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The secret to out of the box thinking? Get outside the box! Physically

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Amelia Parsons, Head of Publishing, Azerion UK

Perhaps you’d think that as a qualified spin instructor, I’m one of those ridiculous people who wakes at 4am to meditate and journal about my ambitious goals. 

And whilst I have always been a morning person, it was entering the 9-5 office-based working world that showed me how being ‘active’ is the secret sauce behind lightbulb moments and increased productivity. 

A study released in 2017 revealed that sedentary work for employees is killing them, famously coining the phrase that “sitting is the new smoking”. It’s a powerful statement, and we all know the health benefits of walking, so why then – whilst many are swapping their cigarettes for vapes – are we still clinging on to our desk lives?

In a post-covid world, over 71% of working hours are spent sitting and a study by researchers at US San Francisco revealed that average step count has reduced by 27% .  Couple this with the fact our diaries are busier than ever as we stack up google hangouts like tetris blocks, it’s no wonder we’re so brain-fogged with ‘Zoom fatigue’.  We’re sitting in the same spot, whilst cognitively bouncing from one meeting to the next – we are creatively exhausted yet physically stagnant. 

This glued-to-our-desk mindset is impacting our physical and mental well-being so it’s not surprising that some of the greatest philosophical thinkers were lightyears ahead in their understanding of mind-body dualism. 

Let’s enjoy a throwback to Pre-Socratic days… 5th-6th Century BCE…Plato didn’t knock on Aristotle’s door to host a seated mentoring session in the School of Athens. No, they took a stroll together to mentally wrestle over their versions of the world, and you can LITERALLY see it happening here:

Above: ‘School of Athens’ by Raphael

Spot the wise men in the middle? There you have Plato & Aristotle, surrounded by other great thinkers, mathematicians and scientists, scattered around, some seated, some standing – their movement isn’t fixed. 

In Frederic Gros’ ‘A Philosophy of Walking’, we learn that Aristotle’s nickname was ‘peripatêtikos’ which translates to ‘engages in dialogue while walking’, and Nietzsche later claimed that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”. They were certainly onto something as other great minds followed suit; Charles Darwin channeled his inner Alan Titchmarsh by landscaping his own pathway to walk and twentieth century feminist Simone de Beauvoir, hiked for up to 12 hours a day, providing the physical prowess that inspired her ground breaking manifesto in the ‘The Second Sex’.

These people all walked their way to eureka moments because research has shown that walking boosts creative energy by as much as 80%. In particular, walking increases our ability to divergently think freely about a subject, so whilst we’re idly thinking about something else, our subconscious minds are gnawing on the issue in the background. 

So if getting outside of our office-boxes leads to out the box thinking, why aren’t we all doing it? If you google ‘walking meetings’ you’d think you were the only person not doing them, because every man and their dog seems to have written about it (seriously, there are over 112,000,000 Google search results?!) … but it’s one thing to talk the talk and another to walk the walk (literally)… So here are my top tips that you can action, right now, to start making a difference. 

  1. Respect the situation

Walking meetings aren’t for every occasion, so consider if there needs to be a lot of screen sharing and it goes without saying to understand if the person(s) you’re meeting are comfortable walking. This applies to virtual walking meetings too – if you’re delivering highly sensitive/confidential news, perhaps leave that to a face2face rather than sticking your airpods in and waltzing around Soho. 

  1. Plan your route 

Choose a route without distractions, not too busy and one you’ve previously timed.  You don’t want to be aimlessly wondering around way beyond the scheduled meeting time then swerving commuters in rush hour. 

  1. Voice notes are your friend!

Voice notes need to enter the working world in the same way they do when you’re bantering your friends on a whatsapp group. They save time, you can speed them up if there’s waffle & everyone loves the chipmunk effect anyway. Just make sure you convert them to follow-up notes at the end of the meeting. 

If we all start doing the above and openly speaking about our experiences, the quicker walking meetings will enter the mainstream. Though, ultimately, business leaders need to do more to expedite this as in a survey of 150 U.S CEO’s, less than 10% went on or spoke about walking meetings. So channel your inner Simone de Beauvoir, give your ideas some legs and others will follow. 

As well as the creative benefits to moving more, a lot can be said about the benefits of moving together, side by side, and the power it has to unite and build better relationships. Harvard researcher and psychiatrist John Ratey claimed that “exercise is like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin” because it increases the amount of neurotransmitters in our brain and boosts oxygen circulation, ultimately making us more productive. So the next time you’re planning a boozy lunch, or planning a team away day,  consider opting for a group workout because you’ll boost your productivity and studies have shown that moving in sync builds relationships faster

So there you have it, the secret to out the box thinking has been beneath your feet all along. So think on your feet, get outside the box and thank me later. Warning, side effects may include lightbulb moments, euphoria and swapping lunches for spin classes (okay, maybe that one’s just me…)

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