The first time it happened I thought I’d stumbled on a magic formula. I’d struggled for hours trying to make sense of a document I was writing. I re-organized, re-wrote, added cute subheadings, drank more coffee, cleaned my screen—nothing worked. My words continued to sound like meaningless babble.
“It’s hopeless,” I muttered to my laptop as I closed the screen. “I’m finished as a writer. I’ve simply lost my touch.”
Then I went for a walk.
A couple of hours later, the paragraphs almost rearranged themselves. Suddenly it was so obvious to me what needed to be done. I had a new and better idea for the conclusion. Wow, I thought, am I good.
I’m not the only one who employs the lowly walk as a secret sauce for greater productivity. In a Stanford University Study, 81 percent of the 176 participants saw an increase in creativity when they were walking. As I delved into the topic, I found that walking, productivity and creativity, go hand in hand.
The benefits of walking: blame it on our brains
Blame it all on our brains. We’ve got millions of neurons firing off at any given time to keep us thinking, moving, living, even breathing. All that energy requires lots of oxygen. When we exercise, our heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen thorough the body—and our brains love it. It actually builds new brain cells (and we all need that).
A happy, oxygen-fed brain mean that even after mild exercise we think clearer, focus better, remember better, even feel better, in fact there’s an actual chemical change that affects creativity. The oxygen flushes out our “fight or flight hormone” (cortisol), making room for our creative and problem solving functions. How Exercise Makes Us More Creative.
“Walking mediation” to calm the mind
Our minds are never quiet, rather a constant bombardment of ideas, nags and fears fight for our attention often to the point where we’re almost incapable of making a move——that’s when we shut the laptop and walk away. A brisk walk silences this kind of thought process. For the Productivity Ninja, exercise such as walking is one of the best ways of putting that ” lizard brain” to rest so we can actually get something done, and feel good about it. We can think clearly, make good decisions, separate out the minutia from what really matters and our attention is creatively able to focus toward new ideas and thoughts.
Great walkers in history
It’s no coincidence that many great thinkers have extolled the qualities of walking long before research backed them up.
- Charles Dickens would walk 20 or 30 miles after writing each day from 9 am to 2 pm.
- Ludwig Van Beethoven typically took several breaks to “[run] out into the open” and work while walking.
- Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal. “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move; my thoughts begin to flow.” (He also wrote a really long essay called Walking).
- Steve Jobs was famous for his long walks, which he used for exercise and contemplation.
Take a walking cure
- Need a walking cure during the day? Check out these ways of moving forward (literally) next time you find yourself stuck, stymied or feeling a bit slow or stuck:
- A new load of emails just flooded your inbox? Take a 20-minute walk before you sit down and make decisions on what to deal with and what to delete.
- Had a confrontation with some one? Upset? Walk it off. Once you return, you’ll have a much better idea as to what to say (and what not to say!)
- Facing a task but not sure where being? Review what’s required, and then take 30 minutes to walk in the park. You’ll know where to start by the time you get back. And if you take the dog, he’ll love you for it.
- Landed a new client? Got some great news? Enjoy the moment and prolong the good feeling by going for a walk before you start another task.