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Claire Dale

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How physical intelligence can benefit employees in the workplace


We’ve heard a lot about emotional intelligence, but now it’s time to discover how physical intelligence can transform our careers and business outcomes for the better. Authors of new wellbeing book Physical intelligence, Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton, shed some light on this emerging skillset.

Physical intelligence is the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of chemicals in our brains so that we can achieve more, experience less stress and live more happily.  

While the term ‘physical intelligence’ may be unfamiliar, these techniques have been used for decades by athletes and artists and are well supported by neuroscience.  

Key elements of physical intelligence

Four elements form the backbone of physical intelligence.

  • Strength:  this comprises inner strength and confidence, signified by appropriate risk-taking, good cognitive function and decision-making under pressure, as well as establishing clear boundaries and remaining committed.
  • Flexibility:  being creative, innovative and collaborative, having high self-esteem and respect for others, effectively engaging and influencing others, adapting to different behavior styles and agendas, being agile and quick-thinking, and finally embracing and instigating change.
  • Resilience:  bouncing back from adversity and conflict, being optimistic, adopting a learning mindset, as well as developing a well-functioning immune system through emotional, mental and physical fitness.
  • Endurance:  having staying power and determination, focusing on and achieving long-term goals, finding intrinsic motivation, planning, executing and maintaining long-term performance.

Getting the chemical balance right

While there are many chemical interactions that we can’t and wouldn’t want to influence, sitting alongside the four elements are eight chemicals that work in combination to make or break our success – and we can influence them with physical intelligence.

Being centred puts everything in perspective, increases confidence and inner strength

When the chemical balance is right, we call it the ‘winning cocktail’. This is comprised of:

  • Acetylcholine – drives our ability to rebalance, renew and recover from pressure.
    Signature feeling:  balance
  • Adrenalin – releases a burst of energy when we need it, but can also make our nerves kick in, making it difficult to communicate effectively.
    Signature feelings:  fear or excitement
  • Cortisol – critical to our ability to take on challenges, it also can send us into overdrive, triggering heightened anxiety.
    Signature feeling:  anxiety
  • DHEA – the high performance chemical, supporting vitality and cognitive function. Drops post-30; drop is accelerated by stress and leads to premature ageing.
    Signature feeling:  vitality
  • Dopamine –motivates us, giving us feelings of pleasure and need. When we feel disappointed it’s due to a lack of dopamine.
    Signature feelings:  pleasure and need
  • Oxytocin – makes us feel safe and included – too little and we feel isolated, too much and we feel overly dependent on relationships.
    Signature feeling:  belonging
  • Serotonin – influences our levels of happiness, satisfaction and wellbeing; high cortisol can drain serotonin levels until depression sets in.
    Signature feeling:  happiness
  • Testosterone – drives our desire to achieve and compete; too little can make us risk-adverse, too much can make us arrogant and underprepared.
    Signature feelings:  power and control

How to manage your chemical cocktail

Of the 100+ physical intelligence techniques – here are a few to help you manage your chemical cocktail and enhance your career performance.

Building confidence

  • Perfect your posture. It impacts how we feel and how others perceive us. With good posture, we feel empowered, stronger, more present and at ease. Open, expansive posture projects confidence and leadership ability.
  • To reduce nerves and increase confidence, stand in a winner (starfish) pose for two minutes before key events (balancing cortisol and adrenalin).
  • Paced breathing helps us manage our response to demanding situations.  Use it daily to release acetylcholine (counteracts adrenaline):  breathe diaphragmatically, smoothly and regularly, measure the length of each breath in and explore the counts comfortable for you (aim for a longer out breath to dispel CO2) – for at least 10 minutes a day.

Holding your ground/managing change

Being centred puts everything in perspective, increases confidence and inner strength. To ‘ground’ yourself, feel the weight of the body on the ground/in the chair – rooted rather than ‘uptight’.

Continue paced breathing, release tension throughout the body. Place your centre of mass where you need it (move your body forwards sideways and backwards to find the optimal point).

The more we use physical intelligence techniques, the better armed we will be to achieve business success.

Breathe down to below the navel (to your centre of gravity), and focus.  Repeat three times: balance, breathe, focus.

Generating innovative/creative solutions and adapting to others

To reduce cortisol and boost oxytocin, dopamine, DHEA and serotonin:

  • Stretch to release ‘hot spots’ where you hold tension.
  • Shake out your arms and legs.
  • Twist at the waist twice a day.
  • Spark creativity by taking a walk or looking at beautiful objects in art/nature.

Strengthening interpersonal relationships/inspiring trust

Creating excellent trusted relationships requires balancing our own agendas with those of others, communicating well and flexing our behavioural style to create the chemistry of trust – balancing oxytocin (social bonding and trust), dopamine ( goal-orientation/seeking and gaining reward), and testosterone (independent competitive action), and managing cortisol (threat).

Building resilience

Maintain optimal cortisol levels by blocking out time in your schedule each week for REST (retreat, eat [healthy], sleep and treat). Write the word ‘REST’ in your calendar and guard those windows.

Bouncing back from disappointment

Think of a setback or mistake you’ve made. Zoom in and see yourself in ‘close-up’. Remember the intensity of feelings at the time. Zoom out, hover in wide angle over the scene, including contributing elements past and present.

Know that you’re not alone and others have experienced/are experiencing similar situations. If you’re dwelling on something, talk to someone you trust about it, then commit to letting it go.

Maintaining a positive mindset

  • Smile at yourself in the mirror every morning. It boosts serotonin.
  • Literally jump for joy – jumping promotes optimism.

Achieving long term goals

  • Set daily and long-term goals. Visualise yourself progressing along a timeline toward the goal, achieving each milestone along the way until you reach the goal.  

    As you visualise each milestone, clench your dominant fist, (firming your muscles literally makes you feel more determined), release it, walk toward the milestone and when you get there, celebrate by throwing your arms in the air in a winner pose.  Feel the success.  

    Repeat until you reach the goal in your mind’s eye. Celebrate again when you achieve that goal in real life (boosting dopamine and testosterone).
  • To generate energy to move forward, firm/flex your muscles; say out loud, “come on!  You can do this!” (boosts dopamine).

Physical intelligence underpins our cognitive and emotional intelligence.  

The more we use physical intelligence techniques, the better armed we will be to achieve business success.

This article was written by Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton, the authors of new wellbeing book Physical intelligence (Simon and Schuster).

One Response

  1. Nice piece Claire. And you
    Nice piece Claire. And you raise such an important area. It’s time we focused on more of our other intelligences, rather than just IQ and EQ. I really like what you have to say, but I was only a little surprised that you didn’t feature more about the importance of rehearsal. As you know as an ex-dancer and I know as an ex-actor, rehearsing new behaviours is vital in embedding learning. So, workshops are spaces for acclerated learning because they provide people with a safe space to practise. Of course, they are releasing and balancing the chemicals you highlight, but even without knowing the science, participants can use their physical intelligence to discover new leadership and communication styles and integrate them into their future behaviour. Sustainable change through PI.

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Claire Dale


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