“Let’s take a walk, shall we?”

“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote in a letter to her depressed sister-in-law — “Above all,” he told her in 1847, “do not lose your desire to walk: 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.”

For him, as a philosopher, sitting was the root of disease and despair. But walking was sacred — a way for him to do his best work and release the frustrations that his philosophical quest often brought him.

Time and time again, the successful ones from all walks of life have considered walking and *movement *as a catalyst for creativity.

Take Charles Darwin for instance. Best known for his theory of evolution, he gave the foundation of this principle in his theory of natural selection. In his marvelous career, he published 19 books. Everything ranging from a monograph about barnacles to the *Origin of Species, *which is the single most influential book in the history of science — and a foundation for many discoveries to come.

Have a look at his schedule:


“If Darwin had been a professor today in had been a professor in a university today,” says Alex Pang in his book Rest, “he would have been denied tenure.” He continues further, “If he’d been working in a company, he would have been fired within a week.”

Darwin is not alone. Many other luminaries follow, in fact.

Charles Dickens developed a methodical approach to his work, and sit from 9 am to 2 pm, after which he would go on a three-hour walk, the observations from which he’d put straight into his writing.

Nikola Tesla got the idea of a rotating magnetic field, one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time, while walking through a city park in Budapest in 1882. This discovery was the key principle for Alternating Current to work without which you wouldn’t have electricity to do anything you’re doing right now.

And as a last fascinating example, William Wordsworth walked 180,000 miles in his lifetime. That’s an average of 6.5 miles every day since he was five years old!

Yet, when it comes to inculcating the habit in our own lives, I know what you’re thinking, “Where’s the time?”

There’s a Lot of Time to Walk if You Look for It

When Walter Isaacson first invited Steve Jobs to speak on a panel, he declined. Jobs wanted something in exchange for coming to the panel — he wanted to take a walk with Isaacson.

“I didn’t yet know that taking a long walk was his preferred way to have a serious conversation,” writes Isaacson in his book [Steve Jobs](https://www.amazon.com/Steve-Jobs-Walter-Isaacson/dp/1451648537/). As it turned out, Jobs wanted Isaacson to write a biography of him.

Though Isaacson wasn’t convinced the first time around, he eventually wrapped his head around writing a biography of Jobs in his last few years.

Jobs’ habit of walking brings the artistic side of his personality along with his business acumen.

He almost always took his meetings walking, especially important ones — like brainstorming the design of Apple products along with Jony Ive.

Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Jeff Weiner too seem to have similar routines. Dorsey walks five miles every day to his office. He told Fortune, “If I’m with a friend we have our best conversations while walking.” Jeff always prefers an outdoor view and will take “walking 1:1 over office meetings any day.”

There’s something going on here. And it doesn’t take rocket science to figure it out — walking not only is a great form of exercise for busy individuals but in a lot of cases, a crucial reason behind their creativity and success.

And even though Isaacson thought Jobs’ request to go on a walk was odd, there’s valid science to back it up.

According to a study by Stanford University, walking boosts creative thinking by an average of 60 percent.

To gauge the effects of walking on creativity, these researchers asked 176 college students to complete certain tasks while sitting, and then again while walking. In one experiment, participants were given several sets of three objects and told to come up with alternative uses for them.

The researchers found that participants were “overwhelmingly” more creative when walking as opposed to sitting. They also found that creative thinking from walking remained high shortly after sitting back down.

Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation

Thinking, creativity, and walking have been indispensable throughout history. Yet, with time, our generation thinks that we know better.

Today, working for most of us means sitting. In fact, we’re averaging 9.3 hours of sitting time every day which is 2 hours more than we sleep.

“Sitting is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And, everyone else is doing it also, so it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not okay. In that way, I’ve come to see that sitting is the smoking of our generation,” writes Nilofer Merchant in HBR.

Perhaps these scientific facts about sitting will tip the scales for the skeptic inside you, who wants to sit all day:

What’s the Solution?

I wish I could say that standing desks were the way to go. Yet, as my experience and science suggest, they don’t give you the real benefits of physical exercise.

If anything, a comfortable convertible desk costs a lot more and most people like me can get tired of switching between modes so they just sit and work.

In fact, the solution is simpler and much less costly than you’d think.

“Walk and Talk.” In other words, take more walking meetings/calls and fewer of them sitting.

This small shift is so mind-blowingly simple that I can’t talk enough about the benefits it has given me over the past few months.

I average about 1.5 to 2 hours of meetings every day. At least half of them are “updates” or “kickoffs” for which I don’t need anything except my ears to listen and my mouth to speak.

These are the kinds of meetings that I started taking while walking in the park in front of my house. The coronavirus lockdown has made everything digital and people are sticking to the habit of having Zoom/Google Meet calls — this makes it much easier to schedule walking meetings.

When Nilofer Merchant made this change, she was averaging four such walking meetings and 20 to 30 miles every week!

You see, most of us think that exercise and work are mutually exclusive. That you can do only one at a time. But this simple tweak of walking and talking makes everything come together perfectly.

I live in New Delhi, India and we were locked inside our houses starting in March 2020. I’d bought a Fitbit a month ago and since the lockdown, it was increasingly difficult for me to reach my 10,000 step goal every day.

Now, with the help of walking meetings, I easily reach 10,000 steps by lunch, and by the end of the day, I often go up to 13,000–15,000 steps. This means, even if I take a slow walk, I complete up to 5.87 miles every day.

Taking into account my physical characteristics, my daily average can be as high as 6.85 miles. (Use this Steps-to-Miles calculator for a personalized number).

Think about what this can do for your health. If you’ve been complaining about not getting enough exercise, this can be the magic pill you’re looking for.

What’s more interesting is you’re not only reducing your chances of obesity and bad health but also helping those around you do the same. According to James Fowlers and Nicholas Christaki’s research from their related book Connected, obesity spreads with network effects.

This will surprise you — if your friend’s friend’s friend who lives thousands of miles away gains weight, you’re likely to gain weight, even if you’re not in the same city.

This works the other way round as well. If that distant, unrelated friend loses weight, you’re more likely to lose weight too.

Finally, here are two more fantastic side-effects that Nilofer saw in her own journey of inculcating walking meetings in her life:

How to Schedule a Walking Meeting

When scheduling a walking meeting in person, there are concerns you may have to think about beforehand:

There are many more things you may need to take care of and you’ll learn them from experience.

But since a lot of meetings in 2020 have shifted to Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, it’s easier than ever to wear comfortable shoes, pop on quality headphones, and head-off for a virtual walking meeting.

The Takeaway

There’s beauty in nature and if you allow mother nature to do its thing, bathe in her beauty and let her take care of your creativity, you can go far.

Now more than ever, we’re all insulated from what’s happening outside. With our air conditioners and heaters, we don’t feel the ups and downs that are an integral part of our lives.

It’s time we take care of this and get outside a bit more.

Remember, to think out of the box, you need to get out of the box.

So step out, take the air in and blow past your limits with a simple walking meeting.

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