Dreading another meeting in a windowless office with bad lighting and the lingering aroma of stale coffee?
Then take it outside.
One of the best ways to break up your boring meeting routine is to go for a “walk and talk,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Popularized by Apple’s Steve Jobs and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the walking meeting is more than a Silicon Valley fad, it’s a workplace wellness movement.
Instead of holding yourself — and others — hostage in a cramped conference room, invite your colleague or manager to take a stroll around the neighborhood for your next one-on-one meeting. The combined effect of escaping your normal working environment, moving your body, and exchanging ideas in a casual way can be surprisingly stimulating.
“There’s something amazing about getting out of the box that leads to out-of-the-box thinking,” says Nifoler Merchant, an author and business innovator, in a TED Talk on the “walk and talk” that’s been viewed 1.8 million times. “You’ll be surprised at how fresh air drives fresh thinking.”
Walking itself has many physical benefits. You’re burning calories, increasing your circulation, and interrupting long periods of sitting, which many health experts have started to call “the new smoking” because of the long-term dangers associated with staying sedentary in the same posture for eight hours a day. That’s why experts now recommend standing and walking for at least two hours a day, working up to 4 hours of movement over time.
A growing body of research has also established a strong link between exercise and improved brain function. Walking on a regular basis has been shown to promote the “functional connectivity” of brain cells, increase the amount of gray matter in aging adults, and stimulate the growth of new neurons, all of which can lead to greater brain power.
Importantly for "type A" professionals, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that walking boosted the level of creativity in participants by as much as 81 percent. In one experiment, students were asked to come up with literary metaphors while either sitting, walking on a treadmill, or meandering through Stanford University’s leafy campus.
“Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality analogies,” the researchers concluded. “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”
Kate F. Hays, a Toronto psychologist who works with athletes and performing artists, says walking not only reduces stress but also dislodges the kind of “worried thinking” that often festers while we sit at our desks, staring at our screens. Physical activity like walking also induces parts of the brain not necessary for movement to temporarily slow down, in a process called “transient hypofrontality.”
“It quiets down that very intense intellectualized thinking and allows space for a broader perspective,” says Hays, author of Working It Out: Using Exercise in Psychotherapy. “You’re shifting your brain activity from the frontal lobes, where we tend to do our very detailed, linear thinking, towards other parts of the brain that have to do with creativity and a more holistic perspective.”
Hays also points out that the walk-and-talk is a good way to initiate those tough conversations you’ve been avoiding because you’re not forced to sit in a room and make eye contact, yet you’re still establishing a connection. She uses the analogy of a mother who broaches a sensitive topic with her teenage daughter while they’re in the car.
“It’s the perfect moment to have ‘The Talk,’” she says. “There’s a reduced sense of interpersonal conflict. The same is true when two people are walking along. There’s less of a power dynamic.”
Dr. Meredith Sagan, a psychiatrist in Los Angeles, counts corporate executives, doctors, and lawyers among her clients. She agrees that walking and talking can increase productivity and creativity, and recommends it to her clients. “You’re creating energy for yourself and sharing that energy with another person. It’s an energy exchange that can have an exponential effect.”
Moreover, walking focuses the mind on physical movement and away from any emotional reactions we may be feeling.
“While we’re walking and talking, we’re sharing from the place of a quiet, responsive mind because we’re connected with our body and circulating our energy,” Sagan says. “When we’re stuck in our head, stuck inside, sitting still in a chair, we can get into a reactive emotional state.”
So, next time you’ve got a one-on-one scheduled, break out of the office and make it a walk-and-talk. You might think up some great ideas while you’re out, and your body will certainly thank you for the break.
Editor: Deepi Brar
Phat Chiem is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, California.
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