A modest proposal for 2013
I’ve always found it curious, our cultural habit of bringing various things to work on designated days of the year. A quick troll of the Internet reveals an amazing variety of days (some real, some imagined) in which people are encouraged to bring some person or item of interest with them to the office, the school, the hospital or the factory. For example:
bring you son to work day
bring your daughter to work day
bring your dog to work day
bring your cat to work day
bring your granny to work day
bring your smile to work day
bring your hockey stick to work day
bring your emotions to work day
bring your gun to work day (please don’t)
These suggestions range from the frivolous to the serious to the absurd, but they all sort of miss the point, which is to say, my point. That is, the modern workplace has now become so completely digitized that the thing most notoriously absent is the body itself. By this, I don’t mean to suggest that people are showing up in the morning as vaporous, non-material spirits, wafting through the workplace until quitting time. Rather, people are showing up as minimally physical beings (MPBs). With the overwhelming emphasis now on cognitive operations and computing, whole-body participation has now become optional and is rapidly disappearing. More and more people are showing up for work and in effect, leaving their bodies behind.
Many observers are undisturbed by this trend and see no problem with a physically-absent workforce or companies run by MPB’s. But when the body disappears, we lose a lot more than just muscle and vitality. We lose a lot more than billions of health care dollars each year. We also lose things like engagement, good judgment, social intelligence, creativity and team cohesion. These qualities are all of the body, products of our innate physical intelligence and vigorous physical living. When we leave our bodies at home, we also leave huge chunks of our human potential behind us. When the body goes missing, so too does our ability to focus completely on the task at hand. In the business world, this is know as presenteeism.
Given this epidemic of physical absence, I’m proposing that we establish a “National Take Your Body to Work Day.” To many, this will sound perfectly crazy, but in fact, it’s a reasonable request and a powerful reminder of just how completely we are missing the mark in the modern world.
So how do we take our bodies to work? Well, it’s not like bringing your dog to work. You can’t just park your body under your desk and let it nap for the day. But this is precisely what most of us do on most days. We use our bodies for their locomotor function in the morning, getting our eyes and brains to the computer, and then park our physical awareness under the desk. Just as we do with our dogs, we expect that our bodies should sleep out the remainder of the day, not bothering anyone or interfering with the tasks at hand. Maybe a quick walk at noon, a chance to poop and pee, then it’s back under the desk for the rest of the afternoon.
Instead, we need to increase our attention and physical mindfulness. This means paying more attention to things like posture, vitality, movement and engagement. This means cultivating a physical presence, punctuated with frequent reminders of who and what we truly are. To maintain our physicality, we need to honor the body with the mind, behavior and workplace culture.
Specifically, this means taking frequent movement snacks throughout the course of the day. Big sweaty workouts are all fine and good, but we’ve got to maintain our physicality during the rest of the day as well. A few minutes of movement every hour or so can have a powerful effect on maintaining our physical intelligence. Wake the body up with a few squats and some stretching, and do it often. These modest movement snacks are both practical and effective. You can do them almost anywhere and since they’re short, you won’t even work up a sweat. But you will remind yourself about yourself; you’ll bring your attention back to your body where it belongs. And then, as an Embodied Physical Being, you can return to work, completely present and effective.
Of course, defenders of the status quo will protest my proposal as unworkable and unreasonable. They’ll demand to know what the ROI is for such a radical and intrusive program. Will it deliver on its promises? Well, to be sure, it’s not easy to measure the costs and benefits of such things as physical vitality, embodiment and mindfulness in the workplace, but we do know one thing: the Return On Inaction will be substantial, even catastrophic. Doing nothing means continuing with a culture of physical apathy, sedentary behavior, lifestyle disease and presenteeism. If you can afford that, maybe you don’t need the body in your workplace.
But my guess is that you’ll see the merits of physicality and embodiment.
It’s really a win-win for everyone.