Physical Intelligence – Key to Workplace Performance

by Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton

We’re all familiar with cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ); what about physical intelligence? Right now, hundreds of chemicals racing through each of our bodies (in our bloodstream and nervous system) largely dictate how we think, feel, speak and behave. Most of us operate at the mercy of those chemicals — experiencing thoughts, reactions and emotions — without realizing that we can strategically influence them. Physical Intelligence is the ability to detect and actively manage the balance of certain key chemicals so that we can achieve more, stress less, and live and work more happily.

Physical Intelligence enables us to approach our work environment more thoughtfully, ensuring that we’re supporting our own and our team’s performance by managing our physiology. Organizations that have adopted Physical Intelligence have experienced a measurable impact on business outcomes, including double-digit revenue growth; a 12.5% increase in commercial success of their deals; increased operating efficiency, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction scores; and enhanced innovation. Here are some Physical Intelligence tips for creating a work environment that will enhance performance.

Confidence and Cognitive Function

Sit and stand up straight: Sitting hunched over screens inhibits acetylcholine (a balance chemical essential for recovery) from reaching our brain and impedes our breathing, raising CO2, elevating cortisol (stress hormone), and reducing the quality of our cognitive function and mental and emotional performance. In other words, posture really matters.

How to: Sit/stand with your feet flat on the floor, straighten your spine (imagine a string from the top of your head suspending you from the ceiling) and square your shoulders (imagine them floating away from you toward opposite sides of the room).

Practice paced breathing: Paced breathing produces DHEA, a vitality chemical so powerful that synthetic DHEA is a banned substance for Olympic athletes yet we can produce it naturally every day through paced breathing. It also releases acetylcholine, empowering us to feel mentally and emotionally stable and confident, handling situations with clarity, balance and control.

How to: Allocate at least 10 minutes daily. Breathe diaphragmatically, with a steady count in (through the nose) and out (through the mouth); in and out counts can be different.

Trust-based Cultures

Neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s research reports that in organizations that share information broadly and intentionally build relationships and networks, and where leaders ask for support, there is 76% more engagement, people have 106% more energy, they are 50% more productive, 29% more satisfied with their lives, have 13% fewer days sick and 40% fewer cases of burnout. He has tested oxytocin (our social bonding and trust chemical) in the bloodstream of thousands of employees across many industries and cultures and has found that trust and purpose reinforce each other, raising oxytocin levels over a longer period.

Schedule Recovery Time: Another key component of trust-based, high-oxytocin cultures is balancing periods of intense effort with relaxation and recovery. Many people are working harder or longer hours, with fewer boundaries. We should counter that with restorative activities; after pushing ourselves hard, we need time to recover or we risk burnout.

How to: Write “REST” in blocks in your calendar each week and honor them: Retreat (take a break from all digital devices, media, social media, etc.), Eat (healthy food: lean protein, vegetables, fruit, limited simple carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol), Sleep (seven to nine hours per night) and Treat (healthy restorative treats: bike ride, hot bath, playing with children, beautiful music, whatever YOU find restorative).


We sometimes find ourselves staring at the computer screen waiting for creative inspiration. Turns out that is the last place we should be. When working online, dopamine (a reward chemical) is produced in greater quantities because we are able to achieve more and reach our goals faster. Constantly experiencing novelty keeps us engaged, possibly even addicted, over extended periods of time. Dopamine is a large part of what draws us to our screens. However, screen time can interfere with our creativity, and extensive screen time often leads to muscular tension in our shoulders, which has a negative impact on the quality of our thinking and our confidence levels.

How to promote creativity:

Calm your mind. Trust, novelty, vitality and positive mood all increase our chances of having creative ideas. Just before a creative connection is made, the visual cortex of the brain relaxes, and we enter a momentary calm alpha wave brain state. To increase the chances of having an insight, close your eyes and relax and clear your mind. A quiet mind and an internal focus help us capture ideas rather than having them drowned out by too much external data.

Shift your perspective. Dopamine is the most important chemical for creativity. It enables connections across multiple areas of the brain, including vision and imagination. It is released when things are novel, fun and when you look at them from different perspectives. If your creativity is blocked and you cannot move, shift your perspective and look at something you find beautiful in nature or art.

Start walking. Stanford University research indicates that people are 45% more likely to have a high-quality new idea while walking (outside or inside, even on a treadmill). Look for opportunities to get up and move throughout each day. Set reminders for movement each hour.

Soak up the sun. Daylight releases serotonin (a happiness chemical), which makes us feel lighter and more flexible. Creativity is a form of flexibility. If possible, set up your office in a sunny spot. When the sun is shining, spend some time outside, or at least near a sunny window. If outside, take off your sunglasses, get light into your eyes and soak up the sun.

Groups, too, will find their collective performance improve when members incorporate these physical intelligence tips into their routine.

Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are the directors of Companies in Motion and authors of award-winning best-seller Physical Intelligence (Simon & Schuster), available now in ebook and hardback, priced at $13.79.


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