Throwing Shapes – When Words Are Not Enough

Have you ever had lots of stuff going on in your head, but not quite been able to find the words to explain it to someone else? You know there’s something you’re not happy about, something that needs to change, but you can’t put it into words. That can certainly be true of the limiting beliefs that hold us back. Limiting beliefs lurk in our unconscious and we are usually ignorant of them because we can’t see them in the same way that other people can. A coach or a therapist will often help us to surface them linguistically, but it’s not always easy to do so on your own.

A few years ago, I was in a workshop with Fran Burgess. Fran is a psychotherapist, NLP trainer and writer who has studied NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) for some 30 years. It was a weekend workshop which focussed on modelling people to understand how they do what they do – a fundamental tenet of NLP. Modelling helps us to find the conscious and unconscious strategies behind successful behaviour. It can be used to help someone find the difference that makes the difference between what they do and what the expert does and can also be used to help an expert better understand what makes them successful and further enhance their performance. This is particularly useful in sport performance and other contexts where successful individuals are looking to be high performing at ever higher levels.

But here’s the thing. High performers don’t always know what makes them successful, in the same way as we don’t always know what limiting beliefs hold us back. We can try to put these things into words, but it’s not always easy to pull them into conscious thought and language. Fran used a somatic technique, developed by Steve Gilligan, to help our unconscious give up the answers. Somatic = body, rather than mind based work. Not a word is spoken or needed!

I love using this process with clients – it so often releases the final piece of the jigsaw, even if they still can’t put it into words. It still seems to find the difference that makes the difference for the client.

Are you willing to give it a try? It’s not so much about learning a fancy technique as it is about being prepared to tune into your body. Perhaps the hardest thing is letting go of thinking and just allowing your body to come up with the answers.

1.  Think about something that you want to be or achieve, and yet you know you are stopping yourself in some way. Give it a score out of 10 – as you think about it right now, how successful do you think you can be?

2.  Ok. As you become more aware of this thing that you want – use your hands to create a movement that somehow encapsulates what you want to be. If the movement is bigger than your hands, that’s fine – let your body create the movement that is right for you. You might notice you are working just with your hands and arms, or it may be bigger. Be curious and playful and keep working on the movement until you find what fits perfectly with your aspiration.

3.  Next, notice what is holding you back. Again, take your time, be curious and let your hands and body create a movement that describes this limiting belief or resistance.

4.  Now practice the two movements in turn. First go back to what you want (your first movement) and then move into the movement that reflects your limiting belief – keep going between the two moves, over and over.

5.  Notice how, as you continue to go between the two movements, they start to become one – a combination of both. Let this new movement emerge and keep practicing your integrated new move – it is your body’s expression of your new wisdom. Let it flow. Remember to breathe too!

6.  You will naturally know when your work is done. Just continue to tune into your body until your movement is perfectly yours.

7.  And finally, ask yourself again. On that scale of 1-10, how successful do you feel you can be?
It’s a great exercise for detecting and removing things that hold you back, especially unearthing those pesky limiting beliefs! It’s also possible to make great progress on your own using this exercise, which is why I thought I’d write about it.

Sometimes though, as with physical exercise, it’s not quite enough to take ourselves to the gym alone, there are times where we need the personal trainer to witness our progress and will us on too – you might remember that from my earlier post about the All Blacks and the fundamentals of greatness! Whether you’re trying to adopt the expert approach that’s right for you, or to become even more expert than you already are, if you’d like help to ‘find the difference that makes the difference for you’ – do get in touch.

Until next time.

Be unstoppable today!



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Personal Leadership & Mindset Coach to ambitious professionals who are on a mission. Athletes ★ Performers ★ Entrepreneurs ★ Business & Political Leaders ★ Legacy Makers

7 thoughts on “Throwing Shapes – When Words Are Not Enough

  1. What a great exercise. My movement had me doing an interesting dance move, which I’m sure wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 70’s disco! It did kind of explain to me what I can’t put in to words. Very interesting!

    1. Wow – loving your creativity as it emerges in each of your responses, Michele. It’s so good to hear that it worked for you too – it’s amazing how powerful movement can be, when we just can’t find the words….

  2. Sounds great – I’m not very good with limiting beliefs but strive to understand, recognise and change. I’m certainly no dancer either but think I will try this. Not now but later after running around for half an hour, hot shower and when totally relaxed! Intrigued at how my dance will turn out – feel it may just look like a demented chicken!! lol

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