Ever find yourself trapped in obsessive, repetitive thought patterns? Going round in circles trying to solve a problem? Or frustrated by the struggle to come up with new ideas in your work or favourite hobby?
You’re human, so I’m guessing the answer is probably YES.
I certainly experience all of these.
To be honest, I’ve at times been completely paralysed by my mind’s obsessive, repetitive narratives. When my thinking pattern goes into this mode – I feel stuck and – if I let my mind run the show – I can very easily sit there, overthinking its content over and over again, sometimes for hours on end. This rarely leads to anything fruitful… but stress, tension and restless frustration.
Through mindfulness, I began to try a different course of action:
- Notice and kindly accept that my mind is reverting to this mode
- Make a conscious decision to get outside and… just walk!
I’ve always loved walking – particularly in wild landscapes – and there’s extensive evidence that walking in nature (including urban green spaces) reduces stress, enhances self-esteem and significantly boosts creativity.
But only over the past few years have I become so vividly aware of the unbelievably powerful effects that walking can have on the dynamic and contents of our minds – in so many different ways.
Walking in nature frees and opens the mind – from closed, circular thinking into flowing, open-ended thoughts – ‘unlocking’ the mind when it feels stuck. Flowing thoughts feel significantly more interesting, creative, relaxing, fun and often much more insightful!
Going for a walk can also focus a frazzled, scattered mind. It can calm an anxious mind. It can stimulate the mind into creativity when it feels dull and heavy – facilitating the spontaneous formation of connections between ideas. It’s not surprising that many great artists such as Dickens, Beethoven and Wordsworth used to have their most creative, inspired moments whilst on long walks through the countryside.
Taking your mind out for a walk is also a great way to befriend it. Developing a kind, curious, playful relationship with our minds is crucial for our well-being. Nowadays, I sometimes just go for a walk out of curiosity of what my mind may come up with!
What’s more, it seems that the way and the pace at which we move our bodies as we walk further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa. On some days, a brisk walk can noticeably focus the mind. On others, it may agitate it further. Sometimes a slower paced walk is what the mind requires. Other times, a power walk may feel like a better option.
We can also alter what we pay attention to whilst we walk; our mind’s narratives, our bodies as they move, or the sights, sounds and smells around us, can all be focuses for your attention.
Each day, each moment, each state of mind will call for a different walk – a different choice of where to go and what to pay attention to. But that’s the beauty of it. Experiment with it. Play with it. Walk and just notice what happens. Go with the flow and see where it takes you.
I’ve rarely been for a walk and not come back feeling better than when I left. There’s never anything to lose from walking; new perspectives are open to us with every step.
So next time you sit for hours at your desk trying to solve that problem your boss has asked you to consider – or find your mind replaying scenarios around how a future situation may or may not work out – why not take your mind for a little walk?
You may be surprised by what happens along the way.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” Friedrich Nietzsche
“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow” Henry David Thoreau