Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Great Pair of Shoes Can Break The Block

By Jessica Johnson

Struggling with writer’s block? Can’t keep moving forward with a current piece? Writers struggle to brainstorm new topics, interesting characters or satisfying conclusions… and from time to time, we just feel like there is  just nothing left inside to put onto paper.

I’ve recently discovered a fantastic and free solution to this problem! All you need is a pair of walking shoes, comfortable clothing and perhaps some water. So what’s this free fantastic brain booster?

Who Wants to Join Me for A Stroll?

Walking. Yep that is it!

Walking increases creative thinking, which we all crave as writers, so let’s dust off those walking shoes and get moving!

Researchers are exploring how walking outside has this impact on our brain. For example, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz at Stanford University have found that study participants showed a 50% increase in creative output while walking on a treadmill, as opposed to sitting. If they sit after walking, participants’ creative output was still higher than sitting the whole time.

I experienced this once while hiking around Red Rock Lake in Ward, CO. I hiked for a while then was overwhelmed with a creative urge so I sat on a rock and unleashed a flood of poems. Some of these pieces have become my favorites due to the way they captured the beauty around me. 
My Creativity Throne as Red Rock Lake

These researchers are not sure how walking helps the mind be more creative. One theory is the act of walking for most people is a not a taxing activity for the brain, allowing the brain to spend energy on higher level thinking. 

With their results, Oppezzo and Schwartz concluded that even walking on a treadmill has great benefits; you don’t need to go outside.

Colorado's natural beauty and ample hiking trails hold a special power.

This emotional high that many people experience outside might be explained by the notion of Biophilia, the concept that our bodies have a biological (and maybe evolutionary) positive reaction to nature. We might just be wired to thrive in the great outdoors!

Ruth Ann Atchley at the University of Kansas conducted a study in partnership with Outward Bound. After 4 days into a backpacking trip with no access to technology, participants showed a 50% increase in performance on creativity and problem-solving tasks.  Atchley’s theory is that time in nature lets areas in the prefrontal cortex recover after being overtaxed from our technology saturated world. 

According to Atchley, “Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses….Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.” 
So while our tablets, laptops, smart phones and other forms of technology may be great tools for our writing, perhaps too much reliance on them may actually hinder our writing.

Even though most of us can’t take a 4-day backpacking trip to unplug every time we need a creativity boost. Time outside in nature seems to be restorative.

So is there a park, lake, green space or botanical garden nearby where you can get out and walk?
One of My Favorite Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park
What if you integrated a walking routine into your weekly schedule for these added creative thinking benefits?
We know it is good for our health to get out and walk, but now we know that it can help us in our writing pursuits too!

Jessica Johnson is currently working on two book projects, one on Life-Clarity and personal leadership, and one of original poems. She loves to be outside, try new recipes and travel anywhere! She resides in Estes Park, CO with her husband DJ, their American Bulldog Slugger and 2 cats, Hoosier and Indy-Anna.


April Moore said...

We're definitely lucky to be surrounded by so many parks and trails. We try to do our 3.5-mile walk around the lake everyday. If anything, it clears my head, especially if I'm in a funk or feeling cranky. It also must be why everyone who attends our annual retreat in Estes Park tend to get so much done!

Abbie Taylor said...

I can relate to this. I walk on a regular basis, either indoors or on a treadmill. Several of my poems were inspired by things i've seen, heard or smelled while walking.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I jump started my old walking habit when I acquired a new walking buddy, a Scottish Terrier named Sassy. It really is amazing how hard my brain works to solve a plot problem or figure out a character's backstory while we're out. Thirty minutes minimum each day, and it's helping me lose weight too.

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