During my first graduate program, the Divinity students had a stunning number of papers assigned weekly if not daily. Madaline, fellow former collegiate athlete, student and soon to be life long friend, and I loved working out but also needed to keep on top of the papers rapidly piling up. For the sake of sanity we combined two activities: running and pontificating.
Neither of us attended the same classes which had the added benefit of a running/philosophy partner completely unadulterated by pre-patterned thinking. The discussion field and the running trail stayed wide open. One (or both) of us would show up with a nascent idea needing fleshing out and running shoes laced.
This practice started out as an excuse to go outside. Serendipitously, this alleviated the guilt of not studying midwifed a fruitful outcome: startlingly good insights. Of course, not every train of thought was brilliant. Some ideas crashed into the ground never to be resurrected. But these were the twin virtues of our process: great ideas could be discussed and taken to new heights, and ideas that simply weren’t fit for development were soon discovered and left dead on the running trail. The more excited we became about an idea or topic the faster we ran and more wildly we gesticulated until I was flat out gasping for breath.
Eric Weiner writes in The Geography of Genius that the Ancient Greeks did not differentiate between physical and mental activity. In fact, citing a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, “creativity levels were ‘consistently and significantly’ higher for the walkers versus the sitters.” He notes that there was no real difference between walking indoors or outdoors but that the walking boosted creativity and only 5 to 16 minutes were needed to get the creative boost.
Madaline and I were neither seeking creative genius nor reading the Journal of Experimental Psychology. What we did know was that over time the content of our writing grew richer, deeper and frankly more interesting.
Grab your colleague, partner or friend and head out for a walk — the stairwell, parking lot or around the building will do. To begin with your partner need not fully understand your idea. In fact, it would be better if they did not. Their questions in trying to understand what you are doing will invite creativity and refined content.
What creative problems have you solved on a walk?
Totally agree – sometimes the best thing for a problem is to not (consciously) work on it. Whether that means going for a walk or listening to music or having a coffee or just working on something completely different, walking away is a perfectly viable strategy when things aren’t working (provided you return to the problem later on).
Why are you leaving this summer, we could have been walking and talking buddies while working on our research!!!!