Go for a Walk

How many times have you had a conversation that started with “so while I was in the shower last night, I figured out how to…”, or something to that effect?

I naturally set out some time to think and daydream a little – about 10 minutes every two hours or so, while I have a cigarette (unfortunately, the nazi smoking ban hasn’t been enough to force me to quit just yet): most smokers will tell you that the hardest thing to give up are the ad-hoc social interactions you get with other people who wouldn’t otherwise only chat with or even meet.

But you don’t need to cover your lungs in filth just so you can have an excuse to think. When faced with a problem you want to solve, or even to find out where the real problems are in the first place, try what the native americans called the Medicine Walk:

The medicine walk is a day’s journey upon the face of the earth. It is also a mirror. In it, signs and symbols of your inward journey are reflected. The walk is a distilled form of the vision quest.

It doesn’t need to last a day, and it doesn’t need to sound like such an epic spiritual crusade either. Just get up and walk to place that’s about 10 or 20 minutes away, and that’s it. Take no distractions with you – no iPods, no phone, just about enough change to buy a cup of coffee once you get there, and then head back. Pay attention to the sounds, other people going about their lives, cars and buses passing by, the architecture of buildings, the colours and shapes and symbols around you. Look out for patterns, coincidences, and most importantly, pay attention to the internal dialogue going on in your head: it’ll be trying to pick apart the problem at hand, and you can follow some basic retrospective techniques to work some of it out once you’re in that state of mind.

After doing that on purpose for a bit, I noticed that going out for a walk works even better with a pair. You might need to take a longer break – I found that 20 to 30 minutes of walk time is ideal. That’ll give you about an hour to think, talk and socialise the ideas and problems at hand. Also, notice how easy it is to work out disagreements and suggest new things to try out; promenading has very different brainwave generating patterns, and is probably one of the best tools I have to stimulate creative thinking.