It seems like the latest hype is to take walks. As we read in CNN Tech, we are hearing more and more about how Levy and Jobs used to take walks when they needed to think: http://money.cnn.com/2016/10/21/technology/silicon-valley-walks/index.html?iid=ob_article_hotListpool
“Levy and Jobs aren’t alone. Some of the tech world’s top leaders have long turned to walks — often in the great outdoors — to improve meetings and decisions. Scientific research shows that being active and outdoors actually benefits our brains.
This has been ongoing for centuries. Historical accounts are filled with stories of intellectual luminaries renowned for their use of distraction and making taking strolls a habit. Some notable famous people were Albert Einstein (took long walks on the beach), Pyotr Tchaikovsky (worked on his music after taking a walk), Charles Dickens (went on five-hour-long walks to release stress), and Friedrich Nietzsche (wrote that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” and he considered walking a necessary pre-condition for his writing).
The office, or our work environment, is filled with distractions. These distractions can be receiving emails, phone calls, colleagues asking questions, and so on. The best way to give you space, clear your mind to think clearly, is by distancing yourself from this environment.
Going back in time, evolutionary psychologists believe that many of our current environmental preferences can be traced back to our environments as hunter-gatherers. We are drawn to environments that boost our chance of survival, and feel uneasy in environments that put us at risk. We experience safe settings as pleasurable and dangerous settings as repellent.
“There are benefits to walking even if one isn’t out in nature.”
Research has found that conscious deliberation limits our thinking. Psychologists have found that it is when we refrain from attending to a problem too closely, by way of distraction, that we reach the best decisions.
A study by Dutch Psychologists, which was included in one of academia’s top journals, Science, in 2006, came with the conclusion of “Conscious thought does not always lead to sound choices.”
They found that our conscious minds have limited capacity. We can only process so much data at one time. When we are faced with more information than we can handle, or when we need to make complex decisions, we try to simplify our decisions and only focus on a small subset of facts.
The unconscious is far better at processing large chunks of information simultaneously. More recent studies have also discovered that unconscious thinking is well equipped for creative problem solving and generating innovative ideas.
Not to get too technical, but, when we try to solve problems consciously, we tend to think in a rigid and linear fashion. But when we grasp a problem and put it aside, the unconscious mind is less constrained in its approach, making connections and associations that are often not accessible when we are focusing too hard. It works in the background while we are distracted and not actively concentrating on finding answers or solving problems. You may have experienced this when ideas or solutions pop into your head just as you are about to fall asleep, taking a shower, or going for a walk. These ideas usually arise when you are away from your desk, and computer.
So, just like Silicon Valley’s top execs, we should all make a habit to enjoy taking a stroll and enjoy the outdoors. Who knows what solutions and creative ideas your mind may stumble upon.