Good financial management is all about good decision making. This week, we want to talk about a simple way to help yourself make better decisions. Given that most of the country will remain in some form of lockdown for the foreseeable future, it is a method that makes even more sense for those of whose lifestyles have been seriously disrupted.
A little while ago, we came across a wonderful podcast interview with an Irishman named Shane O’Mara. Shane is a professor of Experimental Brain Research at Dublin’s Trinity University, so he knows what he is talking about when it comes to effective decision making. He also has the most wonderful Irish accent – and, given that he writes and promotes various books, he often gives podcast interviews which you can find through any decent search engine. Believe us, listening to Shane is like eating a Tim Tam – you can’t stop at one!
Anyway, Shane’s most recent book is on a topic that he describes as a ‘neurological superpower.’ The rest of us call it walking. The book is simply called In Praise of Walking.
The basic idea is that people who walk more think more effectively. There is actually an extraordinary amount of research that supports this, much of it leading O’Mara to conclude that the human brain is actually motor-centric. This is a scientific way of saying that the human brain evolved specifically to facilitate the movement of our bodies. And our bodies are designed for movement: apparently, our ancestors on the savannah walked between 13 and 16 kilometres a day. It is thought to have been our ability to cover long distances by foot that first let us catch and eat meat, providing protein to further the growth in the size and ability of our brains. So, our powerful brains owe all they have to the simple activity of walking.
As we sit inside our homes during this most strange year, O’Mara’s simple advice is well worth taking – almost all humans would benefit from just walking more. Importantly, like the good scientist he is, he does not advocate a complete lifestyle change as he understands this is unlikely to last. Instead, he talks about including ‘incidental’ walking into our normal daily routine. If you catch a train to work, for example, try getting on or off a station sooner and walking the last stop. If you drive to somewhere like a shopping centre, park a little further away and walk a few extra hundred metres (and enjoy the relative ease with which you can find a space). If you like, you can even take a leaf out of Shane’s book and set an alarm for every 25 minutes while you work sitting at a desk. The alarm is his cue to get up and walk around the office.
As advisers, we think the advice to walk more is especially important if you have a big decision to make. O’Mara puts it thus: “One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.” That is, our brain has more information available, and does a better job of processing it, when we get up and walk around.
So, the next time you have a big decision to make, take a walk while you think things through. And next time we see you, feel free to suggest we do a lap of the block before we sit down and get stuck into things. Good financial management depends on the very best of thinking.