108. Kevin Chapman: Discovering our physical intelligence

In this episode, host Sue Stockdale welcomes Kevin Chapman, co-founder of the Physical Intelligence Institute. Kevin shares his passion for helping people perform at their best by understanding and utilizing the full potential of their bodies. He introduces the concept of physical intelligence and explores how our bodies can impact our confidence and anxiety levels. Through science and practical applications, Kevin empowers listeners to optimise their performance and achieve their desired outcomes.

Kevin Chapman is a highly experienced coach, consultant, trainer, communication specialist and business leader. As managing director of RADA Business, Kevin built a market-leading performance brand in communication training and leadership impact, growing the business substantially over 5 years. This work included developing pioneering training for women in multiple countries to build confidence and presence at work. Kevin holds a degree in Mathematical Statistics and Operations Research from Exeter University, an MBA and is a qualified coach. He is also a Trustee of the Comedy School and supporter of The Forgiveness Project.

Connect with Kevin Chapman via Website : LinkedIn

Key Quotes

  • “You can release serotonin by twisting at the waist.”
  • “Internal chemistry has a direct impact on our mood.”
  • “If we create a fist and push that against our hand, we’ll actually generate more testosterone in our system and we may feel that we have a higher level of risk tolerance, which may help us to speak up.”
  • “Doing something like pace breathing over three months, apart from reducing levels of stress, can improve our cognitive function by 62%.”

Time Stamps

[00:02:29] Using the body for confidence.
[00:07:39] Embodied training in drama schools.
[00:11:20] Flexibility in adapting communication.
[00:14:06] The world of embodiment.
[00:17:48] Serotonin and gut chemistry.
[00:21:22] Performance practices for virtual meetings.
[00:26:00] Managing stress and burnout.
[00:28:22] Physical Intelligence Institute

This series is kindly supported by Squadcast by Descript –the remote recording platform which empowers podcasters by capturing high-quality audio and video conversations. Find out more at squadcast.fm

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00:13 *Sue * Hello, I’m Sue Stockdale, and welcome to episode 108 of the Access to Inspiration podcast, the show where you can be inspired by people who may be unalike you. Now, if you’ve ever wondered why sitting up straight can make you feel more confident or taking deep breaths can help to minimize anxiety, then today’s guest, Kevin Chapman from the Physical Intelligence Institute, can explain. Welcome to the podcast, Kevin.

00:39 Kevin Hi, lovely to meet you.

00:41 *Sue * I feel I should be sitting up straight having this conversation, since we’re going to be exploring the body in what we’re talking about today. So maybe it would be a good place to start to tell the listener, what is it that you do, Kevin?

00:52 Kevin That’s a very good question. Fundamentally, my passion, my interest, I guess, as it’s been all my life and my career is in helping people to perform and be at their best. I trained several times as a coach and the arc of my life really led me into being very interested in how we use the full technology of our bodies to really be able to perform at our best and really understanding what it means to be living in a body as well as a mind and how we can use that. And so, particularly in the last few years, I’ve been working on something called physical intelligence, which is really helping people to really understand how they work as a human being and put into people’s hands the science and the practices that people can apply in their own lives to get the sorts of outcomes that they want.

01:41 *Sue * I’m sitting here thinking, when we have seen gymnasts or athletes or sports professionals of different types being aware of how their body is helping or hindering them from performing, I’m not always so sure that people in the business context sitting in their home office or in the office are even aware of how their body may help or hinder them. So maybe that’s a good place to start thinking about the everyday person who isn’t as aware as a sports person might be about how to use their body. Why would they even want to think about that from a business context, Kevin?

02:13 Kevin So I guess when you’re watching an athlete or an artist performing, they have conditioned themselves, obviously they’ve conditioned their body, if I’m going to run 100 metres, to be able to perform in a certain way. But when I actually perform, what do I need? I need to turn up and I need to feel confident. I need to access a kind of flow state. And so these things are true in business as well people want and need to be confident so take something as simple as speaking public what happens mostly when people speak in public they get performance anxiety and they need more confidence they get nervous and when we look at things like confidence and you ask yourself what is confidence. Fundamentally, it’s a feeling. It’s an emotional state. It’s a neurophysiological state happening in our bodies. It’s to do with our nervous system. What you see in athletes and performers is you’ll see them go through certain embodied routines to relax them and to get them into state. An example would be Usain Bolt. Everybody knows famously that he’ll walk around. He’s kind of lighthearted. He’ll chat to the person he gives his coat to. He’ll engage the entire audience with his archer’s bow. What he’s actually doing there is changing his own internal chemistry. And he’s also changing the chemistry of the people watching him. So particularly things like oxytocin, this sort of chemistry of trust, feeling connected, is being basically triggered by the patterns and the rituals he’s going through every time he wants to run, because he wants to be relaxed. He knows performance comes from being in flow. And it’s exactly the same in business. What business people want is they want to inspire people, they want people to be confident, they want courage, they want gravitas, they want presence, they want certainty. All of those things are states. And so high performing people understand and can manage their own state.

04:02 *Sue * Well, that’s quite a compelling reason to have our listeners listen on a little bit further to find out more about all of that, Kevin. But before we go forward, I want to go backward to find out what got you interested in this area of work? Did you come from a sporting background when you were young? Did you experience this yourself to know the power of it?

04:21 Kevin that’s such a great question and I actually did my degree in statistics which sounds a mile away from working with people and here I am working with people and I started my career actually working in pensions. And because I’m a curious soul and quite playful which in itself is a state I got very interested in how to help people understand and engage in things like their pensions, because they were kind of boring, they were complicated, they were miles away, and so people wouldn’t save for retirement. And so rather than get interested in the numbers, I got hooked on how can I communicate something really important to somebody in a way which they’ll engage in and be motivated by.

And this was a time in the late 80s when pension schemes were massively funded. And it was almost free to join. I worked out that if just a modest person saved for their life, they would effectively be a millionaire by the time they retired. And because of the way that tax works, the government would actually pay them so they’d be better off. So I started getting quite interested in communication, narrative and storytelling, and how to make complicated things really simple for people. I was very interested in magic, I was very interested in comedy, very interested in how people could move an audience and the skills that artists had, which seemed to captivate audiences, which seemed to educate, entertain, inspire, and started working with them. And as I was working in my corporate life I was encouraging people from corporate environments to go to the magic circle and see what the magicians know that you don’t know that you might be able to apply what comedians know that you don’t know that you can apply and I found I was very good at translating a bit like the babel fish this world of the arts and this world of corporate life just by pointing out the connections.

So I did a little bit of training in stand-up comedy. I joined a charity called The Comedy School that takes things like comedy into social settings, such as schools and prisons and mental health settings, to really affect change. And so when you start to look at the science and the pedagogy of what they’re doing and the evidenced work, you start to be very curious, how can I apply this into my work and into my corporate life?

From that, I trained as a coach. I met a beautiful man called Dr. Terry Morgan, possibly one of the most inspirational people I’ve met. Day one of our coach training, he asked us to come along and draw a picture of how a human being worked and explain it to the rest of the group. I have to say it was a humbling experience. Terry would always say to me, you know, if you took your car to a garage, you would expect the mechanic to understand how a car works. So how does a human being work if you’re going to be working with it? And so I was really hooked on how poor my understanding was of how a human being worked. I had a little stick figure. It had a head and thoughts, and it said things and moved. And I spent 25 years enhancing my understanding of how the human works so that when I work with people, I have access to more things. And it’s fun. It’s very interesting. Part of my career, I went to work for a world-famous drama school, which was very refreshing. And fundamentally, when you look at drama schools and what they know how to do, they are very expert in training somebody to manage their nerves, stand on a stage, tell a story, and move an audience, and do that consistently. Those skills are human skills. And what you notice when you work with a drama school is the work is totally embodied. There’s no PowerPoint slides. There’s not a lot of head work. I mean, there’s some psychology, but it’s embodied. It’s about your posture. It’s about your breath. It’s about tension. It’s about voice. It’s about narrative. And when you look at how actors are trained, the training is extremely embodied. They’ll be learning maybe in the first year. They will literally be getting back into their bodies. learning how to breathe learning how to learn habits say embodiment is absolutely fascinating what’s kept me in that field is meeting claire dale who coined the phrase physical intelligence about twenty one years ago and then read the book on it five years ago.

08:20 *Sue * So with this insight that you were gaining during your work in these different places and getting to learn about Claire and her work, I’m wondering how did it change you, Kevin?

08:31 Kevin That’s a great question. How did it change me? I think the first things I started to notice much more is the relationship between my own state, how I was feeling and my own performance. I’m a father, I have two daughters, they’re now 20 and 18, and one of the things I was very interested in doing as a parent is bringing up my children so they were equipped to go into the world, be free, independent, and resourced. And from this work, I kind of concluded that the things they didn’t get from school, so my children left school with really no understanding of how motivation works, no real ability to manage their own state and access confidence when they wanted to speak. And just generally a lack of knowledge of how they worked as a human being, diet, sleep, exercise. And so I got really interested in what information could I impart on them, which would help them to be better functioning human beings. And more importantly, and the most difficult thing about being a father is how could I even get them to listen to me?

09:37 *Sue * I was thinking it was about those translation skills again, that you may have the knowledge, but how do you inspire and encourage other people to take on board those things?

09:45 Kevin So that’s how it’s impacted me on my personal life. And I think the conclusion I came to was that you can Google anything if you want to be good at something. If you want a strategy to be successful in life, you can Google it. But what people need is they need to manage two other S’s. And that’s the story they tell themselves about who they are, which also fundamentally changes our internal chemistry and their state. And, you know, even in my life as a consultant, when you sell, you need to tell different stories about who you are and what you know so your clients feel confident in working with you. You need to show up in different ways and even as a father you think about the sort of the moods that you need to inhabit when you’re parenting sometimes you need to be highly compassionate and empathetic and just be in a mood listening, sometimes you need to step into some authority and put some boundaries around your children and actually say. No. Sometimes you need to inspire them. Sometimes you need to be super clear and analytically clear. And those are all states. And so we need to be able to access those with kind of equal skill. And as we know, from looking at things like personality profilings, we often have a bias. I spend, oddly, a lot of my time in inspiration mode.

10:53 *Sue * Well, that’s lucky on this podcast.

10:55 Kevin And we know the chemistry of that, OK, so I’m going to be running high levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin. Now, some people who engage with me won’t like that in certain situations, where they might want me to be calmer, to have clarity, to be able to describe the steps. They won’t trust me unless I can flex my style so that I’m a little bit more like the sorts of people that they might trust. And for me I have to change my state to access that’s a stretch for me in the same way that somebody who is more analytical might stretch to be inspirational, because inspiration is fundamentally feeling it’s trying to evoke an emotion in people so they feel they want to engage listen and they’re motivated to maybe follow the path that was suggesting so. I’ve applied it an awful lot in my life, sometimes skillfully, sometimes not so skillfully, but I’m much more acutely aware of things like my energy levels, my motivation, my stress levels.

And as a result of that, I make different choices about how I The other thing I’m very interested in is wearable technology and biohacking. One thing I use a lot is an aura ring. And what I learned from that is how my body was really being affected by the way I was behaving. And I was able to learn a lot about how to improve the quality of my sleep, for example, through things that actually were quite specific to me. So I learned, for example, to go to bed at a consistent time, to eat earlier and not to do strenuous exercise too late in the day. Those things had the three biggest impacts on the quality of my sleep.

12:29 *Sue * What I’m really hearing you describe to us, Kevin, is taking personal responsibility for managing that human system that is your body. And I’m wondering then sometimes to get to the level of responsibility, the first thing is to have awareness. Coming back to your children, that’s what you were aiming to try and help them to develop awareness of how they could perform better. Just to circle back to that comment that you were making about what you did aim to help your children with, if they were in the room and we were having the conversation with them today, how do you think they would view your influence on them?

13:03 Kevin They’d laugh and say, Daddy, It has been a challenge engaging my children around the things that clients and friends and other people really lap up. And I think part of the reason for that is, and they say seeing is believing, but I actually believe the opposite is true. You know, they need to believe something first to entertain the idea. What I learned with them is to boil things down to something very simple and invite them into I’m noticing so my older daughter Libby who does struggle with anxiety and struggles to speak up and did two things with her one is I normalised that experience by explaining how the body works and how the autonomous nervous system works and said it’s okay part of a nervous system is wired to take us into action until you get triggered. You can be triggered by thoughts and memories and all sorts of things. It’s completely natural that you will have performance anxiety. It’s part of being a human. There are things you can do, but the only thing I want you to do at the moment is to notice what happens to your breath when you get triggered. So something very simple.

That alone had quite transformational impact on her being able to engage with the topic and starts to believe that actually maybe I can manage my nerves it became part of her identity I’m just an anxious person well this isn’t true anxiety and nerves are triggered by certain part of our Vagus system a threat response is triggered differently in different people and we know we can reverse the chemistry of that. The world of embodiment is very interesting. It’s for some people it’s a little bit woo woo and there’s lots of gurus but we all have a body and we’ve all had a body all of our lives. These are just human skills that just aren’t taught.

14:40 *Sue * So what you’re describing to us Kevin is first of all to start noticing and then with that noticing we can then have the choice to change our behaviour or learn what we could do differently to be more effective. Given that we’re on the Access to Inspiration podcast, what would be some practical tips if people wanted to access their inspiring part of themselves? Particularly, I’m thinking from a leadership perspective, a lot of the times I speak to leaders where they say, I want to be more inspirational. How could they do that?

15:10 Kevin How do you access inspiration? Well, inspiration is feeling fundamentally. And of course, why do we want that feeling? Because we want that feeling in other people. So I’m a great believer that if you’re going to invoke a state in someone else, you need to go there first. So the kind of chemical cocktail of inspiration is a mix of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and maybe adrenaline. So we’re looking at how we can change our internal chemistry to boost those chemicals. So there’s a number of ways to do that. One way to do that is, because this is memorable, I’ll share it with you. And people can try this, but if you’re driving or operating machinery or anything, please don’t. We can perform a Kate Winslet. So for those of you who are familiar with the film Titanic, remember the scene with Kate on the front of the ship. So opening our body, which I’m doing now, I know you can’t see, opening our body, our arms, having an expansive posture, maybe lifting our sternum forward, maybe looking up to the sky, is going to start to trigger a different chemistry in our body. It’s going to start to generate some of this high performing chemistry. For example, oxytocin will be released across the chest. If we want to access things like more dopamine, the chemistry of motivation and reward, one of the ways we can do that is through visualization. Our visual cortex is highly linked to our dopaminergic system, so visualizing for ourselves the sort of future that we are wanting for others will boost our dopamine and it will take us into that feeling of inspiration using those techniques will also help us paint a picture of the future for others so i give you an example of that one of my missions in life and something that will launch at the moment is to help people to be able to manage performance anxiety so currently launching something called free from nerves dot com which is to give everybody access to five simple practices that can help people manage their nerves so they can speak in every walk of life I believe my core value is freedom.

And once you understand how to work with your nerves, you can be free. So how do I inspire people to do that? How do I access inspiration? So I’ll sit down and actually do the work. I visualize sitting on the BBC red sofa with a number of people who have taken this work, who are telling stories about how that’s changed their life. And from that, I feel it more inspired. to do the work. And through things like storytelling, I can inspire others to think about the impact that would have if they engaged with the work. Another key part of inspiration is serotonin and serotonin is a very interesting chemical. We actually produce most of it in our gut and serotonin is highly related to a sense of status and well-being and that sense of I am okay. And believe it or not you can release serotonin by twisting at the waist. Just simply twisting at the waist will release serotonin and the research now is clear that there’s a relationship between our gut and our brains. So internal chemistry has a direct impact on our mood. So we know the things we can do with our breath and our bodies, which will change our internal chemistry and they will allow us to access feelings like inspiration much more quickly.

18:28 *Sue * So I’m imagining you twisting your body and standing like Kate Winslet as I’m speaking to you, Kevin.

18:34 Kevin Yes. I use them a lot. In fact, the place I use the twist the most is when I go to my local gym. I like to keep fit. I have an identity that I’m a fit young man. What I’ve noticed in gyms is they’re full of, well, predominantly very fit people, which statistically is true because that’s where they go. sometimes I really feel like I don’t belong there and I want to go home I feel intimidated other people make more progress than me and I twist in front of the mirror and I boost my sense of status. I belong here I’m okay here and actually I see other people starting to twist wondering what I’m doing. I generally look like the smiliest happiest person but I’m trying to also access some happy hormones. But I use that twist so that I can hold space and feel OK. And I think, particularly in the corporate world, where we have these topics, things like creating cultures of belonging, belonging is a feeling, a feeling that you belong, a feeling of equal status, a feeling of trust. You know, the chemistry of that is, again, it’s oxytocin, it’s serotonin. So people can do things for themselves as much as organizations can create the environment for people to feel safe and want to connect. And I think those two things are absolutely essential. So if we take the topic of something like psychological safety.

So organizations talking a lot about we need to create environments where people feel safe to speak up. Well, that’s half of the story. Because even if you have a culture which allows people to feel safe or doesn’t put things in the way to make people feel unsafe, you still need to speak up. So you still need to generate a sound. So you still need to resource your body. You still need to work with your own performance anxiety you still need to use your diaphragm to power your voice you still need to make a sound you still need to have clarity of thought to be able to communicate what you want to communicate you might need risk tolerance you might be saying things that you’re not sure how they will land will you might need more testosterone in your body. How do we produce testosterone? One way we can produce testosterone is simply by muscle firming. So if we create a fist and push that against our hand, we’ll actually generate more testosterone in our system and we may feel that we have a higher level of risk tolerance, which may help us to speak up.

20:50 *Sue * I think that’s a really important point you’re making there, that there’s responsibility on the individual as well as the organisation to create the environment. And it also strikes me that because many people are still operating virtually in the workplace, then maybe it’s a little bit easier to be doing it in the comfort of your own office or living room, so that then when you’re on that virtual call, you do feel confident enough to speak up. What would you say to that, Kevin?

21:15 Kevin Absolutely. It’s probably easier for most people if they’re working virtually before a meeting to walk around the room. We know when we shake our body, we can shake out things like cortisol and toxic chemistry. To do the Kate Winslet, to do twists, to do breath exercises, to maybe rehearse what we’re going to say, that’s another very important performance practice. When we rehearse before we speak and we rehearse out loud, our body has more confidence in what we’re going to say because we’ve already embodied and spoken that So it’s actually very helpful to be virtual. The challenge can be when you’re working with somebody, particularly as a coach, and you want to get them moving, them breathing, them trying exercises, particularly if they’re in an office or they’re at home. There’s some skill in how to invite them into the work and get them to do that. But preparation of state is everything. And it can take a couple of minutes. It can take you five seconds. You can change your state in a heartbeat.

22:09 *Sue * If those people listening to this podcast are wandering around their office, maybe they’ll start to notice others moving at the waist or doing the Kate Winslet and realize that they have listened to this podcast too, Kevin. Given that you’re a storyteller, I’m wondering how do you think that your story will continue? What’s the next chapter or how even does it end in terms of where you want this work to go?

22:31 Kevin There are two things. So in terms of physical intelligence, we have a vision, which is simply what do you vote for more of in the world? I really vote for a world where people can live an embodied life. The flow of life is going the other way. I think yesterday I heard a fact that on average in the UK, we spend five hours on our phones. And with the introduction of AI, I think life is going to be very different for human beings. So I vote for an embodied life. I vote for helping people who want to be embodied to know how to do that and to be free to do that. The two ways of doing that is to put the knowledge and practices into the hands of everybody so we can all be a guru in our own bodies so that’s the mission that will take some time so that’s how we’re doing that we’re putting that out through the physical intelligence curriculum through the institute putting things into the hands of real people I want to launch free from nerves to put some very basic practices into the hands of everybody so that people can manage their nerves and then they can tell the story of how those practices have really helped change and enhance their lives so that they can inspire other people to engage with the practices. That’s probably more than a lifetime’s worth of work. I need to do that whilst having fun and enjoying myself.

The legacy I want to leave is for my own profession, my profession of coaching, which I think is going to be really challenged. We have artificial intelligence coming along. So the thing that’s going to differentiate coaches, I think, in the future is their ability to really work with the entire human being one thing that artificial intelligence will never do is be able to work with feelings and emotions when you need a body to feel I really love a profession I want coaches to be equipped to do great work to earn good money. And I think part of that is putting the technology of the body into all of their hands they can apply that in their own lives and their work.

24:28 *Sue * And I suspect that you will hope that your children embody some of this work as well as you watch them grow up.

24:34 Kevin Yes, I do hope they embody. I mean, they are embodying it, and I’m hoping they’ll be inspired by real stories of people who’ve overcome simple things like performance anxiety in all sorts of settings to achieve what they want.

24:47 *Sue * So what are some of those stories then, Kevin, where people have really been positively impacted by some of this work?

24:53 Kevin So I worked with somebody years ago who suffered from performance anxiety and speaking up and actually being amongst other people to the extent they were taking beta blockers. And when I delved into their story, they were so nervous that they wouldn’t even go to a parent’s evening for fear of having to network with strangers. So this had quite a big impact on them and also their own ability to show up as a father figure. So working on some very simple techniques to help them manage that had a huge impact. Of course, at the moment, one of the big topics is helping people with burnout. And so plenty of stories of working with people who are either burnt out or on the path to burning out and giving them very simple practices where they can start to look after themselves and understand how to build emotional and mental resilience so that they can really look after themselves and reverse that trend.

25:45 *Sue * And if you were offering a tip for our listener today, Kevin, around managing potential stress or burnout, what would be one practical thing? You’ve given us many useful tips already. What would be one additional area that they might apply?

26:00 Kevin So I think there’s two things I would invite people to do. Number one is to regularly tune into their body, regularly tuning. So how actually are you feeling? Where are you feeling tension? How stressed are you? Because the body has an amazing intelligence. And you know, you’ll hear many people on podcasts saying, well, if you’re tired, don’t worry, you can still go to the gym. If you don’t have any motivation, don’t worry, you can still push on. Well, there’s a time when we need to recover. The physical body needs to recover we have a recovery cycle for a very good reason so listen to your body and one of the my thing them one of the most powerful practices. That we should all adopt is something called paced breathing.

So paced breathing is where we literally pace breathing we trying to breathe into a diaphragm. the breath in and the breath out for maybe four or five, a count of four or five in a consistent way. And the science on paced breathing is actually quite stunning. What paced breathing actually does is it starts to produce a high performance chemical in our body. It’s actually a steroid called DHEA. And DHEA gives us sort of vitality, it gives us endurance, and it also reduces the impact of things like cortisol on the body. So it puts the body into a much better state of well-being. And the evidence on performing and breathing are doing paced breaths for say 40 minutes a day. So if you’re stuck at the traffic lights and you’re triggered into a state of anxiety and anger and road rage, this is your chance to do some paced breathing. And the research, which was done by Dr. Justin Kennedy, suggests that doing something like pace breathing over three months, apart from reducing levels of stress, can improve our cognitive function by 62%. Isn’t that amazing? You could be 62% smarter just from adopting a breath pattern every day for the rest of your life.

27:55 *Sue * Well that sounds like a very practical tip and a useful one as well to boot Kevin. It’s been very informative speaking to you today and you’ve given us such useful tips and pieces of information that of course the listener can apply immediately to their body to take those insights that you’ve shared so kindly with us. If the listener wants to find out more about the work that you’re doing, how might they be able to do that?

28:18 Kevin So the easiest way is to go to the website coachwithpi.com. We built an institute called the Physical Intelligence Institute, which anyone can join where we run free sessions and you can connect with other people who are looking at embracing this work. And we’ve recently created, for the first time ever, an assessment tool where you can assess your own physical intelligence, which is coachwithpi.com/assess There’s plenty of tools out there. There’s plenty of free materials out there. There’s an institute if you want to join that. And we have for the last years been running a program for coaches and people practitioners, which is a certificate in coaching with physical intelligence credited by the ICF, which is putting this toolkit into the hands of practitioners to go and apply and use in their work and in their own lives.

29:05 *Sue * Fantastic. Well, there’s lots of options there. Thank you again today. I will go and do some twisting and stretching and help my body to be more effective and to have a better performance after this conversation today, Kevin. Thank you for your time.

29:19 Kevin It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for inviting me.

29:23 *Sue * Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing from Kevin. Remember, you can find a transcription for this episode and more than 100 other episodes on our website, accesstoinspiration.org. And you can keep connected with us via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Just search for Access to Inspiration. Next week’s guest is Monica Parker, and she will be talking to me about the power of wonder. So I hope you can join us then.


Produced by Sue Stockdale
Sound Editor – Matias de Ezcurra