Walking Through Walls

Nancy Gardner Have you ever tried to write or come up with an idea but were stuck? And the more you struggled the more you felt like you’d hit a mile-high inner wall? Of course you have.

When this happens to me, I find it helps to take a long walk outdoors. Why does walking in nature break down this wall?  I think I found the answer between the pages of my much-marked copy of Dr. Shelley Carson’s book, Your Creative Brain. In it, she notes that studies into the effect of natural beauty on the brain shows that spending time in nature “releases endogenous opioids that increase positive mood and decrease cognitive inhibition.”

In an Internet interview with David Van Nuys, Ph.D (http://www.shrinkrapradio.com/253.pdf), Dr. Carson elaborated on this effect: “[When you] walk in an area of natural beauty like woods or a park, what you’re doing is defocussing your attention because there’s so much beautiful, natural stimuli around you that you’re not focusing on one partic­­ular thing.  This is going to put you in a disinhibited state that allows creative ideas to feed forward.”

I’ve also read that another aspect to why walking may be so soothing to creative stress is because walking requires a rhythmic, repetitive motion. As I understand it, rhythmic, repetitive motion distracts the left brain and frees the right brain to generate new ideas.

This idea-generation effect is borne out by the experience of some of the world’s most influential artists. Beethoven claims he wrote music in his head while walking around Vienna, which he did every day, regardless of the weather. Henry David Thoreau put it, “I think the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

How about you? What do you do when you hit a creative wall?

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About Nancy Gardner

Nancy Gardner’s short stories have been published in magazines, anthologies and online. Currently she’s working on a mystery set in Salem Massachusetts and featuring a present-day Salem witch who uses her ability to walk into the dreams of others to learn their secrets and solve crime.
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7 Responses to Walking Through Walls

  1. patremick says:

    This explains why I have been able to do so much more thinking about issues when I walk during my lunch hour as part of a fitness program at work. Much better for you than what I often do when I hit a creative wall — check my email or Facebook!

  2. barbaraross says:

    I’ve heard lots of people talk about the “water cure” everything from swimming in a pool to staring at the ocean to taking a shower. Maybe it works the same way?

    Driving also works for me, though it’s scary to think I might be driving around “defocusing.”

    • Nancy Gardner says:

      The “water cure”–I want one! Barb. Driving is another one that works for me–especially a longer drive!

  3. Nancy Gardner says:

    My friend Carol P. reminded me of something interesting about the brain–this one for readers: She writes, “Those of us who love fiction were happy to read “The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction” written by Annie Murphy Paul and published in the New York Times Sunday Review on March 17th. Here’s an excerpt: Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.”

  4. Virginia Woolf walked quite a bit, didn’t she?

    And Georgia O’Keeffe walked miles every day (in long black dresses).

    Must be something to it.

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