One pattern I noticed while reading about the physicists and mathematicians who invented quantum mechanics and built the atomic bomb was the number of key insights that came to them while hiking and walking. At first, I thought this might have been a mere cultural coincidence. Many of these scientists were turn-of-the-century central Europeans; perhaps walking was just a common hobby amongst this group?
I have since noticed that I and my clients often have our key insights while walking. One client generated so many ideas while strolling that she bought a mini-recorder just to capture them. Your smartphone has a recording function, too. If it doesn’t, just send yourself a voicemail. For the ultimate inspiration catcher, use Evernote. It works on smartphones, PCs, and the web to capture text, photo, video, and audio snippets.
Nobel-prize winning economist/psychologist Daniel Kahneman noticed the inspirational power of walking, too. In his excellent book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he writes, “I suspect that the mild physical arousal of the walk may spill over into greater mental alertness.”
This casual observation turns out to have solid scientific support. In the classic I’m OK, You’re OK, Dr. Thomas Harris explains how this is incorporated into each person,
The motility which gives birth to the Adult becomes reassuring in later life when a person is in distress.
He goes for a walk to “clear his mind.” Pacing is seen similarly as a relief from anxiety.
There is a recording that movement is good, that it has a separating quality, that it helps him see more clearly what his problem is.
—I’m Ok, You’re Ok
An article at Scientific American, How to Unleash Your Creativity, includes this from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way,
When people walk, they often begin to integrate [their] insights and intuitions.
There’s more on creativity in the article including some techniques for fostering it in work groups and children but don’t read it now. Grab a recorder and go for a walk.
If you can’t bear leaving your office, get a treadmill desk like mine. The simple plans are here, for free.