Thoughts come clearly when one walks

Are you in need of a good idea? Take a walk.

I can’t remember where I first read this article, but it stuck with me. I printed it off and have had it pinned to my wall it seems forever.

In 1940, Thomas Mann was teaching at Princeton when an article about him appeared in The New York Review of Books.   In the article, he reported that every day at noon he walked for one hour. He said about his daily regimen.

Have you ever struggled to come up with a good idea--or a way to phrase such an idea--only to find that your mind was unable to rise to the challenge. Perhaps you were asked to write a short piece for a local publication or deliver a few remarks at an upcoming event. In situations like these, performance anxieties associated with writing and speaking often gum up our mental gears, sometimes even shutting them down completely. The result is fairly predictable: numerous false starts, lots of mumbled profanity, and dozens of pages of crumpled paper tossed in the direction of the nearest waste-paper basket. If this has ever happened to you, the next time you find yourself in such a situation, you might want to try something different:

Take a Hike!

Yes, I really mean it.  And if you can't take a hike, then go for a long, leisurely walk.

While most people emphasize the physical health benefits of a walking regimen, there are many people--including myself--who believe there are other even more important benefits to walking. This notion was first introduced to me about twenty years ago when I came across a compelling maxim in Friedrich Nietzsche's "Twilight of the Idols" (1889):

   "Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value."

I was an avid runner at the time and, like most serious runners, held the snobbish view that, compared to walking, running was a far superior exercise. And while it may be true that running is a better aerobic exercise, I have come to discover that walking is not only a terrific form of exercise, it is far, far better for the mind.

There's something about the gentler physical activity associated with walking that frees the mind to wander. In running, our bodies and minds are often so focused on the physical task at hand that we don't experience the psychological freedom to flesh out a half-formed thought or give birth to an idea that's been lying dormant in the recesses of the mind. This conception about the value of walking goes back to ancient times and was so well understood 2,000 years ago that it inspired a Roman proverb "Solvitur ambulando," which is translated in several different ways, including:

   "The solution comes through walking."

Within a few months of discovering Nietzsche's observation, I began to run less and walk more, almost always with a notepad in my pocket. Sure enough, thoughts and ideas--and improved ways of phrasing them--popped into my head with great regularity. That pattern continues to the present day.

As the years passed, I've discovered that many other people have endorsed the idea that walking is an excellent way to get the mental gears working at peak efficiency.

Here are a few observations that make the point:

"Make your feet your friend." -J. M. Barrie

"It's worth the time to take an hour's walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better." -Orson Scott Card

   "If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish." -Charles Dickens

"I would walk...when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.  It was easier to think if I was walking." -Ernest Hemingway

 "My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing." -Aldous Huxley

"Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it." -Soren Kierkegaard

"Many writers...have linked the physiology of walking and writing. The mind relaxes through the calming, repeated movement of a stroll, while the legs' cadences trigger the rhythms of poetry." -Phillip Lopate

"Nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas." -J. K. Rowling

"Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake." -Wallace Stevens

"The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow." -Henry David Thoreau

"I will tell you what I have learned for myself. For me, a long five or six-mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day." -Brenda Ueland

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