Walking and Thinking Your Way to Greater Productivity
The first time it happened I thought I’d stumbled upon some 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, and 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, I am good.
Then I found out, I’m not the only one who employs the lowly walk as a secret trick for greater productivity. In one 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 and productivity (particularly when related to creativity) go hand in hand.
Blame it all on our brains. We’ve got millions of neurons firing off at any given time to keep us thinking, moving, and even breathing. All that energy requires lots of oxygen. When we exercise, our heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen throughout the body—and our brains love it. It actually builds new brain cells (and we all need that).
Happy, oxygen-fed brains mean that even after mild exercise we think clearer, focus better, remember better, and even feel better. Plus 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. )
Walking meditation to calm the mind
Our minds are never quiet. The constant bombardment of nags and fears fight for our attention, to the point where we’re almost incapable of making a move—that’s when we need to shut the laptop and walk away. A brisk walk silences this kind of thought process. For Productivity Ninjas, 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.
Now we can think clearly, make good decisions, even separate out the minutia from what really matters. And because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is able to wander elsewhere to new ideas and thoughts.
Great walkers in history
It’s no coincidence that there are many great thinkers in history who took advantage of the helpful qualities of walks 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 considerably long essay called Walking).
- Steve Jobs was famous for his long walks, which he used for both exercise and contemplation.
Take a walking cure
- A new load of emails just flooded into 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 your dog, they’ll love you for it.
- Landed a new client? Got some good news? Enjoy the moment and prolong that good feeling by going for a walk before you start another task.
By Beth Parker
Beth Parker is a Canadian author and ghostwriter engaged in a continual struggle to balance the needs of her business with the welcomed chaos of five children, a husband and various pets. She has a BA (English), University of Toronto, and an MA (Journalism). In her fictional spare time, she paints pictures.