Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Creativity Rocks When You Walk

Taking a walk will get you more ideas than just sitting there.

walking
Do empirical studies move you more than “advice”? I mean, really move you to get up and get moving? Where? And what if you're bored by just plain walking?

Recently, and not for the first time, it’s been found that taking a walk (outdoors or even indoors on a treadmill) may lead to more creativity than sitting. Groups of college students were studied; they walked and then they were tested on their ability to come up with multiple creative ideas. And they did, more than the groups that hadn’t walked. More detail here.

Then there’s a sort of literary approach to motivation. A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros, translated by John Howe, has the “feel” of an old book (even electronically). Maybe any book glorifying the cross-country walks of past literary icons, walks that lasted days, is bound to feel somewhat out of tune with modern life. Gros does this, however, in an oddly refreshing way.

Such fantasizing about the past is motivating in its own way, especially for a writer who is feeling particularly computer-chair bound. Here, for instance, is one of Gros’ gloriously opinionated assertions:

An author who composes while walking. . .  his thought is not the slave of other volumes, not swollen with verifications, nor weighted with the thought of others. It contains no explanation owed to anyone: just thought, judgement, decision. It is thought born of a movement, an impulse. In it we can feel the body’s elasticity, the rhythm of a dance.

For me, though, an even better motivation is the anecdotal evidence offered by the large number of novelists and poets who claim their best ideas arrive while they’re walking or on a return from a walk. Thus, poet Maurya Simon told me in an interview:

I often go for a walk beforehand, and often it's a two or three hour walk, with the dogs.  Sometimes I'll get an idea then, but I don't intentionally try to compose when I'm walking.  I walk to free my mind of other things, and then I come back and write poems. 

BUT WALKING IS BORING!

I used to beg my dad to go for walks with my mother. He never walked, and she was getting older and always walked alone. He said walking was boring. I was particularly shocked when my own husband, with whom I frequently walked, said to someone in front of me that he found walking boring. That did put a crimp in our walking frequency.

One way to avoid so-called boredom, besides driving to new walking places all the time, is to go on a theme walk. It works great with kids, but the novelty is sometimes enough motivation to get you and another adult out the door even without a kid. Here are a few of my favorites:

4 THEME WALKS:

1. A What’s Wrong walk is when you and your co-walkers search out anything that doesn’t fit, is “wrong,” needs fixing, and so on. A flat tire, trash or a cigarette butt on the sidewalk, weeds in a flower bed.

2. An Alphabet walk is when you take turns calling out items that begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet. Alley, baby, car, dandelion, etc.

3. A Storytellers walk is when one of you observes a person or anything else and concocts a story about it, adding details that aren’t directly observable. Then the other walker (if there is one!) adds more detail, including additional things observed on the walk.

4. A Camouflage walk is one during which you seek out what can’t be seen readily, such as a toy under a shrub, a cat on a roof, or a bird high in a tree.

WALK WITH EXPERT EYES

Another book I'd like to bring to your attention is On Looking: Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes, by bestselling author Alexandra Horowitz. Her delightful scientific eye and joyous specificity ought to make for way more than 11 fun walks. Here's what she writes:

In this book, I aimed to knock myself awake. I took that walk “around the block”—an ordinary activity engaged in by everyone nearly every day—dozens of times with people who have distinctive, individual, expert ways of seeing all the unattended, perceived ordinary elements I was missing. Together, we became investigators of the ordinary, considering the block—the street and everything on it—as living being that could be observed.

In this way, the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and the old the new.

We can all learn to see--and walk--with new eyes, and then come home and get in touch with our creative selves.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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