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Walking for creativity


Michelle Mars walking in Dead Horse Canyon

Walking in Dead Horse Canyon, Seattle

Now that the weather is finally getting nicer in Seattle, I find myself outside more which led me to thinking about walking and creativity. It's not uncommon for me to come up with a new idea or three while walking.  

Creatives who walked

History is full of creative people who walked to help clear their mind or actually work while walking. The book Daily Rituals has more than a few examples. 

Beethoven often walked outdoors for much of the afternoon which is probably why his productivity was higher in the warmer months.

After a midday dinner, Beethoven embarked on a long, vigorous walk, which would occupy much of the rest of the afternoon. He always carried a pencil and a couple of sheets of music paper in his pocket, to record chance musical thoughts.

Georgia O’Keeffe preferred solitude and walking was one of the best ways to achieve that. She walked in the morning around her home in New Mexico.

Most days she took a half-hour walk in the early morning, keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes on her property, which she would kill with her walking stick.

In A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros writes about Nietzsche and how he actually worked while he walked. As a sufferer of migraines and back pain, walking was one of the only things that relieved his pain. 

He walked, alone, for up to eight hours a day, and wrote The Wanderer and His Shadow. All of it except a few lines was thought out en route, and scribbled down in pencil in six small notebooks.

Getting a little lost

When you walk in unfamiliar territory, you're more prone to getting lost. This can be a good thing because when you're not going from point A to point B, you have more time for reflection and discovery. Something that rarely happens in other parts of life. 

In a recent Hurry Slowly podcast, Jocelyn K. Glei talks to Alissa Walker editor about walking and benefits of getting a little lost. 

I don’t know how to convince people of the gift that you get if you allow yourself to go home a different way, or jump on a different bus, and just let yourself get a little lost.—Alissa Walker

Take a pine needle shower

In Jane McGonigal's SuperBetter, she talks about the Japanese practice of forest bathing where you walk under tress to get a boost to your mood and immune system. Both of which can help with creative thought.

It turns out that trees emit airborne chemicals called phytoncides... These chemicals help humans—boosting white blood cells that are essential to immune function and lowering cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. 

Walking indoors

Walking outside is usually ideal, but sometimes the weather or time of day doesn't allow for a comfortable or safe walk. Especially in the city. The good news is that walking on treadmill is almost as good for creativity as walking outdoors. 

This Stanford study determined that people who were on a walk were almost twice as likely to come up with new ideas that are both novel and appropriate (realistic) than people sitting down.

Another finding was that people who walked outside did not come up with significantly more ideas than the folks who walked on a treadmill

I thought walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me. —Marily Oppezzo