What is your brain for?

We all like a glass of wine because it is a great tasting mind altering substance. While I was using this drug to alter my mental state, I started to wander what my mind is really for?

This year has been a year of change for me. In the books I read researching how to start Wine Rides up one of the http://www.flyingstartups.com/ and The-Beermat-Entrepreneur both mentioned that running your own company is an experience in personal development. At the time I thought I knew what that meant, but 18 months on I understand that much better now.

In a new company you have to wear all the hats. That means that you have to be willing to do all the jobs in the company. There is work I will carry out for my own company that I would not want to do for someone else. Basically: there is a lot of cleaning.

I have never done cleaning for a living before. Having to do some of these jobs has for the first time made me really think about why people do them. There have been occasions when Hayley and I have considered weather pushing tent pegs into the ground is a good use of time for people as intelligent as us.

On the other hand we are both the fittest we have ever been in our lives. We are both now as fit as a butchers dog. A lot of the work of running Wine Rides is repetitive and monotonous. We can both now set up a tent in 10 minutes and can do several back to back. There is also a lot of driving and just general carrying of heavy things.

So were have I come down on all of this? Has the decision to do my own thing been good for me or has it been bad? Is it different and if it is different in what ways?

This is why I started with the question of what our brains are really for. I am as far as I can tell a conventionally intelligent guy. For example I have two degrees from a top university. Our society seems to want to push people like me into roles that require me to sit behind a desk for long periods of time. Pretty much every week day of my adult life might be considered normal.

I am however a human. Humans are built for walking like fish are built for swimming, so it seems strange to me that we go out of our way to gain qualifications that allow us to do jobs that require almost no physical exertion.

That is why I was fascinated to watch this TED lecture. The point it makes is that our brains are not there for thinking. The sole purpose of the brain in every animal is to control movement. Plants don’t move and plants don’t have brains. There is only one type of animal that doesn’t have a brain. That is the sea squirt. It has a brain until it finds a spot to attach to a rock. Once it has found an attachment site where it can filter feed it absorbs (eats) its own brain because brains cost energy and the sea squirt no longer needs it. Even if your job is extremely mentally taxing, the sole output of all that thinking is the command of a few muscles that results in movements. I move therefore I am.

Even if you sit at a desk all day, your brain is being used to make you control your computer, or to make your eyes read this text. That is fundamentally an activity that requires movement. So I suppose in the end, doing a job that requires me to do so many different types of physical activity, has perhaps meant that I have never been so mentally stimulated in my life.

At some point I assume that my body will start to fail me and I won’t be able to do the physical work I can do now. At the start of this I was just grateful to have an opportunity to use my body to do some rewarding work but I didn’t really know how to articulate why that was good. It made me feel good. It made me feel powerful, in a very real way. But I didn’t understand why it was important to move and use my body for what it was built for. Using your body in novel ways requires you to use your brain.

When we let our bodies atrophy we also allow our minds to waist away. If you think people struggle to concentrate, consider that we are an animal that used to get a lot more practice concentrating. In the stoneage if you didn’t concentrate and sit and wait with a bow and arrow, you would miss your prey and go hungry. Now that is rarely the case.

Every week people come on trips and we see the tension in them melt. The people who have come on our trips arrive friendly and leave friendly and relaxed. Having done this for a year now I think there is something genuinely valuable about getting away from your normal surroundings blowing the cobwebs out and using your body.  Time after time it seems to help people relax and have fun, I am just so glad that Hayley and I have been able to be a part of making that happen for our guests.

For that reason, on balance I do think I made the right call. As I head into the last wine ride of this year, I do think that the decision my brain made to move from a stable job into the unknown realm of running a small company was a good call. Every week I get the reward of meeting fantastic people, the work is varied and so are the rewards.