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The *real* secret to your career success

Your body can skyrocket your career success

Why should you bother listening to your body? And what has any of this got to do with being successful in your career?

Well, more than ever I’m convinced that the secret to your career success is a regulated nervous system.

If you think about the last time you were highly stressed or overwhelmed, do you remember:

  • what your quality of thinking was like?
  • how well were you able to connect to others or read them accurately?
  • did you feel able to take decisive action?
  • did you have clarity on your future?
  • could you prioritise your workload well?
  • could you spot opportunities and possibilities?

You feel regulated when you feel balanced, grounded and more like ‘yourself’ again.

From that centred place you can create more success for yourself because:

  • decisions come more easily and clearly;
  • you’re better at connecting with new people and picking up on social cues;
  • the quality of your thinking improves;
  • you have more ‘bandwidth’ to do hard things such as setting boundaries or juggling conflicting priorities;
  • you become more magnetic as you give out cues of confidence and gravitas;
  • opportunities appear more plentiful because you’re more open to them;
  • you’re more likely to take action to explore your dreams and goals because you feel safe to do so.

Beyond fight, fly or freeze

Most of us have been taught that either we are in a relaxed state (aka ‘rest and digest’) or we are stressed (fight, fly or freeze). The stress response is governed by our anatomic nervous system (‘ANS’) and responds unconsciously to perceived threats, our environment or bodies to ensure that we’re safe.

Most of my clients, whether they are therapy or career coaching clients, are struggling with their nervous system being ‘hi-jacked’ into an unhelpful stress response  which are normally caused by key events from their past and/or the heavy stress burden they’re carrying in their busy lives.

After training in Polyvagal Theory, I discovered that our ANS doesn’t simply respond through fight, fly or freeze. Instead, our ANS guides us into 3 key states day depending on what it considers would be most helpful for us in the moment.

They are:

  • Ventral Vagal state – this is where we feel safe, open and connected to others. You respond to life more flexibly and you pick up on social cues more accurately. You’re more open to joy, love and compassion. You’re better able to meet the demands of the day.


  • Sympathetic state – the system of action. This state has an anxious or angry quality to it. It is designed to mobilise i.e. move in response to threat and can often be identified with a surge of energy in the body. It can result in defensive behaviour and/or misreading social cues.


  • Dorsal state – the system of shutdown. This state can feel like giving up and/or shutting down. There’s a sense of withdrawal from the world and feeling drained of energy. There’s a loss of hope and a sense of disconnection.

We all switch between these states throughout our day – you might wake up and on checking your phone feel a wave of sympathetic energy if you’re bombarded with messages or emails.

Then having gone downstairs and hugged and chatted with a family member that you love and trust you might notice yourself feeling more ventral, enjoying a sense of safety and connection.

Finally, at the end of a demanding, relentless day which culminates being stuck in traffic and being cut-up on the motorway you may drop into “what’s the point”. The accompanying sense of emptiness and overwhelm can signify going into a dorsal state.

Step away from judgement

In getting to know your nervous system, you may be tempted to label Sympathetic and Dorsal states as ‘bad’ and the Ventral vagal state as ‘good’.

I recommend replacing judgement with curiosity: if you’re feeling restless with anxiety, what might your body be responding to? If you’re feeling shutdown and detached, could it be that your body needs some time to gather itself before facing the day again?

I invite you to get curious over the next week about where your ANS seems to be taking you and to see what common themes you notice that trigger you into a particular state. From there you’ll learn about the people, places, activities and stimulus that soothe you and lead you to feeling like yourself again.

If you know feeling anxious and agitated is a common pattern for you, have you can read my tips here. If feeling numb or disassociated is more of an issue for you, read this blog to feel more connected again.

Journal prompts

  • Which people, places or activities lead you to feeling safe, open and connected?
  • Which people, places or activities lead you to feeling anxious/agitated/chaotic?
  • Which people, places or activities lead you to feeling shutdown/withdrawn/disconnected?
25 June 2024