Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Creativity: Walking the Walk

Lake Tenkiller/ Fall 2013
There is such a thing as being "too busy." We all have an ongoing list of to do items-but without breaks- we can get into a rut in our thinking. In addition to the demands of work; the cell phone buzzes, the dog wants out, dinner must be prepared . . . Interruptions and multitasking create a stress that inhibits free thinking.  Although we are human beings, our lifestyle is why we sometimes just feel like "human doings."  So what is a struggling creative to do?  Let your mind wander- take a walk.

In Julia Cameron’s landmark book The Artists Way (1992), she suggests the elements of encouraging your creative self as a combination of discipline (write three pages every day), inspiration (schedule artist’s dates regularly), and as a P.S. she advises we walk.  Why walk?

In 2012 researchers from the University of Utah and the University of Kansas were curious to see if gentle nature experiences could restore attention from the interruptive demands of technology in everyday life. Their subjects were outward bound backpackers and no cell phones were allowed throughout the experiment. One group was administered a creativity test at the beginning of the trail, the other group took it four days into their hike. The second group (4 days in) scored 50% higher on the creativity measure.  A lead researcher noted that the distractions and technological stimulation of ordinary life pose a threat: 
“They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition that humans are capable of—things like creativity, or being kind and generous, along with our ability to feel good and be in a positive mood.”
In our typical week we won’t have four days to increase our creativity but even a brief walk away from our to-do lists (and our cell phones) gives our mind a chance to wander. On my weekend walk with Suki I noticed the temperature, wind, birds, distant chatter, skateboarders, and the smell of barbecue grills. I just don’t get that in my writing space or at work.

Time Square/Spring 2012
Writer/visual artist Maira Kalman describes her walks through Manhattan as an intentional "creative device. In an interview by "Brain Pickings she credits the changing visual field and even the gait of other walkers as helping her tune into her feeling state and literally step away from the thinking state.

Wherever we choose to walk, the changed sensory experience can clear our mind clutter--paving the way for original ideas and restored mental attitude. It alters the rhythm of our life just enough to change the patterns of our thoughts.When creativity matters--there is no such thing as wasted time!


  1. Wonderful post! I love how walking clears my head and helps me to be more present. It's harder to get myself out in colder weather (even worse with super hot weather), but I need to make more of an effort. I always feel better afterwards!

    1. The cold gets into my bones too Sonia- and the other day I tried to "walkabout" in the gym. Absolutely NO IDEAS were generated. I might try again, but the clanking and the musty smell were not inspiring!

  2. I can't wait until my knee is healed enough that I can get out and test drive your theory. Sounds like it would be a good idea to put a small notebook in my pocket to keep track of ideas as they hit - it would stress me out trying to remember until I got home!

    1. Wishing you speedy recovery Shel! You may want to leave your notebook at home though so you can be free thinking and trust that the best ideas will stay with you while the others keep incubating.