Walking and creativity

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Being creative is great. Until the creativity fails to show up. Then it’s not so great.

We’ve all been there. Desperately trying to write, draw, paint, or even solve a problem but the brain just doesn’t want to cooperate, no matter how hard we try. It’s frustrating and demotivating. It’s also the exact time to walk away – literally.

A study by Stanford University found that walking can improve creativity by 60 per cent, particularly at the beginning stages of a creative idea. The reason for this is the actual movement of walking, not the environment, with similar results found in people walking indoors on a treadmill when compared with those walking outside. Even better, researchers found that the boost in creative output continues for a short time once you sit back down again.

While this is not a new study (published in 2014), it’s something that I recently stumbled across, and confirms a belief that walking is not only good for physical health, but also for fostering creativity.

Creative inspiration

I have long been an advocate of the benefits of walking and I’m the proud owner of a pair of well-worn hiking boots. There is something satisfying about walking along, getting lost in the repetitive motion of moving and letting the mind wander. It’s soothing and liberating, and in these COVID-19 days with the accompanying brain fog and daily onslaught of grim news, the familiar feeling of putting one foot in front of the other is exactly the tonic we need.

In pre-pandemic times, travel and experiencing new cultures were my main sources of inspiration, but in recent weeks getting outside to walk has been a saving grace. Traipsing across fields, watching the trees transform from early spring blossom to fresh new leaves and breathing in countryside air has been a treat. It has also shaken me from a creative block that set in around mid-March (lockdown time) and has helped to generate new ideas.

Perhaps in the future the trick will be to merge travel with walking for a double dose of creative inspiration. The Camino de Santiago trail has been on the wish list for a long time and I can only imagine the creative goodies that would come out of a trip like that. But for now, I’ll file that idea away for when we can all safely travel again and focus on walks closer to home instead.

For anyone not yet convinced, here are some tips for making the most of going for a walk:

  • Invest in a pair of comfortable walking boots or trainers – preferably something waterproof so there is no excuse for avoiding going outside.
  • Switch off from work and set out for a mind clearing walk – if ideas start to pop up that’s great, and if not, just enjoy taking a well-earned break.
  • Try listening to music or a podcast for some inspiration – I particularly love the Being Freelance podcasts by Steve Folland.
  • Enjoy – if walking in the countryside, focus on the surrounding nature; if walking in a city, get lost in the hustle and bustle of life.

That’s it in a nutshell. Walking can improve creativity, with the added bonus of fresh air and physical exercise by getting up from the desk and adventuring outside. Now, I must dash – it’s time for my daily walk.

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