The Key to Big Ideas Is Walking Alone

What do the lives of Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Wordsworth tell us about the importance of walking

I was scrolling through Hacker News on Friday and I came across a very interesting piece of news.

Starting Wednesday, the Japanese city of Yamato will enforce a new policy that will ban people from using smartphones when they're walking in public spaces. They will have to either stand or sit somewhere if they want to use their smartphones.

Yes, you heard that right. Similar to prohibiting the use of smartphones while driving, the use of phones is also banned while walking. There is no penalty as such, but the ordinance was submitted last month and Yamato is the first Japanese city to enforce this rule.

This is because roughly twelve percent of Pedestrians in Yamato use mobile phones while crossing the road and while walking in public spaces. Also, studies suggest that talking, texting, or listening to music while crossing the road makes people respond slowly to the oncoming traffic

Despite proving our addiction to smartphones, the news made me think about walking.

I've always loved long walks. I got that from my dad. He took long walks twice every day until his last few months.

Whenever I need to clear my head, I talk a long walk, chew on what I was thinking about, and come back. Walking gave me clarity.

And, whenever I visit a new city, I explore it on foot instead of using a cab or other forms of public transportation. I used to walk 13 to 15 km a day when I visit a new city.

Walking is an amazing method of self-reflection and smartphones have robbed us of the pleasure of walking.

We've been told by influencers that walking is a waste of time and the time spent walking can be used to learn something and become more productive.

But, why is walking so important?

Walking and intelligence

While walking, the movement of our legs increases the blood flow to the brain and the constant change in our surroundings creates an ambient mindset to think and process thoughts.

Several experiments concluded that walking stimulates the brain cells in the hippocampus, a region in the brain responsible for storage and memory creation. To put it in simpler terms, walking makes us remember more and helps us understand ourselves better.

Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist and the man who wrote the Origin of Species had a walking routine which he followed through his entire life. In his autobiography, he talks about how he was obsessed with walking since childhood.

Darwin walks twice every day. He used this time to reflect on various aspects of his life. And it made him better at his scientific work.

Henry David Thoreau, an American essayist and Philosopher, says that one must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast that ruminates while walking.

He also quotes an incident from the life of William Wordsworth. According to Thoreau,

" When a traveler asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”

But, we forgot what we felt like after a good walk. Our generation considers walking a waste of time.

We've been constantly told by influencers and productivity experts that time spent walking is a waste of time and we should use that time to listen to a podcast or an audiobook to gain more knowledge.

The productivity illusion

I recently saw a video of a famous YouTube influencer explaining his daily routine.

During his entire day, he was interacting with a device - a kindle, an iPad, desktop, laptop, and Apple watch. But, mostly with his iPhone and the iPad

Even when driving, he kept listening to an audiobook or a podcast.

We're living in an era where productivity 24 x 7 is valued too much.

People always talk about "You can listen to this when you're commuting, or while taking a walk in the morning." We say such things to portray ourselves as someone who doesn't like to waste time.

The rise of self-help books and productivity apps is telling us that it is okay to learn 24 x 7 without switching off our minds.

Think about this. If you constantly learn something all the time, you stop becoming a thinker and turn into a consumer.

If you always keep learning, when will you have time to process them? How will you know if what you've learned has helped you?

In the past, we've had pockets of time that helped us reflect on ourselves. We got bored and it was a good thing.

In his book "Essentialism", Greg McKeown says

"Just a few years ago if you were stuck in an airport waiting for a delayed flight, or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, you probably just sat there, staring into space, feeling bored. Today, everyone waiting around in an airport or a waiting room is glued to their technology tools of choice. Of course, nobody likes to be bored. But by abolishing any chance of being bored we have also lost the time we used to have to think and process."

Walking is one such activity that gives us time to reflect and process what we've learned.

Watch your feet

Try this little experiment for the next seven days and document how you feel.

Take a walk for 10-20 minutes every day. It can be on your apartment terrace, a park nearby, or a random route in your neighborhood.

Don't listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook.

Feel each breath and every step. Reflect on what you've read or listened to the previous day or about the book you've read recently. Ask questions? Think hard and try to get meaning out of everything you've read.

If you thought of something amazing, don't pull out your smartphone and start writing. Instead, chew on the idea until you finish your walk.

If the idea is amazing, you'll remember it even after your walk, which leaves you enough time to make a note of it.

Do this for seven days and make a note of what you think.

We don't need laws to tell us when to use our smartphones. All we need is self-control.