When it comes to blue-sky thinking, how often do you find the time to do it while staring at the blue sky?
It’s normal for leaders to find there are times when our thinking becomes static, or worse, hits a wall. No matter how much we sit at our desks and turn the problem over we can’t seem to make any progress with it. The issue is not solely with us, but also our surroundings. Sitting at a desk is a static activity, in an unchanging environment. While that’s helpful for many tasks (fewer distractions) it can stifle us when it comes to pure thought. Luckily the answer is simple.
Take a walk.
The Physicality of Thinking
As you start your walk you’ll find that the first sensation is an elevated heart rate and a slight bump in metabolic function. This is important for our thinking because it actively engages more of our brain and increases gas exchange in the respiratory system. You’ll take on more oxygen, release more endorphins and although you’re being active, you can also relax more as you go.
This is essential for rebooting your thought process. As you get into the groove of walking, your body and mind will relax together. Whether you use your walk as a time to think about something else or to stimulate your thought process, walking will leave your body energised and your mind refreshed.
A Break in the Scenery
Maximising the time you can spend in a variety of surroundings during your working day can have beneficial effects. As much as we might feel pressure or stress from conceptual concerns, visual and physical reminders play a part too. Being trapped in the same space all day can leave you feeling trapped and trap your thoughts. The walls around you are like the walls to your mental process, going outside removes both sets of walls.
If you are able to go somewhere that represents more of the natural than the man-made, your thoughts begin to respond more. The softer and quieter sounds of nature play far more naturally for your ears and brain than the microsounds of an office environment. The buzz of lights, the drone of the AC, the tapping of keyboards, scraping of chairs and a thousand other sounds that constantly take up mental processing power. They fade away in natural spaces. Your mind is no longer being assaulted by a thousand sounds. You can focus more and think clearer. In partnership with nature, you can find more of the space you evolved for and it will reward you with more of yourself.
Once you’re passing through a natural space you find the changes it brings around in your body and mind create the conditions and space for your thoughts to be freed. You will notice things around you that you may never have seen before and this will stimulate new ways of thinking about familiar things. It can unblock your cognitive dead ends and whether you walk the path or go off-piste, your thoughts will roam with you, finding new spaces.
Upon your return to the office, you will see the scenery anew. The break that walking provides not only allows you to see new scenery but see the old scenery in a new way. The benefits of the walk are not contained to the walk. Work by neuroscientist Dr Andrea Michelli found a strong link between exposure to nature and wellbeing in general and more specifically that exposure to natural settings, through running, walking or gardening can provide happier healthier feelings for up to seven hours after the activity has ended.
As leaders, sometimes the best thing we can do for institutions and shareholders is take a little time away from them to refresh and reconnect with nature. Regular walks can provide that, and who knows where you might end up?
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