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 Schwartz (2014)
Stumped by a much needed revision of a piece of flash fiction I had written sometime ago inadvertently led me down the “rabbit hole” commonly known as the internet. And I happened upon a fascinating study about walking and creativity titled “Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking” by Oppezzo & Schwartz (2014). Further descent down the internet rabbit hole, revealed a wonderful Ted talk by the lead author which was inspiring and provided food for thought.
Using an experimental design study, these psychologists were able to quantify what many writers and other artists already know. That walking stimulates the creative process and often may be the best mechanism to become unstuck when you hit a roadblock in your work. Studying how the activity of movement can stimulate a brainstorming approach to creativity that is intentional can form a valued part of your artistic practice.
These results differ from what is known as the “shower effect” where an idea just comes to you from out of nowhere. What the researchers were focusing on was the relationship between movement and creativity and how this may contribute to better brainstorming approaches.
There are some steps that they suggest one consider to achieve the most optimal impact:
- Setting an Intention – choosing a problem you are facing and would like to solve will prime your brain to consider various solutions (brainstorming)
- Walk at a comfortable pace – or choosing any physical activity that doesn’t require a lot of mental focus
- Generate as many ideas as you can to solve your problem while you are walking
- Recording (using your phone) the one or two ideas that you believe would fit best and that you intend to pursue when you complete your walk or other activity, and
- If nothing comes out of your internal brainstorming process, leave it and come back to it at another time.
What I found most interesting in the study results, (given that I live in a cold winter climate for many months of the year), is that even walking on a treadmill while looking at a blank wall had an impact. Although being outside sitting and simply enjoying nature has cognitive benefits, this research demonstrates that the act of walking or slow movement itself may promote a creative mindset for problem solving.
Which was great news because when wicked winter weather strikes in the Canadian prairies, walking on the treadmill is usually how I get my exercise. So when I am home bound due to winter windchill temperatures in the -40’s and -50’s, it is heartwarming to know it is still possible to open up the flow of those creative ideas on the treadmill!
And once I finished learning more about how the relationship between movement and creativity works, I promptly went out for a walk to try it out. And I did manage to make some progress in my revision work as a result. Further self exploration with this over time will tell if this is something to intentionally build into my writing practice. Who knows, maybe there are some benefits to procrastination!
Stay healthy and safe!