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Somatic Tracking Skills for Your Leadership Development

My style of Leadership Coaching is all about helping clients develop their interpersonal skills, facilitating insights and their ability to positively influence peoples lives and work. Underneath all this external behaviour is a human being whose interior life guides their actions. Connecting work with core values, strengths and sense of purpose greatly helps this process be congruent. The development of leadership asks that we continuously work on overcoming our personal challenges and simultaneously work on facilitating process and systems change in increasingly complex and demanding organisational environments.

In leadership and life there is always challenges and because of the constant transitional nature of change, emotion are triggering the nervous system and stress can accumulate. Self awareness is one of the key leadership characteristics that can help you understand and manage yours and other peoples emotions while on the leadership path. Mindfulness and breath work are evidence based practices that can help you increase your mind body awareness and be more present for decision making in the moment.

In the 8-week Empower Program you can receive an 8 module online mindfulness course workbook with weekly practices to systematically help you track your reactions in the body mind and increase your self awareness and choice. The mindfulness aspect of my leadership coaching is instrumental in leadership development and provides clients with a lifelong skill for deepening self discovery, understanding how to track and intervene in their somatic reactions and develop leadership capability.

What is Somatic Tracking?

The best way to understand what somatic tracking is, is by recalling a time when when you experienced something uncomfortable. It might have been giving or receiving negative feedback at work, a conflict with a friend or family member or a time when you felt really challenged by your circumstances. You might remember how your chest felt very tight, your breath was short, your stomach was turning or you were shaky and your speech was choppy. This kind of reaction is often referred to as the 'fight or flight' state and it's an evolutionary adaptation to help us get away from danger. However there are many situations were this kind of reaction occurs and it is unhelpful to run away. If we kept running away from things we felt challenged by we would not be able to change and nor would our culture.

Mindfulness can help us track these reactions and increase our awareness of how we are responding to different people and things in our environment. With an effective mindfulness practice we can develop the capacity to process and release stronger emotions and be more conscious about how we are responding to the situations in which they arise. We can develop greater equanimity in the face of all our emotions, begin to fine tune our instinctive responses with action that is more discerning and wise.

How can you Track Your Somatic Body?

Mindfulness: Through a regular mindfulness meditation and breath work practice (see activity below) you can learn to sit with your discomfort and challenging emotions a little more. Through the formal practice of mindfulness meditation you will increase the possibility of noticing in the moment when your body is having a reaction to something.

Modern life is full of creature comforts and our culture is addicted to happiness and positive feelings so if you want to grow a sustainable leadership capacity you will need to really hone the skill of being able to sit with difficulty and discomfort.

Examine: Imagine you're a scientist and your body and mind is your research project and this step is all about trying to understand your bodies reactions to people and situations so you can better manage them. Developing mindfulness will help you intervene when long held avoidance, defence and resistance strategies are triggered.

It's important to acknowledge these habits are developed early on for protections, were once very useful for your survival, may no longer be helpful and can take time to change. Asking yourself how these habitual reactions are serving you as an adult and if they are not it might be time to work on releasing them to make space for new responses.

Presence: The key to being more aware of subconscious material is to slow down, do breath work and drop your attention into the sensations of the physical body. The body is an organic, self organising system and you just need to get out of head where the stories from your past keep you locked into familiar reactions you've been unconsciously identifying with. Pause here consistently enough to see what else is present in the moment. This aspect requires you to cultivate an open mind and heart to the possibility of what is unknown. In mindfulness we call this quality beginners mind and as you do this, you begin to let go and release old ways of reacting by being less attached to your past worldview. Presence is dynamic, open, curious and connected to a larger sense of self.

Release: Our early childhood conditioning sets up the neural architecture for all our relationships and this is what is know as our default mode network. The good news is it's not hardwired and the whole brain structure itself is what neuroscientists call 'plastic'. Memory is formed based on emotional circuitry in the brain and it's this circuitry that can illicit an emotional reaction, so it makes sense that this is where the change needs to happen with corrective emotional experiences.

If we want to learn a new response to stimuli we need to practice using our mindfulness, breath, movement and posture to create a sense of calm and safety in the body when we notice the fight or flight reaction. This practice is the key to letting go and releasing and it allows our physiology to regulate and co-regulate with others and see other ways to respond that can embrace our values and leadership vision.

Activity: A great practice for leaders to track their somatic reactions is by taking cold showers. Here's how you can intentionally practice breath work and movement through an uncomfortable somatic reactions. If you're anything like me when you first try this you will experience extreme aversion. My default reaction is to gasp, hold my breath and then next is to leap out of the shower while my body feels explosive and seeks to exhale.

Using breath work I have been able to retrain myself to take full deep breaths and exhale for extended periods, stay under the cold water and then gently sway from side to side and turn toward the cold water source without feeling the rise of panic and fight or flight reactions. I started with 10 seconds and now I am pushing up to a minute.

By deliberately controlling my reaction to cold water now I have shown myself how to use my breath, body and mindset in other domains of life where I am faced with difficulty, including leadership. On a side note there are all kinds of other health benefits for cold water exposure but the mental and emotional benefits are helpful for understanding how to undertake somatic tracking. For more tools and leadership coaching reach out for a free 15 minute call.


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