Moving and thinking

When I’m on the phone I prefer to stand up. I can think more clearly when I do that. When I’m focussing on what I want to say in an upcoming presentation, I pace up and down. I love going out with colleagues round the block, for ‘walking meetings’. In the office I often run upstairs to quickly ask a question in person rather than send an email. I have to move in order to think.

Pallet trucks and wine boxes

I started off my career working in supermarket retail, and one aspect I loved was the combination of doing management stuff, like reports, analysis, plans, meetings, 1-1s, AND then being able to go off into the warehouse for an hour and stack heavy boxes of wine. Or unload a wagon (big lorry). The combination of using my head and then doing physical work was great.

I miss that. Office based jobs so sedentary. Before I started my current role, 8 months ago, I spent most of the previous month outdoors. Although it was January, and freezing cold, I walked the Cleveland Way and then the Speyside Way. On my own. It was bliss. And the funny thing was, in my first weeks at work, my body felt so much stiffer and more sore than I had when I was hiking. That happened again last week when I got back from 2 weeks holiday. Weird.

Walking and standing meetings

Anyway, returning to the subject of walking meetings, they are so simple to do. They work well for any 1-1 or small group meeting when you don’t need visual aids or to pour over documents. And having a set length, like walking round the block, seems to work amazingly well for focussing people on coming to a conclusion by the time you get back to the office. Another method that many people practice is ‘standing meetings’ – where everyone stands up. That’s great for injecting pace, urgency, and action.

Clever Kahneman

I’m currently listening to an audiobook, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, which is brilliant and very thought provoking. It’s about our brains, so I guess it should be thought provoking. One point Kahneman makes is that research shows that mild exercise allows our brains to work well and easily, but once we start to really exert ourselves, the quality of our thinking and decision making deteriorates. Interesting, given the rapid decision making that sports people have to do. However, it is true that getting up out of our chairs at work is beneficial.

Does anyone else find that they have to move in order to be able to think?

As an aside, here is a video Daniel Kahneman talking about memories – nothing to do with my points above, but it gives you an idea of how fascinating this guy is. For L&D people, there’s a lot to be learned from him. Same for marketeers.

10 thoughts on “Moving and thinking

  1. I clearly recall your final rehearsal for your #connectinghr short talk 😉 You paced most majestically that day. My pattern is: phone rings, answer it, stand up and wander about.

    IN case you and your readers are interested, here’s a link to a post about meetings and a bunch of suggestions on how to do them differently. I crowd sourced this post back in March 2011 and people keep wandering by and contributing 😉

    Cheers for the Kahnemam tip off.

    • Haha, yes I paced about like a mad thing that morning.
      Thanks for the meetings ideas link. It’s nice that people keep adding stuff. I think the main thing is to experiment; try stuff out in work. Which I know you approve of 🙂

  2. I am fascinated by this topic!

    We humans have bodies, something that as adults we seem to forget. As we grow older it surprises us when it sometimes it gets called in to action- like when we talk on the phone, or we’re having a meeting, doing a presentation.

    I have predominantly done research in to why children move move move- biologically driven to get what their bodies need, to support learning health and wellbeing. (See for more info)

    What I am now working with is why as adults we control, hold tight, stay still when it seems so far removed from what is natural- movement. (

    Just a few things to think about…

    – Movement is our first language. ‘Language development changed the landscape of the brain radically, because it annexed huge cerebral areas once used for movement and sensation’ Rita Carter

    – Rita Carter Mapping the Mind…’The region where language developed is rich in connections, to deeper brain structures that process sensory stimuli…particularly touch and hearing…language sprang up in a region where several different and important functions converged’

    – Our nervous system is bombarded with information all the time from our internal and external senses. Part of our brain makes decisions for us on what we are going to prioritise and pay attention to. In order to do this, our nervous needs stimulation- and this may come in a variety of ways- including movement. ‘Sensory processing is the neurological procedure of organizing the information we take in from our bodies, and the world around us for use in daily life’ Read more about Sensory Processing looking at the research of Dr Jean Ayres.

    – When talking on the phone, or making a presentation there is emotional response in the body- excitement, nervousness, fear, anger. This again gets our nervous system dancing! And the natural response is to move. ‘We feel as well as act…The sunshine and shadows that play over the landscape of the mind are generated by chemicals that turn the modules of our brains on and off’ Rita Carter

    We all take information from our senses differently, so what I think is important is allowing people to make choices about how they listen, take in information, have a meeting, make a phone call. Flexibility about the body choices (walking, sitting, lying down) people make in the workplace- will enable everyone to work at their best.

    • Catherine , thank you so much for your super-interesting comment. I actually have Rita Carter’s book, but it’s a few years since I read it. Time to take another look.
      I totally agree how we forget about our bodies as adults, and expect them to conform. I will start to pay more attention.
      Thanks again.

  3. Flora – glad I’m not alone! When I’m rehearsing a presentation or reviewing an important document I always stand up and read it out aloud. It makes me think better and the action of reading aloud is a more effective way of reviewing.

  4. Flora – Glad I’m not the only one. I always stand up when I’m rehearsing a presentation and I read it out aloud rather than go through the words in my head. I do the same with important documents etc as things sound very different when they are read aloud from how you read them in your head.

  5. In more recent years I have felt the need to draw/write on a whiteboard or flipchart when I want to make/explain a point. A really strong feeling comes over me and I feel more engaged when I am doing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s