Have you ever sat down at your desk to resolve a creative problem and then your brain decides it has no interest in doing what you tell it to? Sound familiar? Yeah, thanks brain.
One of the best ways to unblock your brain and release your creativity is to take a walk. Researchers at Stanford University have carried out astudythat finds walking can boost your creativity.
“Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz Stanford University
Some of the most successful people have included the habit of walking into their lifestyles. Steve Jobs took a long walk when he needed to have a serious conversation and Charles Darwin went on two walks daily: one at noon and one at 4 pm. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”.
Tips for a creative power walk 1. Time block a segment of every day to take a refreshing walk
2. Take a small notebook and pen
3. Put your phone away, unless…
4. …Use Siri to take notes and reminders
5. Choose a street that is interesting but not stressful, the more nature the better
6. Don’t judge or analyse any ideas that come while walking
But how exactly does walking help creativity?
Walking stimulates creativity by improving divergent thinking, this generates creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions rather than concentrating on one focused task.
Walking benefits non focused thinking best, focused tasks like resolving a mathematical equation or how much the bill is if your vegan friend decides that they want to just pay for their course and not the evil meat starter all the sinners ate. Although these problems probably won’t be solved by walking, it may help recharge the ability to focus afterwards.
Distract your conscious brain
A study on freestyle rappers suggested that to be creative the part of your brain that is associated with decision making needs to be inactive and the area that is responsible for learning, context, events and emotional responses needs to be stimulated.
Walking, like taking a shower, distracts our focused attention while simultaneously relaxing us. The opposite of this would be browsing though social media where our brains are constantly processing and thinking about what to click on next.
Walking distracts our brains enough to allow the free-flow of information from our subconscious minds. Allen Braun, researcher at WRAIR, talks about how de-focused attention, which kind of sounds like an oxymoron, can help us be creative.
“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity,”
Walking provides your mind with the break you need to stop thinking about an ineffective solution and lets more creative solutions surface from the subconscious.
A relaxed brain is more a creative brain
Walking is proven to release endorphins that reduce stress and pain. The idea that artists have to suffer isn’t quite right as David Lynch said, “Any kind of suffering cramps the flow of creativity”.
Our brains function better when relaxed. When relaxed we’re more likely to direct our attention inward, toward an abstract flow of ideas. In contrast, when we are hyper focused our attention tends to be directed outward and we think about the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. Although this type of attention is good for solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from connecting more abstract ideas and coming up with more usual solutions.
Going out for a walk exposes us to new situations. Who knows what you’ll see, a crazy man shouting at the clouds, interesting street art, a dog licking up a tramps vomit or perhaps you’ll just look at something in a different light and find a new solution. Walking will also start your blood pumping and may just be the trigger you need to make a breakthrough.
“You can be going down the street and see and puddle on the street and bang an ideas comes, who knows where it comes from.” David Lynch
Involuntary attention / directed attention
Walking recharges your ability to focus. Effort and energy is spent to achieve focus or what is called directed attention. If we are concentrating on specific tasks all day we will experience mental fatigue. Constantly checking your mobile is a form or direct attention, that’s why it’s best to just let your mind rest when waiting at a bus stop or sitting on the train, see this as recharge time for your brain. Walking stimulates your involuntary attention, you‘re in a kind of flow where you don’t have to concentrate on highly focused tasks. This has the effect of resting your brain, giving your subconscious time to make sense of the world.