In 2017, I took an 8-day walk through the English countryside, traveling from one village to another, walking from approximately 9am until 3pm each day, with short stops and a lunch break in between. I had a walking partner, but often we would be spaced out enough to experience a sense of solitude which allowed my mind to wander. I spent time observing my surroundings, from the intricacies of dry stone walls surrounding local farms, to delicate crimson poppies fluttering in the breeze, to an earthworm wending its way up from the wet, dark soil. I realized that in my daily life back home, I moved too quickly to appreciate the small details and nuances surrounding me.
While walking for hours each day, I found I had time to pray and meditate. Not just ‘help me’ pleas or ‘thank you’ prayers, but prayers in which I spent more time listening to God than talking at Him! I let myself dream for the future, reflect on the past, and be present in the moment. Walking kept me moving without the distractions of a screen or a to-do list, without the interruptions of tasks or toddlers. I brainstormed and problem-solved both projects I was working on back home and how to get from one village to the next that very day. By the end of each day I felt like my mind had reached new critical and creative heights. And when I returned back home to California, the flood of ideas didn’t just slow to a trickle, they continued to flow! For months my creative output surged, which I believe was due to my long-distance walk. Bringing Inspiration Home was one of the direct results of that walking trip, which compelled me to invite other women to join me on a similar experience — a Women’s Walking Retreat through the English countryside that had to be postponed in 2020 and is set for 2022.
Since my return from walking through the Cotswolds in 2017, I’ve delved into the art and science of walking, along with its benefits, specifically regarding creative output. It’s become a subject of deep fascination for me, and I’m passionate about exploring its nuances.
For many of us walking comes without much thought. We get up and go, using our bodies to propel us into the day ahead. Throughout our lives, we are reminded how beneficial walking is for our bodies and our health, but how often are we encouraged to walk because the very act will enhance our creative output? It’s a fascinating idea, with the direct benefits being scientifically legitimate and the historic examples undeniable.
From Jesus Christ to Jane Austen, history is filled with men and women who used walking as a catalyst for teaching, reflection, innovation, and creative expression. The ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Socrates viewed walking and thinking as inextricably linked. Beethoven took long afternoon walks, pencil and paper in hand, ready for inspiration to strike. Virginia Woolf read her book drafts aloud during daily walks. Jane Austen developed a fantastic repertoire of female walkers and gave us a detailed glimpse into her surroundings as a result of her own long walks with her sister Cassandra. Steve Jobs was known for his Silicon Valley walking meetings that spurred on innovation and productivity. Jesus of Nazareth imparted wisdom upon his disciples in the wilderness and sought solace there as well. The art and act of walking, has a long and noble heritage that we can tap into and benefit from thanks to the inspiration of those who came before us.
“I realized that the decision-making process is something that has to be cultivated and protected when life gets busy or circumstances feel overwhelming.“
But what about the science to support the historic evidence that walking impacts our creative thought? One of the more interesting studies done on the relationship between walking and creativity was a 2014 study done at Stanford University by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz. They tested a group of 176 participants to see how walking (both indoors and outdoors) had an impact on creative, original thought, compared to the act of sitting still and attempting to generate new ideas. In the experiments, those who walked while brainstorming ideas created twice the amount of novel uses for a specific item than those who sat still and did the same thing. Interestingly enough, those who walked first and then sat down to work, still generated a higher number of fresh ideas than those who sat for both experiments. The act of walking had a residual effect on the creative mental process! And get this, the number of creative ideas was not limited by walking on a treadmill in a windowless room. It was the sheer act of walking (not necessarily the environment) that helped stimulate creative, original thought.
One important thing to note is that the 2014 Stanford study also included a group who were pushed in wheelchairs outdoors. This group experienced more creative thought and novel approaches than the group who sat indoors for the experiments, but less than the group who used a treadmill indoors. The study allowed that further experimentation should be done to test a group who is pushing themselves in wheelchairs, since the activity may have an even more beneficial impact on their creative output.
In spring of 2020 when my gym shut down due to Covid-19, I began hiking two to three mornings a week with one friend at a time. Sometimes we started while it was still dark, and many times we had the pleasure of watching the sun rise over the hills of San Francisco’s East Bay. The hills turned from green to gold and back again over the course of the year. The hikes gave me a sense of stability in an uncertain season, and they gave me a chance to work out ideas or troubles with a friend. We brainstormed, vented, connected, and prayed. I captured the beauty on camera and felt my creative engines rev to life even when my daily routine felt more static than ever. Walking became my Covid sanity-saver and I’m forever grateful for this new rhythm that’s been integrated into my lifestyle here at home.
Walking to boost creative output can take many forms. My husband is a notorious pacer and often just paces around our backyard when working from home. He’s taken walking breaks at university and at work since long before we met, and I can tell they always have an impact on his work. Whether you make laps around your living room, pace up and down the sidewalk, weave through city streets, or take leisurely strolls through the countryside, the act of walking has a direct impact on your creative thought process. Even 15 minutes on a treadmill can make a difference!
Whether you’ve got an issue to work out, a problem to solve, or plans to make, taking a walk might just be the key to cracking the code and gaining progress. It certainly is one of the easiest, cheapest, and beneficial ways to stimulate our creative output!
If you’d like to walk with me on my Women’s Walking Retreat through the Cotswolds, click HERE for a full itinerary and details. You can also read more about how I found inspiration and restoration in the Cotswolds HERE.
I am passionate about coming alongside others to inspire them in their creative journey. With 15 years’ experience as a creative entrepreneur, I have been able to cultivate a strong repertoire of strategies to boost creative output and help others tap into their creativity. If you would like to have me speak either in person or online at your upcoming conference, workshop, or retreat, please email Jaime Fenwick at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Can’t travel right now? Join my 12-week Creative Coaching Experience to help you tap into your creativity without going anywhere! Click HERE to learn more.