Social scientists at Stanford University have affirmed, with scientific rigor, something people living as far back as the Middle Ages already knew. Walking generates greater creativity. In Latin the expression is, “solvitur ambulando”, it is solved by walking.
In the Stanford study, 176 college students participated in three experiments that gauged divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. The results showed that the overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking (and shortly after walking) than while sitting.
Most of us have also had this experience. For instance, walking is the best remedy for writer’s block. Personally, I find swimming as stimulating as walking and have some of my most creative ideas in the pool.
Now this is interesting, it seems how we walk matters. Chun-Yu Kuo and Yei-Yu Yeh published a study in Frontiers in Psychology in which the walkers were divided into two different groups, those who walked the perimeter of a 400 by 500 meter rectangular and those who walked freely inside it. They were all given the task of finding alternative uses for chopsticks while walking. Interestingly, the free walking group outperformed the rectangle walkers on fluency, flexibility and originality. I guess there is something to be said for daydreaming while wandering new territory. But only within a safe boundary.
I am writing this on June 23rd in the full glory of summer. We have long hours of sunlight late into the evening. Summer days allow ample time for trekking along our favorite outdoor paths. Perhaps this increased opportunity for walking makes summer our most creative season. Find out if this is true for you; engage in daily walks out of doors. Enjoy the warmth, stretching winter-stiff muscles, chatting with neighbors and friends as you meander.
Even if you don’t have a specific creative project you are working on, once you return home from your walk, sit down and do some free, stream of consciousness writing or journaling. You may be surprised with the new ideas that surface from the wells of your subconscious mind. Happy trails!