How A Quiet Walk Saves Your Creativity (And Sanity)

Our days are short on sunlight and packed with too much stimulation. Here’s why a walk outside (even when the weather is gross) can refresh your focus.

How A Quiet Walk Saves Your Creativity (And Sanity)
[Image: Flickr user ZL-Photography]

Blogger-marketer-entrepreneur Herbert Lui was trying everything to get over the 3 p.m. slump: he was swilling coffee, splashing water on his face, wandering around the Internet. Then, a breakthrough: he could wander around outside.


His thesis: if the office is like its own city–replete with “advertising, emails, or any types of other people’s agendas for us”–as Lui says, then we need to escape for a handful of minutes each day.

And psychology backs him up. Here’s why walks work for our creativity, well-being, and decisions.

Especially for us cold-climate office workers, our days are extremely short on sunlight, and packed with stimulation. And an afternoon–or better yet, morning–walks help with each.

You Need More Sunlight

About 10% of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, where you feel sluggish, sad, and risk averse as the days grow short. This has effects that don’t seem immediately obvious: pitching a crazy idea in the winter isn’t wise, for people are less likely to take risks when evolution is telling them to keep cozy.

Even if it’s blustery, bundling up and getting a 20-minute walk will expose you to infinitely more sunlight than the glow of your computer screen. Additionally, sunlight stimulates your hormones (cortisol and melatonin, for example) in ways that promote activity and rest, an effect that your iPhone can’t match.

And since well-being correlates with productivity, you can tell your boss that it’ll make the rest of your day more high value. Taking walks is so good for you in fact that Japanese doctors prescribe walks in the woods as a form of treating depression.


Why you need less stimulation

The other element is that our days are so supremely jammed full of stimulation–more than a quarter of which consists of living in our inboxes. While endlessly doing stuff might seem to be the key to productivity, it turns out that creativity requires some not-doing as well.

This is because ideas need time to incubate: after you encounter a problem, some part of your brain will work on it while you’re working on other things. But that insight will never “come to you” if you’ve crowded out any time to be productively idle, like by meandering around your neighborhood. Some CEOs even schedule their downtime: LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is one example.

So maybe it’s time to book a walking meeting with yourself?

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.