Stuck for ideas? Struggling with a problem? Go for a walk and everything will fall into place…
‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.
Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World
There is something about the fluid nature of walking that encourages the mind to flow freely and feel at ease with new ideas. Research suggests that ‘creative output’ can increase by 60 per cent after a short walk.1 Countless generations of poets, writers, philosophers and artists have known this, and often walked for inspiration. Walking also encourages clarity of mind and purpose, which is why Steve Jobs hiked in the hills above San Francisco with his designers and board members before making important decisions. And he wasn’t unique – Aristotle, Einstein, President Obama and even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg all walked to clarify their ideas.
For these reasons, another great Habit Releaser is to go for a walk for thirty minutes or more (you can find more in my new book Mindfulness for Creativity). You can walk more or less anywhere. Your neighbourhood is as good as the wild mountains if you walk with the appropriate frame of mind. If you are feeling a little more adventurous, then go somewhere a little wilder such as a nature reserve or the seaside. The important thing is to soak up the surroundings as mindfully as you can, so try to approach the walk with open-minded, playful curiosity. If you are not physically fit, don’t worry. The aim is not to push your physical boundaries, but to open up your awareness to new (or perhaps forgotten) states of mind and to notice the effect that walking has on your thought processes.
Before you start walking, spend a few minutes absorbing the scene. What can you see, hear and smell? Does the air have a taste? Focus on the sounds. Soak up the different ones. Can you hear the wind? Or perhaps the notes of different car engines in the distance? Can you hear insects, birdsong or the scampering of small animals such as squirrels? Notice the rise and fall of each individual sound. Mentally flick between them. How does the pavement, earth or grass feel beneath your feet? As you walk, notice the movement of your muscles and joints. Feel the gentle swaying of your limbs. Can you feel the movement of the breath in your whole body – at the front, the back and the sides? Can you feel how the breath is always changing, just as the sounds do?
If you are walking through the city, look up and pay attention to the buildings. Can you see any wildlife such as nesting birds? Are there any trees or grasses growing out from walls or roofs? What details can you see on the buildings? You might see sculptures, or perhaps dates carved into stonework or even a gargoyle or two. Simply observe with playful curiosity whatever you find.
When you finish your walk, how do you feel mentally and physically? Tired or energised? Achy or pleasantly relaxed? Whatever you feel is what you feel.
You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive for free from here:
1 Oppezzo, M. and Schwartz, D. L. (2014), ‘Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(4), pp. 1142–52.