February 21, 2016

Tip# 4: Power Your Creative Thinking with a Walk

“If you can’t think, walk. If you’re thinking too much, walk. If you are thinking bad thoughts, keep walking.”  —Pierre Helaine, founder of Arche shoes.

One of the biggest impediments to creative productivity is the mental block, or rut—sometimes brief, sometimes prolonged.  A great and easily-accessible-to-all way to jump-start your thinking and shift your mindset is to get out and go for a walk.  At the very least it’s a mood booster, at best it’s a creative strategy. I generally get my best ideas while walking…I build it in to my day as a tool to fuel my thinking. I now use the voice memo feature on my iphone to record these thoughts, lest they disappear (very important!). I used to have a pen and an index card in my pocket. I also have a ‘two-loop’ practice: I use the first half of the walk to de-clutter, breathe and relax my mind, and the second to forward-focus my thinking around what I want to manifest that day.

There is science to support this. Repetitive physical movements involving major muscle groups (such as walking, swimming, biking, playing tennis, etc.) influence our overall state of mind. Some claim different forms of physical activity suit different sorts of problem solving: you’ve got your ‘walking problems’ and you’ve got your ‘golf problems’. In addition to the endorphin, serotonin, and oxygenation (happy-makers) boosting effect of these activities, they plug in to the framework of creative thinking I’ve referred to here: the interplay between right and left brain activities.

Darwin constructed a sand-covered path , known as the sandwalk, at Down House, where he wrote Origin of the Species and Descent of Man. He called it his ‘thinking path’. Mozart asserted his best ideas came while walking, Einstein loved to sail regularly, scribbling notes the whole time. Many therapists, recognizing the link between exercise and shifted mindsets, are holding their sessions while walking with their clients, and business innovator Nilofer Merchant recently delivered a TED talk sharing her penchant for holding all her meetings while walking–to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week!

So the very good news here is that getting away from our cluttered desks, our monkey-minds and being physically active is one of the most productive and creative things we can do.





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Allen Lubow
6 years ago

Elizabeth, I’m new to your blog but I’ve been thinking about these topics for years and find your writing very intriguing.

When someone asks “What do you do?” my answer is that I’m an inventor. “How do you invent?” they continue. I never answer the same way twice but I usually say something like “I do what occurs to me needs doing.” And that always involves walking.

Something our instructor said during a childbirthing class when giving advice about how to distract oneself from pain was to walk because 95% of the input to the brain has to do with information your body is relaying back on where it is in space. If you are moving, your brain is receiving an awful lot of information and that makes the pain a much smaller percentage of the input compared with lying around and focusing on the pain. The connection I’m making is that walking might mitigate the thoughts you are having, allowing room for you to focus on other things. I hope that made some sense.

Anyway, walking has always been a great source of my creativity. I’m always returning from a long walk and running to my computer to jot down something new.

6 years ago
Reply to  Allen Lubow

Thanks for your interest and sharing your insights Allen. The connection you make between walking and creative thinking is articulated perfectly–it’s because to some extent our minds are otherwise engaged/focused minimally when walking that ‘pops’ happen–often our best thoughts and ideas. Also works as a form of wu wei–trying not to try. I rely on my iphone to record the pops lest I forget them. I’ve never heard the connection made between pain mitigation and walking; very interesting…

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