
Any of the techniques mentioned earlier (as well as scores of others in the Physical Intelligence book) help boost DHEA, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and/or Testosterone and/or keep cortisol at optimal low levels — all necessary for us to achieve and remain in a Flow state. Again, the best place to begin is with Paced Breathing. Our breathing patterns mirror our emotional, mental and physical state, and they change depending on our feelings, thoughts and the type of activity we are engaged. With paced breathing, it is possible for all of us to achieve coherence, the state where physical, mental and emotional systems are aligned and we function effortlessly at our very best.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Claire and I understand and have seen firsthand the impact Physical Intelligence can have on individual lives AND business performance. Physically intelligent people build Physically Intelligent teams. Physically Intelligent teams lead to Physically Intelligent organizations and that leads to Physically Intelligent societies. Too many organizations today are unaware of or ignore the value of Physical Intelligence — perhaps considering it “fluffy” — or something they can’t “make employees do”. Yet, they often offer a less than robust solution that simply ticks the “wellness” box without driving business outcomes. The body has been too far down on the list of priorities for too long. We believe they don’t understand the impact a real commitment to Physical Intelligence can have on lives and business results. The neuroscience gives Physical Intelligence great credibility but not everyone digs deep enough to understand the research behind our work.
To quote a recent McKinsey report, “forward-looking companies know that everything else — such as technology, access to raw materials, intellectual property, and customer relationships — is fleeting and the only sustainable advantage is rooted in harnessing the passion, skills, capabilities, judgment, and creativity that people bring to work.” Physical Intelligence unlocks that sustainable advantage. While many organizations talk about putting “people at the center” of their strategy, much that is being written about the future of organizations is still focusing on law, regulation, ownership, governance, measurement and pre-pandemic descriptions of performance. We’re just starting to see more of a mention of human beings — but if mentioned, employees are too often referred to as human capital…but we are…all of us…flesh and bone, bodies and brains, hearts and minds.
It is time to once and for all acknowledge that we MUST do better in respecting and supporting these precious resources –the human beings upon whom we are relying to generate the ongoing revenue that will sustain us as we navigate economic and operational changes and challenges. We can’t simply expect people to work harder and trade our way out of the economic impact of this crisis. Creating a physically intelligent organization involves something different…something more powerful…something that will require a bit of re-education and “roll up your sleeves” effort — for example, investing time in understanding Physical Intelligence and making it available across organizations, schools and communities — all of which will drive better personal and business outcomes.
If we elevate the body to its rightful place as a miraculous, complex and intelligent piece of technology that underpins our cognitive and emotional intelligences and drives business outcomes, we believe that will lead to not only better business but less suffering, and the ability to live more peaceable, humane lives. We have seen the commercial impact of Physical Intelligence, as well as the personal impact. Our vision is to create a physically intelligent world one person, team, and organization at a time. That is why we believe that Physical Intelligence is the most important human intelligence of the 21st century.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
As the saying goes, “shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll still land among the stars.” So, if I had my pick of anyone, it would have to be Oprah. She is intellectually curious, a trailblazer, a humanitarian, passionate about education — and has an unparalleled platform and network. She has already aligned with people such as Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra, whose work profoundly encompasses embodiment. We would love to talk with her about the innate intelligence of the body and the significance Physical Intelligence has had/can have for individual lives, families, organizations, societies, even the planet as a whole. Care for others starts at home, with self-care, and care and love for our own property starts with our one true home — this incredible piece of technology we get to walk around in every day….our amazing body.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We would love that! Readers can follow us on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/patriciapeyton or www.linkedin.com/clairedale or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/peyton_pat or www.twitter.com/clairedalepi and if they visit the website, www.companiesinmotion.com, they can read our blogs, listen to our podcasts, and join our community where they can sign up for free to receive ongoing Physical Intelligence tips, techniques and research.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.