Last week, I was in the beautiful Leutasch Valley in Austria and it was glorious. We had fantastic weather, stayed in a great hotel, and the scenery was stunning. We walked above a deep gorge, across Alpine meadows full of flowers, alongside a crystal clear river, and up mountains.
The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote that ‘All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking’ and whilst I’m not sure that I could classify any of my thoughts last week as ‘truly great’, they were certainly very helpful. There is something about walking that allows our minds to wander, free from the distractions of screens and other interruptions, and gives us a fresh perspective on previously intractable issues.
I recently read Cheryl Strayed’s book ‘Wild’ which recounts her solo 1100 mile trek along the Pacific Coast Trail. It was – as they say – a journey of self-discovery after the death of her mother and the collapse of some of her closest relationships. My husband remarked that it was ‘not so much about the trek itself but about the cathartic and redemptive power of walking’. I think he’s right.
In 2014, Oppezzo and Schwartz published their paper Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking in which they demonstrate the increased creativity experienced by participants after walking.
Interestingly, the study also found that ‘walking increased the tendency to talk, and people were especially loquacious when walking outside.’ In my personal and professional experience, people do indeed sometimes find it easier to talk when we walk alongside one another rather than sitting across a table from each other. Aristotle taught his students whilst walking about the Lyceum in Athens – our word ‘peripatetic’ derives from the Greek peripatētikós meaning ‘walking about’.
Whether at home or at work, many of us would like to be able to think more creatively and solve problems more effectively. We don’t need to trek 1100 miles like Cheryl Strayed and everyday life won’t allow us to take six hours to hike on a mountain path each time we need to resolve a complex issue. However, it’s worth noting that in the Oppezzo and Schwartz study, the periods of walking ranged from five to sixteen minutes.
Taking fifteen minutes to walk to a local shop and clear your thoughts or holding your next one-to-one meeting on foot rather than at a desk might make all the difference. Why not give it a try?
Today’s pebble for your thoughts: how will you fit a walk into your day today?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
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