The Benefits of Thinking on Your Feet—Literally
When I came across an article titled “Thinking on Your Feet,” I assumed it was about how to act in the moment when questions are flung at you in a high-pressure situation. Responding articulately and sputter-free can be a challenge when you’re put on the spot in a meeting or when giving a presentation.
It turns out, though, that this article is on an altogether different aspect of thinking on your feet: the benefits of avoiding prolonged sitting and doing more work while standing. Most articles on the subject have focused on the health benefits of periodic standing, particularly if you have a desk job. This article, however, describes the possible cognitive benefits.
In the research study described in the article, volunteers who were given computer tasks performed better on thinking tests when they had engaged in brief periods of exercise compared with when they had spent the entire day sitting.
The exercise, a mere ten minutes per hour, consisted of standing, walking at a treadmill desk, and pedaling a modified stationary bicycle placed beneath their desks. The researchers speculate that these brief periods of exercise improved attention, memory, and other cognitive skills.
Of course, most people don’t have a treadmill desk or an under-desk bicycle. (I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Here’s what it looks like.) And given the limited scale of this study, there’s no way to know if the improved performance would continue over a longer period. Still, if just a few minutes of standing and walking around might offer both cognitive and health benefits, wouldn’t it be worth doing?
Thinking about this question (while sitting, to be sure) led me back to the other meaning of thinking on your feet. If you want to become skilled at responding quickly to questions, there are some things that can help.
For example, to prepare, practice focusing by turning off your electronic distractions. Use brain games to sharpen your thinking. Do lots of reading so you stand a good chance of knowing the answers to the questions thrown at you.
Then, when you’re put on the spot with unexpected questions, take a deep breath. Repeat each question to buy time. Don’t hesitate to say, “Let me think about that for a moment.” Strive to project confidence, because doing so will help you feel confident.
In a way, these two kinds of thinking on your feet are related. That is, given that there may be a cognitive benefit to standing up and moving around periodically while engaged in a task, why not do that while preparing to face a demanding audience? That way, you’d be thinking on your feet so you’re better able to think on your feet!