If you’ve ever met me, you have probably been (un-)fortunate enough to hear about my doggo Charlie. We’ve been together for almost 10 years now and we go everywhere we can together (he’s been to 3 countries and 40 US states so far). The one unexpected benefit for me about having a best friend that goes to the bathroom outside is the imposed requirement for regular walks. Many of the best (and worst) ideas I’ve ever had, have been while on these regular outings.
Like Steve Jobs, I try not to underestimate the value of a good walk, . Since I got Charlie, I’ve always tried to be sure that I live near a park or woods where he can wander around off the leash and sniff stuff and I can wander around with minimal human interaction. That’s the important part. I do this because it’s one of my two primary meditation mechanisms; the other being strenuous exercise. Having the ability to walk around (typically stoned) and think has helped me flesh out ideas and find solutions to lots of problems that have gotten me stuck both professionally and in life.
I’m definitely no Steve Jobs, but I typically try to get in at least 2-3, 30 plus minute walks per day. Part of this is the routine of shutting my brain down multiple times per day to let my mind wander. Part of it is making sure Charlie goes the bathroom outdoors. And part of it is giving the rest of my body time to relax from being in front of a computer or on the phone or some other distracting activity. While I don’t typically consider these walks as my daily exercise, they do count on days when I’m being lazy.
I’m not advocating that everyone gets a dog. Though I think that would be awesome if more people had dogs. They would be allowed more places, people would be more disciplined and compassionate, and there would be a better economy around pets, there would be more dogs…but I digress. What I’m advocating for is that people take more time to let their minds wander. I rarely find that the best solutions to problems or decisions that need to be made come in times of desperation. By desperation, I mean the requirement of an immediate decision. If I continually ensure that I build time into my day to let my mind do what it wants, then I typically end up having longer periods without desperation when a critical decision needs to be made.
While it might seem counterintuitive that the best ideas seem to come when you aren’t trying, this isn’t a new idea (though admittedly most of those articles focus on creativity in the shower). I think the ultimate goal was to find a method that worked well for me. I rarely come up with ideas in the shower. But I do get into the distracted and borderline meditative state while walking around in the woods while occasionally checking to make sure Charlie hasn’t wandered off. I would assert that this regular mental digression is one of the biggest reasons I have been able to make as many good decisions or salvage bad situations as I have to date. I also think it’s worth pointing out that this only really works well on pointless walks. Walking to and from a store or restaurant doesn’t have the same effect because it’s a goal oriented endeavor.
One of the lessons I learned the hard way is that just because I’m taking time for myself to allow for (good or bad) ideas to bubble to the surface, that doesn’t mean that I am diligently recording them. As a result of this, I have become a huge advocate of voice notes. I personally use Evernote, but the tool is irrelevant. The goal is to keep track of enough of the thought process so that you can flesh it out with more intentionality when the time is right. Before I started making voice notes, I would frequently lose all or parts of the thought process by the time the walk was done. Typing it out on a phone was tedious and I often ended up losing the meat of things by the time I got past the context. So I’ve pretty consistently stuck with voice notes for keeping record because it allows me to ramble and get the entire brainstorm.
Every major decision I’ve made in my life over the last decade has been fleshed out in large part while walking. It’s not about the distance, or the total time walking, or even if I’m alone on the walk. I also go outside regardless of the weather. For me, it’s because I need the space and the mental escape as much as the contributory vitamin D I typically get just by being outside. The freedom to think with the expectation of routine has been key. It also ensures that I don’t get too mentally stuck where I am without giving due thought to where I want to go. So if you take away anything from this, go for an expectation-less, aimless walk and thank me later.