The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Work Is Take a Walk
Thinkers from Ernest Hemingway to Steve Jobs knew that breakthroughs happen when you get moving
If you’ve ever doubted whether human beings are designed for walking, all you have to do is strap a fussy baby into a Babybjörn and go for a stroll. The crying stops. With each step, the kicking and the thrashing and the resistance fades away. Hours can pass and, if you’re moving, that previously anguished child becomes a dream.
But my purpose here isn’t to give you childcare advice. It’s to convince you of the power of simply taking a walk, which works on a racing or miserable mind just as well as a colicky baby. We are an ambulatory species, and often the best way to find stillness — in our hearts and in our heads — is to get moving.
For decades, the citizens of Copenhagen witnessed Søren Kierkegaard embody this very idea. The cantankerous philosopher would write in the morning at a standing desk, and then around noon, head out onto the busy streets of Denmark’s capital city. He walked on the newfangled “sidewalks” that had been built for fashionable citizens to stroll along. He walked through the city’s parks and through the pathways of Assistens Cemetery, where he would later be buried. On occasion, he walked out past the city’s walls and into the countryside. Kierkegaard never seemed to walk straight either — he zigged and zagged, crossing the street without notice, trying to always remain in the shade. When he had worn himself out, worked through what he was struggling with, or been struck with a good idea, he would turn around and head home, where he would write for the rest of the day.
In a beautiful letter to his sister-in-law, who was often bedridden and struggled with depression, Kierkegaard wrote about the importance of walking. “Above all,” he told her in 1847, “do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being, and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”
Life is a path, he liked to say, and we have to walk it. He was by no means alone in believing that.