The all too predictable Powerpoint slides fly by, the presenter’s words seem to float in the room, and I think, “Hmm, I could use those statistics in my next presentation.” Then, my mind wanders and I realize that I’ve started thinking about my weekend plans. I no longer know what the speaker is talking about or why it’s important to me. I look around, and my inattention is reflected in the glassy stares of my fellow listeners.
What’s wrong? The presentation isn’t boring, the presenter is engaging, but I’ve been sitting and listening for 40 minutes. The only thing that’s moved since I sat down is my mind.
As an instructional designer, a parent and a leader, I keep up with the research on learning and cognition, and one thing I’m sure of is that movement is a key component in real learning. In a paper entitled “Using Actions to Enhance Memory: Effect of Enactment, Gestures, and Exercise on Human Memory,” appearing in Frontiers of Psychology, authors Christopher R. Madden and Anthony Singhal summarize current research, noting that:
“One particularly interesting facet of the idea that our body can affect cognition is the influence of actions, gestures, and exercise on memory performance: the hypothesis is that our physical movements, and even the amount that we exercise, can affect our ability to remember.”
It’s a fact: Movement matters
We know that children need movement to learn—recess and longer lunches are once again an integral part of the daily routine at schools nationwide—and more and more teachers are incorporating movement into the classroom. We also know that movement is essential for adult health. Take the recent popularity of treadmill desks, and everything we’ve read about the value of taking stretch breaks throughout the day. Don’t let me forget to mention the countless articles about the role that health and well-being play in helping us keep up with today’s frenetic work environment.
A colleague of mine once said, “If you’re going to be a leader, you need to develop powerful sitting muscles.” Your job may require you to spend most of your day talking with others, which means sitting, sitting, and more sitting. That’s not OK. Too much sitting will decrease your effectiveness. Consider making your next meeting a walking meeting—go outside and break out of the norm.
People now have strategies for moving when they are alone. You might use a treadmill desk when you are alone and working, or you might make an effort to schedule 30 minutes at the beginning of your day or during lunch for a workout.
But, it’s not enough. You can’t just move for a brief time and then sit for hours on end. You need a strategy that helps you be purposeful and focused throughout every hour of the day. It will enhance your ability to remember and learn—and you’ll lead with more confidence and patience.
Change it up
Challenge yourself to move not just when you are alone, but also when you’re with people. Perhaps you can think differently about the next meeting that you host. Here are a few tips that will help enhance your memory and learning—and make you (and your team) more productive in the process:
- Before you go into a meeting, take a few moments to walk. If the distance to your meeting is short, walk somewhere else, even if it means walking up and down a few flights of stairs.
- During the meeting, move your body position consciously and purposefully.
- After 10 minutes or so, stand up. Encourage others in the meeting to do so as well.
- If you are presenting, after a few key points, ask the group to stand up, walk to a new seat, and share reactions with a partner.
- After the meeting, walk around and take a few moments to process the content and your response. The movement will help you integrate what you’ve seen and heard.
As a purposeful leader, your job is to ensure that everyone in the organization is moving enough for optimal learning. In my next blog, I’ll cover how you can encourage your organization to make movement a part of everyday activity, and we’ll address best practices for working with remote employees and those people who may not be able to move as easily as others due to physical or other limitations.
So, before you click on the next email at the top of your inbox—go ahead, stretch or stand up, walk around for 30 seconds. While you are walking, think about your day from start to finish—think about how you can successfully get moving…and learning.