Want to get ahead at work? Leave the office and go for a walk
Who hasn’t found themselves stuck at their desk with their head in their hands. Even if you’ve not got a job that allows such drama – you are fully allowed to cradle your cranium in your palms in times of despair at ShortList – you will know the feeling. You’re stuck. You’re going nowhere fast, forced to ebb ever closer to deadline, your creativity running on fumes.
But help is at hand. According to a paper called “Give Your Ideas Some Legs” by researchers at Stanford University, individuals who took a short walking break (we’re talking six to fifteen minutes) managed to increase their creative thinking by 40 to 60 percent when compared to those who remained stuck at their desk, the wood-like veneer seemingly zapping them of their energy.
The creative benefits of stretching your legs are well-documented: Nietzsche once declared, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” It’s always nice to have it in writing, however, and now researchers know a little bit more of the why to back up the what… sort of.
As per The Cut: “At first, [the researchers] speculated that increased blood flow to the brain was the primary reason for walking’s benefits. But it appears the benefits might also emerge from the interplay between walking and attention: mainly, walking requires just enough coordination to occupy the parts of the brain responsible for effortful thinking, allowing us to more easily zone out and mind-wander, both of which are associated with creativity and insight.”
In New York, they have “walking therapy” where you can walk out your issues with a qualified therapist (London had a similar initiative called ‘Walking Therapy at Creative Counselling London’ but the website’s domain has since expired) and you can simply how the brain benefits from such a task. We often feel a sense of ‘freedom’ through doing simple things that we’re good at – I like relacing my trainers: I find it very soothing and I’m very, very good at it – and that allows us to ‘switch off’ just enough to have a little rest and reset, allowing us to come back to whatever the boring thing it was we were doing before with fresh (or at least fresher) eyes.
Barbara Oakley, an engineering professor at Oakland University who wrote a book about effective learning which includes a section on the benefits of walking, told Quartz: “Part of why walking, I think, is important is it can be boring. It’s that very aspect that causes your mind to go back and revisit, even subconsciously, on what you’ve been analyzing and learning.”
So the next time you’re stuck with what to do next at work, grab your coat and a pound coin from your desk and have yourself a little stroll around the block. Grab yourself a Diet Coke on the way back. You’ll probably feel much better– science said so.
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