Before the modern “enlightened” times of western civilization the human story was one of constant movement. The foundation of which is the simple physical act of putting one foot in front of the other. However, walking is a lost art in the West. Very few people, particularly in our cities, are obliged to do much of it at all. Cars, bicycles, buses, trams, and trains all beckon. The way people in the West have started to look down on walking is detectable even in our language. When people say something is “pedestrian” they mean flat, or limited in scope.
Walking for any distance is usually a planned leisure activity. Or a health aid. Something to help us lose weight. Or stay fit. But there’s something else we gain from choosing to walk.
A place to think.
“There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, he notes the icon’s penchant for walking. One day, when Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist behind such tech giants as Facebook, Twitter, and Zynga, was out driving around his home in Palo Alto, California, he nearly hit a crazy old man crossing the street. Looking back at the person he had nearly run over he noticed the trademark blue jeans and black turtle neck. He exclaimed, “Oh my god! I almost hit Steve Jobs!” It was indeed Jobs out on one of his many walks around the Palo Alto area, the home of Apple. Steve Jobs was famous in the area for his long walks, which he used for exercise, contemplation, problem solving, and even meetings. And Jobs was not alone. Throughout history the best minds have found that walking, whether a quick five minute jaunt, or a long four hour trek, has helped them compose, write, paint, and create.
J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis discussed metaphor and myth as they strolled the Addison Walk. Jesus Christ and Cleopas lamented together about recent events while walking the road to Emmaus.
Henry David Thoreau couldn’t “preserve [his] health and spirits” without spending “four hours a day at least – and commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”
Before sitting down to work in the morning, Tchaikovsky would take a short stroll, lasting no more than 45 minutes. Then, after lunch, regardless of the weather, he went out again. Tchaikovsky’s brother later wrote, “Somewhere at sometime he had discovered that a man needs a two-hour walk for his health, and his observance of this rule was pedantic and superstitious, as though if he returned five minutes early he would fall ill, and unbelievable misfortunes of some sort would ensue.”
In present day, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and now heading up digital finance company Square, takes all new hires at Square for his ‘Gandhi walk’ on their first Friday. This is an epic walk through the streets of San Francisco to the Square offices while he espouses on the guiding principles behind Square.
So, if you choose to spend your afternoons rambling in the woods, or taking people out for a walk rather than meeting in a stuffy office—know you are in good company.
A recent Stanford study found that 81% of participants saw an increase in creativity when they were walking. What’s more, when the participants took a second test after walking, they were still more creative, demonstrating the positive effects of walking continued even after they sat down again. Though there is no further research into how exactly walking makes you more creative, it is likely that it helps to increase blood flow all around your body, including to the brain to stimulate creativity.
So, why don’t we do it?
Well, we think we don’t have time, sometimes it’s cold outside, or raining, or we are feeling tired or sluggish, or any other of a thousand reasons we rationalize in order to not get up and out each day. But by finding a few extra minutes each day for a walk, or moving some part of your day, such as meetings outside, you’ll find that walking is as natural as… walking. You’ll think more, relate more, learn more, and live longer. Get walking!
Walking makes you:
- more creative
- more healthy
- more productive
- it’s a great way to communicate
and…you will be following in the footsteps of giants.
We can’t all reach the level of walking that Thoreau achieved, what he called “sauntering”, but I’m certain we can do a much better than the amount we currently engage in. Those walking genes, those urges to explore remain within us ready to be rediscovered. We should honor, respect, and indulge them.
It has been life changing to live in the woods of Kalien and have beautiful walking trails literally at my back steps. Walking is teaching me what it means to be of my land instead of simply existing on it. It gives me the opportunity to talk deeply and without interruption while encouraging others. My plans are to build over five miles of trails meandering through our forests and meadows in order to take long walks alone, with Gina, and quite possibly one day…with you.