Stuck? Take A Walk

Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 6:48 pm

If you’re ever feeling stuck, consider taking a stroll. Any form of repetitive exercise that lets you zone out will work, as long as it’s not something that requires your conscious attention. Biking is great, jogging is a shoe-in, and even the treadmill can work (though it’s best to be outside). The endorphins make you feel refreshed and positive… meanwhile, your mind is free to wander.

Usually, I start off intently picking at whatever got me frustrated, but that’s quickly replaced by a stream of idle chatter about whatever. “Those clouds look neat… TV said nice weather this morning… there was that weird commercial…”

After a few dozen tangents of tangents, I’m officially Zoning Out. I start to relax. With my conscious mind happily floating down a stream of whatever, my subconscious gets chewing. I don’t know much about neurology, but I wager I’m going into a theta state:

[Theta brainwaves] are typically of even greater amplitude and slower frequency. This frequency range is normally between 5 and 8 cycles a second. A person who has taken time off from a task and begins to daydream is often in a theta brainwave state. A person who is driving on a freeway, and discovers that they can’t recall the last five miles, is often in a theta state–induced by the process of freeway driving. The repetitious nature of that form of driving compared to a country road would differentiate a theta state and a beta state in order to perform the driving task safely.

A lot of my best ideas have shown up in that state of mind, and I wager it’s the same for everyone else. Most of the time, I’ll segue back into music naturally, my mind wandering to it when the time is right… but I’ve had ideas pop out of my head fully formed, too (just like Athena). Even if I don’t have a major breakthrough, I feel refreshed when I go back to work.

Though there are many ways to reach a theta state, not all of them trigger endorphins. If you go for a long drive, you can zone out, but it won’t refresh and invigorate you. It’s much better to take a walk instead, as the ideas will be better and you’ll feel better. Furthermore, repetitive physical motion has other interesting benefits. My feet will start to fall into a rhythm, and I’ll riff around with it in my head. Ambient noises — birds, construction, cars, and gravel under my feet — come together into an impromptu little song, which I might try to capture once I get home.

Similarly, If I listen to music while walking, my steps will start to fall in time with what I’m listening to. If you write dance tracks, it’ll be very clear what makes people want to get up dance, as you’ll find yourself compelled to walk faster (if you feel like doing a fun experiment, compare walking to Prodigy vs. walking to The Books).

These are just the musical benefits… there’s plenty of other reasons to take a walk. Better heath, increased focus, the inspiration of nature and whatever else you encounter, etc.

Even if you don’t feel like walking, try and drag your butt outside anyways. Getting up and going is the hardest part. You might feel super blah as you put on your shoes… but, five minutes later, you’ll be glad you went out.

Categories: productivity, songwriting

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