Walking: The Simplest Way to Enhance Creativity
Unmotivated or uninspired? You may benefit from a walk to enhance your creativity!
I used to teach high school art and many students would bemoan "...but I'm not creative!" when asked to create something original. Like these students, we have a tendency to think of creativity as an artistic, musical, or poetic ability. But at its core, creative ability involves transforming ideas or imagination into reality. Simply put, creativity is problem-solving.
We problem-solve on a daily basis but somedays ideas come more easily than others. Sometimes, our brains have no interest in participating in the task at hand. What is the simplest way to overcome brain block? Try taking a walk!
What do Steve Jobs, Beethoven, Goethe, Darwin, and Dickens have in common? They all used walking as a simple means to enhance their creativity and problem-solving.
Positive effects of walking on creative thinking
A 2014 study from Stanford University demonstrated people are 81% more creative when walking than when sitting. Moreover, walking had a residual effect on creativity. Meaning that participants who went for a walk were more creative during and after walking than those that were stationary.
It's not entirely clear why walking helps creativity. Walking appears to improve divergent, non-linear thinking. Rather than focusing on one specific task, when we engage in divergent thinking, our mind flutters between ideas. This free-flow produces a multitude of possible solutions to whatever we are trying to solve.
One theory is that walking distracts our conscious mind. The conscious mind is a worrywart. It is constantly processing information, thinking logically about the next steps and consequences. This focused attention leaves little room for creative thinking. A study on the neural correlates of creativity among freestyle rappers suggests that creative thinking is boosted when the decision-making part of the brain is inactive. When we are not caught up in making the right choice, our minds are free to generate uncensored solutions.
Walking outdoors versus indoors
Walking can expose us to new environments and situations which can inspire us. When we think of going for a walk, we think about being in nature. Exposure to nature has a calming effect and can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, regulate mood, and restore attentional capacities. Does that mean we need to get outside to benefit?
The good news is that you don't have to walk outside to experience a boost to your creativity.
From a strictly creative standpoint, the Stanford study found both walking on a treadmill and walking outdoors positively influence creativity. If you're looking for other relaxational benefits of movement, in addition to creativity, you may benefit from seeking out green spaces or listening to nature sounds on your walk.
The next time you're in need of a creative boost, try getting your legs moving and go for a walk.