Putting The Tools to Use – Working on Yourself

The further extract from my upcoming book The Body and Leadership,


By now you will be beginning to develop a good tool-bag of models, practices, tips and techniques. You have many of the tools necessary to transform yourself into an outstanding leader, whether that be in your chosen profession, parenting or just life in general. It’s time to deepen the work. Here are three more “algorithms” to simplify embodied work, remembering as ever that life and people are not simple so you can never just do it by the numbers.

The Insight Algorithm  – The Embodied Simulator

– identify – metaphor – observe – insight – apply – review

The insight algorithm is a fundamental way of working with the body that is used, often unconsciously, by most embodied trainers. It involves creating an embodied metaphor for external circumstances that are currently challenging or in need of fresh insight of another reason. One observes ones reactions which tend to match strongly one’s reactions in the world. The beauty of working with this embodied “life simulator” is that it slows down and simplifies what is normally too quick and too complex in life to have clear self-awareness. Most of the time we are too fired-up when dealing with challenges to see our patterns in relating to them clearly. The stage of the embodied process are as follows:

  • Identify and clarify external area to be examined
  • Create embodied metaphor for circumstances
  • Observe embodied reactions and possibilities
  • Gain insight into external circumstance (e.g. current patterns or new possibilities)
  • Apply insight back to external situation
  • Review and adjust


Paul has been feeling stressed and stuck at work and his relationship with his wife has been deteriorating lately but he’s not sure why. As he talks about this his coach notices he’s gripping a plastic bottle he’s holding very tightly and asks, “would you say you’re holding on too tight?”. Paul isn’t sure so with his coach’s suggests he firmly grasps the edge of a nearby table (to make sure it’s not just the water-bottle) and talks about his life again. It feels familiar and he realises that he is indeed holding on too tight and getting overly grasping and controlling. He starts to loosen his grip still talking and as he does this his perspective on the issues changes and he sees new options. He realises he needs to give his children, himself and his colleagues more slack and go with the flow a little more.

Joan is an administrator in an academic institution and has three different fellows making requests of her. Essentially she has three different bosses who are not coordinating and the result is she is overwhelmed doing 20 hours work a week for each of them. We set this up as a metaphor with three people pulling her (carefully) in different directions. The first thing that happens is she says how crazy a situation this is and really feels the impossibility and emotional overwhelm of it. Keeping it moderately but not traumatically stressful we try the metaphor again and she see a pattern she has of trying to ignore them and then getting aggressive when she can’t. She says, “yes this is exactly what in do!” and there’s a sense of really “getting it” in a way which her colleagues trying to tell her for the past year hasn’t. Trying for a third time Joan realises she needs to get them together on one side so they are all pulling one direction. With this insight she realises she needs to set up a weekly meeting between them where they agree to split her forty hours between them fairly.

Aldo a manager in a PR company says his boss micromanages him and always “looks over his shoulder”. As in many instances his language indicates a potential embodied avenue. A partner plays his boss and stands behind him looking over Aldo’s shoulder while he looks at his e-mails on his phone. Aldo feels angry and then starts acting secretively, trying to hide what he does which makes his partner look more. Realising that this is the pattern he shows and dynamic he sets up at work he turns and faces his “boss” and just shows him what he’s working on. Simple, but without the embodied practice not obvious.


Clarifying the situation at the start of this process is an art form and it takes some practice to simplify life to the key issue. A coach, mentor or facilitator can help a lot with this as well as helping you experience the embodied reactions you are showing and applying this insight back to life.

Growth Algorithm 1: Virtues

– name – FSOW – identify – practices – support – review

All leadership virtues are embodied and we can learn how to develop any capacity through through designing bodily practices.

  • Name desired virtue
  • State “for the sake of what” you wish to develop it
  • Identify how this is embodied, e.g. through modelling
  • Design practice to build this virtue
  • Create support structures and engage with communities of support an emersion
  • Review and adjust

Growth Algorithm 2:  Range & Balance

– name – FSOW – identify – excess – opposite – practices – support – review

As “the body learns through exaggeration and contrast” (Wendy Palmer) this algorithm can give us range and balance our tendencies.

  • Name a trait that in excess is causing problems
  • State “for the sake of what” you wish to work on it
  • Identify embodied pattern of this trait (outside observer may be useful)
  • Do more of that pattern so it can be seen in excess and felt if habituated to
  • Go out and keep going out into opposite embodied pattern
  • Go in and out of pattern several times
  • Design practice to build this virtue
  • Create support structures and engage with communities of support and emersion
  • Review and adjust

E.g. Terry has an issue with arrogance, while she likes pride and confidence there is a less useful side to this and she would like be less habitual and have more range and choice. Her motivation is the negative feedback she keeps getting on this by colleagues which is stopping her getting promoted. The trait “lives” in her body as a chin up, chest out and abruptness of movement patterns. She doesn’t feel this as she’s so used to it but has had it pointed out a number of times. She tries doing these actions more and feels what it’s like, and is both quite shocked and notes its familiarity. She then does the opposite lowering her chin, relaxing her chest and trying slower more flowing movement. This feels very odd at first but she designs a mini-practice to do this when she looks at her e-mail (about ten times a day) and uses Outlook to remind her. She also notes how her sister stands and moves – who people have always found very humble -and hangs-out with her and her friends like her a few times to feel another way of doing things. She makes note in her diary to take a look at how the practice is going a month from now.