I often find new ideas and see new perspectives when I am walking. In physics, there is a long tradition of walking as a key element of theory formulation. Einstein incorporated a walk into his daily routine. Bohr was known for his walks through Copenhagen’s parks.
Walking also changes the mood of my conversations. I’ve had a few hard conversations that would have had long, awkward pauses if they were held sitting face to face. But walking allows those silences to be ok, even constructive.
Traveling also serves a similar purpose. I always want to be writing more than I am, but I only finally started laying the groundwork for this post when I was driving between National Parks and I’m only writing this now that I’m on a plane.
I think walking works in two ways: the feeling of progress and internalizing your locus of control.
Feeling of Progress
Walking gives us a feeling of progress that helps us along towards good outcomes.
The TV Show /House/ utilizes this feeling of progress by having Dr. House conduct nearly all of his diagnostic conversations while walking. This gives us a feeling that the episode is develping even while in the midst of an otherwise boring diagnostic conversation.
User Onboard, a blog on how to train users how to use your software, recommends that new users are met with a partially completed checklist. The initially completed checkboxes give new users inertia, and the future checkboxes will pull them step by step through the process. New users have a better experience if they feel they are making progress.
Our memories can be tied to locations. The best memorizers in the world visualize their memories in made up locations in their mind. You have probably noticed this location-memory connection when walking into the room your grew up in or walking through your university.
Walking during a conversation allows you to build new ideas by localizing previous ideas and using the new environment as a creative stimulus. You are trying to figure out a tricky situation at work. The first idea you talked through didn’t work, but because you are walking, you are now in a different place and ready for a new idea.
Internalizing Locus of Control
Your locus of control determines what you think controls your decisions and outcomes. An internal locus of control means you have control of your fate while an external locus means that outside factors are determining your life and decisions.
It is not reasonable to have a totally internal locus of control, denying luck, or a totally external locus of control, thinking that you have no control over your outcomes. So most people are on the spectrum between internal and external.
But there have been shown to be large advantages for having a more internal locus of control. An internal locus of control means that your decisions matter, and people with an internal locus of control make better decisions and have better outcomes.
Behavioral economics has shown that emotions, situations and behaviors can all effect our cognition. Prospect theory shows that we will act differently when the same bet is viewed as a loss or as a gain. Forcing ourselves to smile, in a causal reverse, will actually make us happier.
Similarly, walking subconsciously internalizes our locus of control. We are putting one foot in front of the other and we are choosing where we go. These are key reminders that we have power and that our decisions matter. This shift of internal locus of control expands our sense of possibilities and opens up our options. It leads to better decisions and unorthodox ideas.