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Get out of your box and go for a walk!
Walking is a great
hobby of mine. I used to take a daily walk on my own long before I had a dog.
Now it’s an ingrained habit and a daily pleasure that I share with Grub (the
dog) come rain or shine.
What I notice about
walking is that it completely frees my mind and enables me to think through
challenges or to come up with new ideas. I always make sure I have a way of capturing these ideas (usually my iPhone)
because they can come thick and fast!!
It’s no surprise,
then, that I will often “prescribe” a walk to a client that is stuck in their
thinking. As I live in the glorious
South Downs, I am able to offer walking coaching sessions to local clients and
have seen it have a transformational impact. I’ve even
conducted a few walking coaching sessions in London.
So, what is it that
makes walking so effective in enabling creative thinking? I’ve done a
The science bit
Walking and teaching
has a long history, right back to Aristotle who regularly gave lessons while
walking. Many philosophers have extolled the virtues of walking and
thinking. Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote “I
can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my
mind works only with my legs.”
Research carried out
at Stanford in 2014 discovered that “…walking boosts creative ideation in real
time and shortly after…”. The study found that “Whether one is
outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the generation of novel yet
appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do
their creative work shortly after.”
The study suggested
that walking could increase creativity due to the concept of embodied
cognition. This occurs when movements influence your thoughts, for
example moving your hand forwards can facilitate thoughts on moving forwards
but will interfere with thoughts about moving backwards. The study
therefore suggests that “Walking might improve divergent thinking because
walking triggers thoughts of moving from one idea to another.”
Other studies have
demonstrated the additional benefits of walking outdoors as opposed to indoors.
One discovered that a walk in nature, as opposed to in a city, restored
previously exhausted attentional capacities, which improves performance at
difficult tasks even when no longer walking.
What to do now?
So, are you convinced by the science or my anecdotal
evidence? If you are stuck on something or
need to generate some new ideas, take your issue for a walk. Here are my top tips:
Even if you can’t think of a topic, walking is a great time to just reflect. A morning walk can focus on what the day has in store or a moment of gratitude. An evening walk can focus on the day just gone.
If you’re a fan of listening to music or a podcast when you’re walking, try to unplug a couple of times a week and let your mind wander. I promise you some therapeutic results!!
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