OK! – so if you hang about with me for any time on social media you may have heard me referring to my “thinking walks” … where if I stumble across a challenge that needs creative thinking I pull on my comfy shoes and head out the door to walk until I find a solution.
I live in a small market town – now to be fair its got a fair bit of history in that once upon a time it used to be the capital of Scotland….. but how does wandering around the streets of a medieval town help me find solutions to the issue of the day?
Well .. for start .. just being out in the fresh air helps. “Brain food” is oxygen . so the more oxygenated your brain the better it performs.
And when you are out and about exercising your brain shifs between “flickering between big-picture states – thinking about what we have to do tomorrow, plans for next year, engaging in what is called ‘mental time travel’ – and task-focused work. And you need to flicker between these states in order to do creative work.”
So a morning meander might be a good idea if you know you are about to hit your desk to work on a creative issue.
Sometimes I play a game … and set a theme for my walk …..
This walk was all about “finding the flowers” .. so I set off to not only think about a tangled political issue in our business but also to prime my brain to make me pay attention to all the beautiful flowers that I might not have previously noticed.
Those gorgeous gardens that I pass that I admire .. but also the little hidden pockets of petaled beauty that often get overlooked.
Or I may have a theme about a certain colour – or texture – or animal that I may encounter on my travels.
It’s true that if you set out walking with intention your brain will draw your notice to whatever your theme is .. I can always find the blue flowers .. or the peeling paint .. but what I never realised on the day I went out to notice dogs was how many dogs would suddenly run up to me and start sniffing just because I was ready to start “Seeing” them!!! No such thing as coincidences – right?
I think we all appreciate that a daily walk also helps to stave off depression. Indeed “It turns out that the brain systems that support learning, memory and cognition are the same ones that are very badly affected by stress and depression”
So a daily thinking walk is also part of my self-care routine that supports my mental health.
Being outside in natural daylight helps to – in fact as I live so far North I make a conscious effort to be outside on as many days of the year when its daylight as possible. Even so I chose to supplement in the gloomier months with Vitamin D3 to make up for the lack of direct sunlight.
So my walks not only help me think – they help me stabilise my mood as well as access my creativity.
Neuroscientists believe that our massive human brains evolved to support movement – so it makes sense that if we stop moving that our brains atrophy and cease to work at a optimum level.
The thing is .. so many of us now sit hunched over computer screens for a living .. and that is a long way from our “Hunting an Gathering” ancestors who were in almost perpetual motion during the hours of daylight.
Maybe before Neuroscientists our ancestors were really on to something?
We know now that many of the greatest thinkers and artists would walk before engaging in a creative activity …. realising that some gentle exercise activates the whole brain and just makes it all flow so much easier!
From Wordsworth’s poetry created as he ambled through the Lake District to Aristotle delivering “walking lectures” – actually teaching people as they meandered through the garden of his school in Athens .. walking and talking when creatively learning seems to work.
For the Geeks among us .. walking also activates Theta waves within the brain. These brain waves activate all over every region of the brain when you are walking. Warming the brain up for a creative task, allowing to access clearer memory and literally rewiring neural pathways . … you know that saying “Use it or lose it” .. well walking certainly helps you “not lose it”
I don’t feel the same benefit when I hit the gym .. in fact after going to the gym I just want to veg out on the sofa and eat cake! Part of my brain starts to mutiny, telling me that I have “worked out” for the day so now need to rest and recuperate.
When I come in from walking I feel invigorated and energetic. I have fed my brain, exercised my neurons, learned something about my environment, accessed my optimum Theta state and returned home with the solution to the sticky problem I have been pondering. .. all before I walk into my office, boot up my computer and begin the working day.
So …. it’s a habit well worth adopting …. no preparation needed, just open your door and go!
Thirty minutes at a moderate pace 4 – 5 times per week seems to be perfect … and I think most of us could build that level of good thinking time into our week – don’t you?
So what inspiration has struck you when you have been out walking? I’d love to know?