Back in early 2013, I wrote a blog called “My Wandering Process” which detailed how walking helped me with my writing and other creative endeavors. So it was with great interest that I read an article today from the BBC called “The slow death of purposeless walking” by Finlo Rohrer. The article states in part:
A number of recent books have lauded the connection between walking – just for its own sake – and thinking. But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk?
Walking is a luxury in the West. Very few people, particularly in cities, are obliged to do much of it at all. Cars, bicycles, buses, trams, and trains all beckon.
Instead, walking for any distance is usually a planned leisure activity. Or a health aid. Something to help people lose weight. Or keep their fitness. But there's something else people get from choosing to walk. A place to think.
Of particular interest to me was how many of the world’s great walkers – or at least those mentioned in the article – were also writers. These included Charles Dickens, Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. Yet most of the creative thinkers mentioned in the article were from an era before what you might call “intentional exercise,” where walking and other forms of movement were invariably aligned to some purpose other than a strictly pleasurable one. And while purposeful exercise is certainly positive, how many people go work out for the cognitive benefits? How many are even aware that such benefits exist?
The article cites an interesting study out of Stanford University called Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking. In my aforementioned blog, I noted how walking provides me with the opportunity to “see something different, hear new sounds, breathe fresh air, observe humanity…” But the Stanford study seems to indicate that there’s more to it than just stimulating your various senses.
“The effect [of increased creative ideation] is not simply due to the increased perceptual stimulation of moving through an environment,” the authors noted, “but rather it is due to walking. Whether one is outdoors or on a treadmill, walking improves the generation of novel yet appropriate ideas, and the effect even extends to when people sit down to do their creative work shortly after…”
So the very act of walking stimulates creativity, even if it’s taking place on a treadmill in an empty room where your chances of encountering new sights, sounds and smells is limited. For many however, walking is a waste of time and they resent it. Certainly modern Americans seem to look for ways to fill or soften what they perceive as an annoying activity, whether it’s by plugging into headphones or playing with their smart devices.
If you’re inclined to buck the trend however, the article has some good tips on how to walk in order to maximize the effect on your personal creativity:
Does it work for you? Send me a message and let me know what your process is for stimulating creativity.