I am totally digging the Four Surprising Factors that Influence Creativity article, written by Rohan Ayyar. The idea is that all people are creative (which I firmly believe), but some of us can access it easier than others. In the article, the four surprising factors that influence creativity are living abroad, getting tipsy, walking and politics. Living abroad and truly being immersed in the surrounding culture, while maintaining strong bonds with your home country, has shown to increase scores on creativity tests AND greater professional success. Getting tipsy lets ideas flow faster and more freely. A test to measure creative thought was given to a sober group and an intoxicated group, and the intoxicated group (tipsy, not drunk) outperformed the sober one in both accuracy and speed. The connection between being a liberal and willingness to explore new ideas is interesting. But what I’ve found the most helpful over the years is #3 – walking around.
The positive effect of walking on creative thinking
Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education had people pacing around inside, walking on a treadmill, taking a stroll outside and sitting down indoors for a study on the positive effect of walking on creative thinking. They found that creative output increased dramatically when walking opposed to sitting down. The walking environment did not have a significant impact.
There are a lot of accomplished creative people throughout history that subscribed to this thinking. Aristotle conducted his lectures while walking the grounds of his school in Athens. Famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven had a daily routine of working from sun-up through mid afternoon, and would periodically work while walking (generally less than an hour each) during this time. After a large midday meal, he would take a longer, more vigorous promenade lasting the rest of the afternoon.
“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”
― Charles Dickens
The lesson here is that it doesn’t matter how or where you get up and move. Just get up and move.
The average person is sitting over 9 hours a day
Nine hours a day! And because everyone else is sitting the same amount, we don’t notice that our sitting has gotten out of control. Nilofer Merchant did an interesting TED talk on walking meetings. She was introduced to the concept when someone was having a scheduling issue, and wanted to have the meeting while walking her dogs.
“Sitting has become the smoking of our generation”, said Merchant, in reference to how it’s hurting our bodies. Wow.
I know for me personally, I like to take a break in the middle of the day and go for a walk. Often times the walk involves getting a fountain soda, as I feel both the walk and the soda make me more productive (no proof points here!). Or if I’m trying to tackle a big creative problem, I’ll go on a nice long walk to clear my head. These walks also require my phone so I can jot down any notes or ideas while away from my sketch book.
Walking and talking is a great way to have hard conversations
Sitting in a beige-walled conference room, in uncomfortable chairs under those unforgiving fluorescent lights and stale air, trying to have a tough conversation with a co-worker is hard. Asking that same co-worker to go for a walk will alleviate tension, nervousness, and could break down any walls that could exist. No one feels like there is a stare-down happening across the giant conference room table. It’s just two people with more blood pumping through their brain, walking and talking. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.
For all of the same reasons above, I used to keep a basketball in my car so I could walk to the nearby park and shoot some hoops. If I was frustrated, struggling with a creative problem, or needed quality time with someone so they could vent or talk to me about a difficult topic, I’d also offer up basketball. Again, the basketball was a way to work out the nervous energy, get more blood pumping through my brain, and get a different perspective.
How can you get out-of-the box more?
It’s not always easy to find time to drop everything and go for a walk in the middle of a work day. Your job duties might not allow it, or your co-workers might frown upon it. Get creative. And if you need any additional reasons to get up and get moving, tell everyone that they’ll like you better after going for a walk, because you’ll be calm, collected and happy.