Going On Thinking Walks Is Great, You Should Try It
Small changes can have the biggest impact. But at the same time, it’s important to realize that there’s nothing small about these changes. Our life consists of days and days consist of tiny habits — which means our life, to some extent, is composed of tiny habits. As Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
For a long time, I was a habit junkie. I would read every self-help book on time management I could get my hands on and rush to try out the latest thing in my own life.
Then something happened, and I went in the opposite direction. Part of it was because I wanted to see whether having no habits and having more freedom in life — can lead to increased happiness levels. Long story short, I got depressed and learned that discipline is key.
Don’t try it. As Jocko Willink preaches, “Discipline is freedom.” Freedom from mental problems, that’s for sure.
Now I am back on track. And the best small change I’ve had in a while was adding a thinking walk habit into my every day.
It’s super simple. I usually wake up, do yoga, have breakfast, and write for a few hours. Once I am done, I put my phone away, grab my journal, a pen, and go into the woods near our apartment.
The woods are the best. They fill the brain with oxygen and calm the nervous system. But I understand that you might not have any nearby so that any park would do the job. It almost doesn't matter where you go for a walk, as long as you’re completely alone — which is why having no phone is so key.
It’s impossible to think when you’re constantly bothered by other people.
But I am not the first one to advocate this idea, of course. Michael S. Erwin wrote about this idea in his book, Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude. He draws from various historical figures, showing how important the absence of external input was on the thinking of war generals, presidents, and CEOs of large companies. High-quality breakthroughs and insights happen in complete solitude, he says. And I believe him.
Where I walk, there’s a long wood path with benches on the sidewalks shaped in the form of tree trunks. Whenever I walk there, I usually get a new insight when I reach the third bench. I call this the “third bench effect.” It works every time.
I usually start my walk by saying, “Okay, so what do I have to figure out?” Simply repeating what you need to figure out is a powerful way to look for solutions.
Warren Buffet is the person who is most often credited by having “thinking workdays.” According to business media and blogs (which shouldn’t always be trusted), all he does for a living is reading and sitting down at his desk, thinking about potential investments.
“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think,” is a quote most often attributed to him.
But while sitting and thinking works for him, I found that walking is a much better way to stimulate the brain. There’s something about being in a forward motion that activates the mind.
However, I don’t recommend having any expectations from your walks. Don’t expect to find breakthroughs or come up with new ideas. It should be an exercise for its own sake. Instead of waiting for breakthroughs to happen, watch them happen as you walk.
You can go on thinking walks at any time of day. I like to do it in the afternoon, but I also enjoy going on walks before bed to prepare for a good night’s sleep.
These walks are powerful. In a way, they are the only way I think. When I sit down to write, I don’t think. I write. I have about two hours, and I want to make the best of this time. This means I need to find some other place to think. And I found that these walks are very fruitful in terms of writing ideas.
They allow me to connect with myself, figure out where I am, where I am going, what I need to get done, and the most effective way to get it done.
In the modern world of busyness, people greatly underestimate the power of shutting off and thinking. Too often, we do things on impulse, on emotion. By having some reset, we add rationality and mindfulness to our lives. As a result, we make our lives more ours.
For some people, it can be driving. For others, it’s meditation. But for me, it’s these walks. I know one thing for sure.
Without these walks, I would be nothing.