How An Irate Cow And A 37-Minute Walk Can Give Priceless Ideas


Walking helps sleeping
You see, I often have trouble sleeping. If there’s a lot to do (as often there is), I wake up anywhere between 3am and 5am. And I'm just awake. Not in a cold sweat. Just awake.

So I've started going for regular walks
And I find that I sleep much better after a walk. Even though I encountered an angry cow the other week that charged towards me (pictured above). 

Walks also make my ideas better too. 
Priceless even. 

So upon finding that taking a walk gives me better ideas, I’ve gone a bit nuts and examined what happens during my walks.

Stay with me.

I’ve been examining:

- the type of walk that works best

- the length of it

- the quality of the ideas that I get out of it.

And the upshot is that 37 minutes is the right length of walk for me  to get a clear head. I reckon that in 37 minutes, your brain goes from being a muddled, murky pond to a clear, sparkling pool.

So in this short article, I want to break down the art of the 37-minute walk into three phases:

1. The Interruption Phase (1-14 minutes) 

2. The Mindless Phase (15-22 minutes) 

3. The Tidal Wave of Ideas Phase (23-37 minutes) 

Let’s take one at a time.

Phase 1: The Learning Phase (between 1-14 minutes) 
Before I put on my wellies, I reach for my headphones. Why? Because the first part of my walk is about learning. 

The learning part is about sticking on your headphones and listening to something that interests you, or helps you feel a tad 'clevererer'.

Like listening to an audiobook or a podcast
It’s important to listen to something like an audiobook or podcast, because when I first walk out of the door, my brain is still thinking about all the ‘work-y’ things to do.

So, what I like to do is to interrupt my brain
In the initial part of the walk, I need something else to distract my brain from these ‘work thoughts’. The sound of the birds, trees and fields (or the cityscape if I'm consulting in London) aren't enough to distract it, at first. 

So I need to feed it with something marketing-related to get me out of the door
For example, on my last walk I listened to an audiobook on how to present like a TED Talk presenter.  If the topic was about something like 'deforestation in Brazil', my brain would fight back. It would still crave work-related information.

And so I start walking and learning
And this is beneficial, because walking whilst learning improves how you remember information. By walking, you get smarter.

According to Neuroscientist Ben Martynoga: 

“Part of the brain called the hippocampus, crucial for many aspects of learning and memory, seems to respond very well to exercise in young people and older people alike."

But then something funny happens
Around ten minutes into a walk, my brain rebels against learning and refuses to take in more information.

Enter the second phase: the Mindless Phase (between 15-22 minutes)
Have you ever tried to open lots of programmes on a computer all at once? Like Powerpoint, Photoshop, Google Chrome and InDesign all in one go? Often what happens is the computer ‘rebels’, because it can’t process them all, and it freezes.

And this is what happens if you put too much stuff in your head  
The human brain starts to swim, firing random thoughts. The waters are muddy and the brain wants to de-fog and self-clean. So it switches off altogether. So this is the point that you need to turn off your headphones, and listen to what’s around you. 

Welcome to 'The Mindless Phase’. 

When you switch off, something wonderful happens
All the cr*p that’s in your head that you want to sort out, gets sorted out. A little ‘brain librarian’ enters your head and tidies thoughts into neat categories without you knowing. All while you are gazing at the trees and listening to the birds.

Then after about ten minutes, the peace and quiet passes
As the busy librarian sorts out all the nonsense, a tidal wave of ideas then hits your brain. And, for me, this is around 23 minutes.

And this starts the third phase: The Tidal Wave of Ideas Phase (23-37 minutes)  
This is when your brain has more free space or ‘memory’ for moments of clarity, and new ideas come flooding in. For me, this is the priceless phase. 

The brain has now re-organised itself and the random thoughts have stopped. It’s ready to give you those great, fresh ideas. The mini-librarian leaves and a quick succession of ideas fly in. Like a ninja throwing ninja stars in a hammy 1970s kung fu film.

And this is when you’ll have your mini ‘Eureka!’ moments
“Oh I see it now” or “I get it” etc. The brain becomes like a cash machine that spits out free money.

And that’s why I have a pencil, pen and Evernote on my phone ready
I jot down all these ideas so I don’t forget them.

This goes on for a good ten minutes
And by this time, I’m usually close to home and scribbling away. But it’s these final ten minutes that makes a walk priceless. I get ideas that I simply couldn’t have dreamt of if I’d stayed sat at my desk.

Even if an angry cow gets in my way once in a while.

So there you have it. A cool 37 minutes
An input of learning phase. 
Then no ideas. 
Then a tidal wave of fresh ideas and thoughts. 

Something that was less likely to come about if I’d sat like a stale lump of cheese, ‘al desko’. 

And I'm sleeping better too.

PS here are a few pics from my walk...



...before I go, just a few things about goings-on at Brain WheeHQ...

Thanks for reading. For now, toodle pip. 

Simon | The Chief Brain

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