Embodied cognition, according to the peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is defined as "a growing research program in cognitive science that emphasizes the formative role the environment plays in the development of cognitive processes." (1)
Breaking that mouthful down, it looks at how our thinking doesn’t just occur in our brain. In fact, more and more research theorizes that our physical experiences also influence how our mind sees, receives and processes information and ideas.
To put it simply, we “think” with our bodies and not just with our heads.
“This is why we say that something is ‘over our heads’ to express the idea that we do not understand; we are drawing upon the physical inability to not see something over our heads and the mental feeling of uncertainty,” explains the Scientific American. (2) “Or why we understand warmth with affection; as infants and children the subjective judgment of affection almost always corresponded with the sensation of warmth, thus giving way to metaphors such as ‘I’m warming up to her.’”
Recent studies on this have created fascinating results that have big implications on how we try to improve ourselves, create breakthroughs, or come up with creative solutions to problems and situations.
In one study published in Singapore, researchers explored the idea of "thinking outside the box" by literally having people sit and work/problem solve within or outside of a physical, real box. (3) Those who worked outside of the box scored higher on various tests given to test their mental processes.
And in another study published in the research journal "Conscious Cognition," study participants were asked to break down a wall. (4) By going through the actions, participants boosted their mental persistence and mental flexibility. By literally breaking something, they increased their chances of experiencing a breakthrough. A break through led, in essence, to a breakthrough.
This is the secret success of embodied cognition that you can begin experimenting with today. You see, once you recognize how your physical movement and sensations affect your mind, you can start to take action (in a literal sense) to help manifest the type of mindset, thoughts, creativity and success you need.
While the process of embodied cognition is complex, trying it out is relatively simple. Take a look at what you’re trying to accomplish, then imagine what actions or activities need to happen in order for that specific thing to occur.
For example, if you need to get creative and think outside the box, act out the literal act of thinking outside of a box. Or, if you need to do a difficult task like give a speech, try actually giving the speech.
Whether it’s through literal actions or even visualization, going through the motions and doing the actions that help manifest your new reality can, in turn, spark new thought processes and mental breakthroughs that bring about exactly what you need.
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