Have you ever found yourself stuck in the mud of idea generation? Spinning your wheels without effect in the tension that is problem solving? Trying desperately to move forward out of the static and stale into the fresh air of innovation and breakthrough? Hey, what about a walk? Think of it as a change of scenery for the sensory cognition center. An opportunity to bathe the brain in a soothing break away from the redundancy of mental mulling.
Some of the most creative thinkers in history credit walking for unlocking their minds. Modern day peripatetics like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have used mobile meetings as a way to stimulate deep thinking and conversation. Georgia O’Keeffe found walks inspired her paintings, and Jane Goodall walked all over Africa to study the behavior of chimps and gorillas.
Studies report as much as a 60% increase in the ability to perform creative tasks while walking. Whether it be for a recess or a rendezvous, an outdoor stroll can improve a person’s creative and divergent thinking.
Walking is also an ambulation of the mind. – Gretel Ehrlich
According to a 2014 research report Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz from Stanford University “Walking is an easy-to-implement strategy to increase appropriate novel idea generation. When there is a premium on generating new ideas in the workday, it should be beneficial to incorporate walks.”
Me thinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow. – Henry David Thoreau
Creatives throughout history have left much evidence to support the notion and value of taking a walk to improve thinking. The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth was passionate about walking. For him, walking was a “state of being” and he used its influence to create his poetry. Traversing a distance of almost 180,000 English miles throughout his life, Wordsworth made walking central to his creative happiness.
Should the guide I choose be nothing better than a wandering cloud, I cannot miss my way, – William Wordsworth
The sensory experience of the outdoors can lead to new paths of insight. Step away. Move into the landscape. Inhale fresh air. Glimpse the sky. Feel the breeze on your face. Immerse yourself in the natural stimuli of the outdoors to find the cognitive benefits of the brain away from technology. We often forget…the longing and desire to create can be inhibited by the longing and desire to create!
Hope is a walking dream. – Aristotle
The benefit of Aristotle’s “walking dream” is that it provides a new state of mind and emotion. The brain takes a break from obsessively churning through problems. Green space provides an alternative to brain fatigue. The repetition and rhythm of the walk is calming for our gray matter, and can even provide or induce a trance-like state.
A turn or two I’ll walk to still my beating mind.- Shakespeare, The Tempest
There are so many more examples to share, but I will stop here. I think my point has been made. If you should find yourself in a creative slump, it might be worth a try to heed the advice of some past creatives – be kind to your cerebellum with a walk; let it get out and explore a sky blue sky. Take care of your frontal and temporal lobes with an outing or two; somewhere outside the inner walls of persistent contemplation. Modulate and massage those neurotransmitters with the rhythm and repetition of a ramble. And, for heaven’s sake, keep those memory control processes moving and marching forward until, at some point, the happy brain will reboot, refresh and reload into the aha moment you’ve been looking for!.