MOTION CREATES EMOTION

In this lesson you will discover that you have millions of tiny nerves distributed throughout your body called proprioceptors. These proprioceptors send messages to your Leader (your thinking brain) to tell it where your body parts are in space and how they are moving. On the way to the Leader the signals from these proprioceptors pass through your Limbo and so how you position your body and how you move influences how you feel. The takeaway message is that “motion creates emotion”! Studies have shown that moving your body for just 10 minutes is enough to lift your mood, so “move dynamically”.

L.E.T.S. do it by following these 4 steps!

→ LEARN, STEP ONE

To learn the simple science, you can choose to WATCH, READ or LISTEN by clicking on the links (or do all three!). Note that the READ and LISTEN sections dive deeper into the content.

Option 1: Great for adults

Option 2: Great for the young and ‘young at heart’

WATCH

WATCH

READ

LISTEN

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Here are some more fun resources relating to this lesson:

Check out what this kid does when the cameras pan on him while he is waiting for the game to start and see if it doesn’t make you smile!

Here is a more comprehensive demonstration of a resistance exercise session and stretching session (with the help of my lovely assistants Heather and Tish!). These videos were developed for the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) which is a premier Lifestyle Medicine program that I am a presenter in.

A BONUS LIFT >>

Being active in nature can be especially uplifting.
Explore this bonus lesson to discover why ‘blue and green should often be seen’.

→ EXPERIENCE, STEP TWO

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Any positive steps you make are steps in the right direction. But if you really want to challenge yourself…

#1. Each day this week “step it up” by endeavouring to take 10,000 steps each day or be active for 30 minutes or more each day (you can break those 30 minutes up into 10 minute chunks!). Also, take a break from prolonged bottom-dwelling (ie. sitting)!

#2. Once this week “lift it” by trying a resistance exercise session. Your proprioceptors will send uplifting messages to your Limbo.

→ THINK, STEP THREE

What’s the Big Idea? Imagine you are in an elevator and you have 30 seconds to explain to someone the Big Idea of this session. What would you say?

How did the challenges go? Did they give you a lift? What worked well and what could be even better next time?

→ SHARE, STEP FOUR

Here are 3 ways to share your Lift Project Adventure: Talk, Tell, Tag:

TALK

TALK about this lesson with others who are also doing The Lift Project, either face-to-face or online, to chat about what you learnt this lesson that is new and helpful to you and how you went with the challenges.

TELL

TELL someone who is not doing The Lift Project something you learnt this lesson that could give them a lift.

We rise by lifting others!

TAG

TAG us on Instagram with your experience of this lesson’s challenges. Use the hashtags: #motioncreatesemotion #theliftproject.

READ

Motion creates emotion

– Move Dynamically –

Exercise is the most potent, underutilized antidepressant.

Bill Phillips –

Try this simple activity: hold your pointer finger out in front of you as far as you can reach and then with your eyes closed, guide that finger back to touch your nose. (If someone sees you doing it, just pretend you were stretching). So did you skilfully navigate your finger to the tip of your nose? I am assuming you did because you are a winner. But how is it possible, given that you can’t see your finger to guide it?

I once asked that question of an audience and one individual said, “I just aimed a little higher than my mouth and my brain knows where my mouth is because I am constantly putting food in it!”

This is partly true; your brain does know where your body parts are, even when it can’t see them, because throughout your body there are millions of tiny nerve endings called proprioceptors. Proprioceptors detect where your body parts are in relation to each other, where they are in space, and how they are moving, and then relay this information back to your brain. The sense of proprioception is truly powerful, so much so that it has been said, “Without it, our brains are lost.”

On the way to your thinking brain (the “Leader”), the messages from these proprioceptors pass directly through your feeling brain (your “Limbo”). Hence, just like the nerves that lead from the language area of the Leader, these proprioceptors form another source of input into your Limbic system. The result is that motion creates emotion as our proprioceptors tell our Limbo how to feel.

Act How You Want To Feel

Actors utilise the power of proprioception. If they have to portray an angry character, they will stomp around backstage with their fists and teeth clenched to help them get “in state.” In effect, the proprioceptors send angry messages to their Limbo, so their Limbo takes the hint and gets angry! Acting how you want to feel is such a well-known tool within acting circles that “emotional states” are referred to as “actions.”

Undoubtedly, our body can exert a profound effect on our brain. In the words of Eugene Peterson: “We can act our way into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel our way into a new way of acting.”

Bodily maps of emotion

Expressions like getting “cold feet”, experiencing “shivers down the spine” and being “broken-hearted” may have a scientific basis. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Finnish researchers asked people to indicate where in their body they experienced a variety of emotions. As shown below, different emotions were described by the participants to activate (red/yellow) or deactivate (blue/black) regions of their body. Intriguingly, the reports were remarkably consistency, even across different cultural groups.

Indeed, what we do with our body affect how we feel, but how we feel affects what we experience in our body.

Proprioceptors can be used in the same way to manage anxiety. When you are anxious, changes occur in your body, many of which—like a racing heart and sweaty palms—you have no control over. However, there are a few symptoms of anxiety that you can modify, and you can use these to calm your Limbo by sending it soothing messages via your proprioceptors. These anxiety-reducing quick fixes can be summarised as the 3-S approach: Slow, Sip and Sink.

Slow refers to your breathing. Anxiety is associated with shallow and rapid breathing. In fact, breathing like this can bring on an anxiety attack! Conversely, when you are calm your breathing is slow and deep. Step one in creating a state of calmness is to consciously take slow and full breaths. This sends calming messages to your Limbo from the proprioceptors in your body, and is why breathing exercises are integral to many relaxation strategies.

Sip refers to wetting your mouth with water. Have you ever noticed how dry your mouth gets when you are anxious? You couldn’t spit if your life depended on it! When I go hang gliding I always have a water bottle handy and whenever I feel nervous, I take a sip. Simply wetting my mouth calms me through my proprioceptors’ influence on the Limbo. If you have a fear of public speaking, take small sips of water before you get up to speak—it makes a difference!

Finally, sink relates to what you do with your muscles. When gripped by fear or anxiety your muscles tighten, ready for action, and this over-excitation can even create the shakes that often accompany a frightened state. You can relieve this sense of anxiety by making a conscious effort to relax your muscles, by lowering your shoulders, by wiggling your fingers and by allowing your body to sink. By doing this you send calming messages to your Limbo via your proprioceptors.

Test for yourself and see if the 3S approach helps you to feel calmer and more relaxed. Right now, while sitting down, try the following: take a couple of deep slow breaths, wet your mouth (if you have water nearby), and consciously relax your muscles as you sink into your seat. It really works!

Proprioceptors are known to be so powerful that even just the proprioceptors in your face can influence how you feel. In the 1970s a researcher from Clark University explored a phenomenon referred to as “facial feedback” by placing electrodes on people’s faces and stimulating their facial muscles to pull smiles or frowns. Even though they didn’t know what their faces were doing, participants reported feeling angrier when frowning and happier when smiling. Smiling while exercising has even been reported to improve performance, however, forcing a cheesy grin while you feel like you are about to puke might be challenging.

Other researchers have found that when people were forced to smile by holding a pencil in their mouth—try it!—they found watching a video clip or cartoon funnier, which made them laugh more and feel happier. As Vietnamese peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Can Botox make me happier?

I am not advocating this, but a series of studies have indicated that botox injections in the facial area may reduce symptoms of major depression. As discussed in this 2018 publication, there are several hypotheses as to why this might be the case, including: 1. the person feels better because they think they look better; 2. they actually do look better and other people are therefore nicer to them for some reason; 3. some of the Botox seeps into their brain and does something we don’t yet understand; 4. it reduces negative facial feedback.

The evidence suggests that the fourth hypothesis is the most likely. Botox relaxes the muscles it is injected into and by deactivating frowning muscles the proprioceptors in them don’t tell your Limbo that you are down. However, while not being able to frown might make you feel better, there is some indications that it might also decrease your ability to process emotional language. A study published in Psychological Science found that when people couldn’t frown (due to a Botox injection) they found it more difficult to processes sentences that described situations that would normally make people frown.

The best, cheapest and safest approach for lifting your mood remains to increase positive facial feedback by smiling more!

The take-way message is that what you do with your body can have a profound effect on your Limbo. For this reason, former President of the American Psychological Association, Professor Martin Seligman, stated in his book Flourish: “At least half of positive psychology occurs below the neck”.

Knowing that motion creates emotion provides an excellent opportunity for you to change your emotional state. You can intentionally use the proprioceptors distributed throughout your body to trick your two-year-old-like Limbo into creating the emotions you want. It’s a simple principle: act how you want to feel. It applies to both your posture and how you move.

Don’t Just Sit There!

Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand conducted an intriguing study in which they strapped participants with tape so that they were forced into either a slumped or upright seated posture to see how it affected their mood and stress levels. The participants remained in this posture for about half an hour while the researchers conducted a series of tests. Compared to those with the slumped posture, the “upright” participants reported a significant mood lift and felt more motivated, less fearful and more confident. During the experiment, the participants were asked to write a speech and the “slumped” participants used more negative and dejected vocabulary.

Even if you don’t want to feel depressed, act like it in the way you position your body, and the feeling will grow on you anyway. It is my belief that part of the reason we have an epidemic of depression today is because many people are behaving like they are depressed for hours and hours every day. An increasing number of people spend their working day hunched over a computer, shoulders slumped forward and head downcast. A posture like that causes millions of proprioceptors to send depressive signals to your Limbo. Is it any wonder that your Limbo makes you feel lousy if that is how you spend the day?

There is nothing wrong with lazing about from time to time, but the problem is that we tend to do so much sitting nowadays, and sitting leads to slumping. It is not uncommon for people to be “bottom-dwelling” for 15 or more hours every day, which is truly remarkable given that most people are only awake for 16 to 18 hours. We sit to eat breakfast, we sit to commute to work, we sit hunched-over in front of a computer at work, we sit to commute home, we sit for dinner and then, because we are so exhausted, we sit in front of a screen until bed time, so we can do it all again the next day.

There are two things that you can do to help prevent your Limbo getting the message that you are “down” so that it doesn’t make you feel more that way. First, when seated, sit up straight with good posture. I once attended a media training course and one of the first things they taught was that when being interviewed—even if on radio, where the listeners cannot see you—sit up straight and lean forward slightly. Why? Because this posture makes you come across as more energetic and animated. In effect, your proprioceptors bombard your Limbo with the message that you are alive and well, so you feel that way and come across that way to others.

The second thing you can do to prevent your Limbo ‘feeling’ you are down is to stand up! Historically, National Physical Activity Guidelines only provided recommendations as to how long and how hard we should exercise for good health. Now they also warn against “sedentary behaviours” like too much sitting. It is recommended that people should get on their feet for a few minutes every hour or so to break up prolonged periods of sitting, because there is established evidence showing that being sedentary for prolonged periods does not serve us well (mentally or physically). A study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry in 2020 found that young people who became increasingly sedentary through the ages of 12-14 years were significantly more likely to be depressed at age 18.

The take-away lesson is pay careful attention to your posture and the amount of time you spend being sedentary.

To give your Limbo a lift, sit up and stand up. Not only will you feel better, you might discover other benefits too. A study conducted at Harvard Business School found that adopting an open, expansive posture for just two minutesbefore giving a speech as part of a job interview resulted in the interviewers rating the interviewee as more confident and employable.

But there is an even better way to activate your proprioceptors for good effect.

Move More

A little while ago as I walked into my local shopping mall I was confronted with a sign advertising “Happiness, only $99.” Intrigued, I approached the shop assistant to enquire further. He explained that the $99 was the first of ten payments that purchased the treadmill the sign was attached to. So was it false advertising? Can exercise make you happy?

Personally, I can honestly say that exercise does make me happy and more emotionally upbeat, but I know there are others who do not share my perspective. However, the science agrees with me!

When you move dynamically, millions of proprioceptors throughout your body scream out to your Limbo, telling it that you are all-systems-go! Little wonder that being physically active can improve your mood. Just in case you remain unconvinced, here is the evidence.

We have known for decades that a single bout of exercise can lift the blues and improve mood—it can take as little as 10 minutes, walking is all that is required, and it even works for people who are suffering with major depression. To date, more than 25 rigorous studies have concluded that regular physical activity is associated with better mood and the prevention of depression—in other words, physical activity can make you happier and more emotionally resilient! An analysis of over 1.2 million people in the United States found that physically active individuals experienced on average 1.5 less “down days” per month. Several studies have even shown that exercise is comparable to antidepressant medication for relieving depression—and the only side-effects of exercise are good ones. Indeed, exercise is medicine when it comes to the prevention and treatment of depression.

Research involving 15 European countries found a positive association between the amount of physical activity people performed and how happy they were. In other words, when it comes to physical activity, the more the merrier! In 2017, a study of more than 10,000 individuals revealed that not only are more physically active people happier than those who move less, individuals are also happier in the moments when they are more physically active.

I hope you are now convinced and impressed by the power of “moving” to help you be up more and down less. However, note that the strategy for giving your Limbo a lift introduced in this chapter is “move dynamically.” Studies indicate that more intense exercise is particularly effective for achieving a mood lift. The reason for this is apparent: more intense exercise results in your proprioceptors cheering with a louder voice and your Limbo listens!

A dynamic way to stimulate your proprioceptors is to perform resistance exercises. A 2018 meta-analysis, which drew together the findings of 33 studies, concluded that resistance exercise significantly reduces depressive symptoms among adults of all ages regardless of their health status, and the positive benefits occur even when only a small amount of resistance exercises are performed. Indeed, resistance exercises are very effective for making people feel good.

There are several mechanisms through which physical activity improves mood and can relieve depression. Firstly, physical activity causes the Limbo to release chemicals called beta-endorphins into the rest of your brain. Beta-endorphins make you feel good—even euphoric—and can blunt pain. Ever heard of the “runner’s high”? That’s endorphins. Interestingly, endorphins are addictive, which is why regular exercisers get cranky if they can’t get out for a few days—they are experiencing “withdrawal symptoms.” My wife has kindly said to me more than once, “Darren, I think you need to go for a run!”

Secondly, scientists are discovering that when muscles contract they produce and release hundreds of chemicals called myokines. After being released by our muscles, these myokines circulate throughout our body where they have positive effects on many organs, including our brain. Given that our body contains around 600 muscles that on average make up 40-50% of our body weight, this means that our muscular system can be a powerful producer of happy hormones. In fact, our muscles might be our body’s largest internally drug store.

Can exercise make you smarter?

Aristotle was famous for lecturing to his students whilst on the move. In fact, the place of learning he established in Ancient Greece was known as the “Peripatetic school”, which literally means “given to walking around”.

Today, considerable research is focusing a chemical called Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF for short. BDNF is released in response to exercise and stimulates brain development, improves brain function and might prevent cognitive decline. BDNF even promotes the development of new brain cells in your Limbo, which can facilitate learning and memory.

In conclusion, both the ancient and modern can attest that moving dynamically is a smart thing to do!

Clearly, physical activity is one of the most evidence-based and effective methods available for promoting and enhancing emotional wellbeing. Recognising this, it is alarming that over the past century, there has been an accelerating decline in our physical activity levels. Today, we are probably more inactive than humans have ever been throughout history. As you can see in the figure below, it is estimated that we are 60–70 per cent less active than those living just a few generations ago, which equates to walking about 16 kilometres (10 miles) less every day. Not only is this contributing to the current obesity epidemic and rise in chronic diseases, but imagine what it is also doing to your Limbo. It is not surprising that so many people are feeling down.

Mustering Motivation

However, even when you know that physical activity lifts your Limbo, you can still struggle to find the motivation to do anything about it. The problem with having to move is that you have to move to do it! Most people already know that physical activity is good for them, yet they find it difficult to convert that knowledge into action. As the saying goes, the world is full of people who know what to do but don’t do what they know. I address this in my book Live More: Active—a book dedicated to helping people activate their life for good—half the chapters are about discovering motivation.

There are many barriers that get in the way of people being physically active (fortunately there are some great strategies for dealing with these obstacles) but one of the most common reasons people fail to move is because they are simply too exhausted. They get home at the end of the day and just want to collapse in a heap on the sofa. Runninga bath is the only exercise they feel they have the energy for. If your work is physically demanding, you are probably forgiven for feeling that way because you might have expended a lot of energy throughout the day. But it is my observation that those with physical jobs are often not the ones lazing about after work; it’s more likely those who have sedentary occupations.

So how can you muster more motivation to get mobile? As you have already learned, the secret to becoming more motivated lies in switching on your Limbo as it is also your motivation centre.

Current physical activity guidelines recommend that adults, both young and old, should be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days. This doesn’t mean 30 minutes of exhausting and sweaty exercise such as running down the street like you just stole something. The guidelines refer to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, which is what you would rate as a 3–4 out of 10 in effort. When performing moderate-intensity physical activity, you will notice that you breathe a little more than normal but you can still hold a conversation—that is not so hard!

Often when I give presentations on becoming more physically active and I share with the audience that they should aim for 30 minutes every day: I see some people adopt a facial expression that screams, “Are you kidding? Thirty minutes!” When I observe this, I change tack and instead say that they only need to go for five minutes. When I see the relief on their faces, I conclude with, “And if after the five minutes of being active, you feel like it, go for another 25 minutes.” You have probably experienced it yourself: The hard part is getting started. Once you have started to move dynamically, the messages sent by your proprioceptors cause your Limbo to get in the mood and make you feel more motivated.

So, if you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day but you haven’t been expending much physical energy throughout it, there is a good chance that your Limbo just needs a kick-start which you can supply by taking the first step. To borrow Nike’s famous slogan, “Just do it!” Put on your walking shoes and walk to the end of your street. You have my permission to reassess whether you want to continue from there, but I will almost guarantee that your Limbo will have woken up by then. To get on a roll, you need to start rolling!

Putting it into Practice

Here are the challenges I will be offering in the “Experience” section that follows this “Learn” section of the lesson. Remember, the more you put in the more you will get out!

1. Step it up!

Prioritise at least 30 minutes per day to perform moderate-intensity physical activity. Remember, it doesn’t need to be hard, just a 3—4 out of 10 in effort. Or you can break it up into three chunks of 10 minutes as that is all it takes to give your Limbo a lift. In fact, I would encourage you to do this, as you can then experience several Limbo lifts throughout the day!

If you have a step-counter such as a pedometer or an electronic activity bracelet, another way to help you move more is to monitor your steps. Studies show that when people wear a pedometer, they will usually take an extra 2000 or so steps each day because there is something rewarding about watching the count go up! The goal is to achieve 10,000 steps each day—if you do, you can consider yourself to be in the “active” range.

Another helpful thing is to take note of your posture throughout the day. If you spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer screen, are you sitting upright or slumped over? Simply adjusting the height of your screen can help achieve a better posture. And don’t sit there for too long! If you are required to sit, endeavour to get up and move about for a few minutes every hour—go and get a drink of water or find any excuse to get on your feet. Standing desks, which allow you to work while standing up, are also a great way to decrease your sitting time.

2. Lift it!

Try a basic resistance exercise session. Stimulating your proprioceptors in this way can give your Limbo a lift!

Recap

By moving dynamically, you can send uplifting messages to your Limbo via the millions of nerves—called proprioceptors—distributed throughout your body. So sit up, stand up, step up and lift it to live more!