Walking as creativity booster is nothing new. Read Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, and you’ll see how many writers, artists, composers, thinkers and scientists relied on a daily walk in their routine to help clear their heads and draw inspiration.
Georgia O’Keeffe walked through the desert of New Mexico every morning before breakfast. Gustav Mahler went on long strolls near his house in the Austrian Alps. Charles Darwin, big walker that he is, apparently went out three times a day. Their contributions to society and culture are of course enormous, and I suspect there’s a correlation between their creative output and the inspirational nature of a nice, long, solitary walk.
For the last month, I have been waking up early — which for me is around 6.00am — and have been going on an hourly walk every morning.
I must say, it’s fantastic. After my walk, I can sit down at my desk and write happily for a few hours, with a mind unburdened by useless anxieties and instead filled with many new ideas and inspirations.
If you would also like to give the morning walk a try, I’m sharing a recipe for a productive, open-to-inspiration-and-all-manner-of-thought stroll, plus some things you can expect to experience by adapting this routine.
First things first, you must set yourself up for success.
1. Get up early
Getting up early enough means you’re dedicating enough time to the process. Instead of rolling out of bed at 9.00am on weekdays, set your alarm for as early as you can realistically swing it. For me that’s between 6.00 and 6.30am every single morning. That includes the weekend.
What? Why must I torture myself? I hear you yelling at your screen.
Well, good habits are usually shut off on Friday afternoon and reluctantly switched back on again on Monday morning. But to establish consistency — which is the only difference between people who succeed and people who don’t — you must treat every single day of the week the same.
2. No music, no podcasts, no phone calls
I think a lot of us are used to putting headphones on any time we leave the house. It’s a bad habit of trying to drown out or at least stifle intrusive thoughts with music or podcasts. But the goal of a morning walk is to actually listen to what you’re thinking, either to make sense of something or just to let it be acknowledged. Any auditory media that you pump into your ears (like the unhealthy content consumers that we all are) would completely destroy the purpose of the walk.
3. Bring a notebook
Or a phone, I guess, if you really must. Taking a notebook and pen with me wherever I go is something I had to learn the hard way. I still mourn the sentences and phrases that popped into my head and that I told myself I would remember later, but didn’t.
Write down everything immediately as you think of it. Even when you’re about to fall asleep, even when you wake up in the middle of the night to go pee. Walking without distractions can help you think more clearly and provide sudden, unexpected bursts of inspiration. So you must be prepared to jot them down.
Now that you’re all ready to go, here are some things you can expect to experience by going for a walk early in the morning.
1. Inspiration & Creativity
I’ve already mentioned this a few times, possibly because I was amazed at how many ideas for stories popped into my head as I marched passed budding corn stalks and under the rustling canopies of birches and firs. There’s something about walking that stimulates the brain in just the right way. Maybe it’s because outdoors we have literal space to think, perhaps it’s the varied visual stimuli or just the relaxing nature of a walk. Whatever gets us there, be prepared to be inspired.
2. Anxiety Relief
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
— John Burroughs
Fellow overthinkers, here’s one for you: Going out into nature without any distractions and letting your thoughts wander is rather liberating. I can’t guarantee that it will solve all of your problems, but I’m happy to say that I was able to leave some recurring worries behind on the walks I’ve taken. Somehow things feel less stuck and less bad on a walk, possibly because we are physically moving forward. It’s a simple act, but it can have a huge impact.
3. A Sense of Solitude
Depending on where you live and what your walking route is, chances are you’ll be one of the only ones out and about in the wee hours of the morning, save for the occasional runner or dog walker. There’s something invigorating about being outside alone. Whether people drain you or give you energy, everyone needs to spend some time alone. A walk is a productive way of achieving the necessary solitude to come back to who you are.
4. Start the day off right
The key difference between walking in the early morning and at any other time of day is the intention. By committing to waking up early and starting the day with light physical (and mental) exercise, you are doing something good for your body, mind and soul. You are telling yourself that you care what you do with your life, that making something of the day is more important than a night of scrolling mindlessly through TikTok. You’re interested in who are you, what you think about and who you want to become. And you seek the calm and solitude of the mornings to find the answer.
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