Walking’s great for clarity of thinking

Walking helps with clarity, we learn in today’s Guardian. Who knew?

Specifically, walking in the Welsh hills apparently helped Theresa May decide that a snap general election was, despite her repeated claims to the contrary since taking office last year, the best course of action.


Where there’s an absence of truth and certainty, we seek a story

Rooting Mrs May’s decision-making in something as apparently mundane as a weekend hike helps establish a backstory for what was a surprise announcement.

The thought of such an important decision being arrived at in such an everyday setting stokes the imagination in the same way the Blair-Brown Granita Pact (later denied by Gordon Brown) does.

Us readers like a vague sense of mystery surrounding things we haven’t got any proof of. Where there’s absence of truth and certainty, doubt feeds fiction.

Being out and about guarantees a fresh perspective

That cynicism aside, walking is fab, obviously. A walk can clear the mind. I’ve rarely deliberately set out on a walk with the intent to answer questions I’ve been struggling with, but still the process helps iron out some creases I didn’t even know were there. And it also helps with my work as a coach.

My favourite jaunt in Regent’s Park, London – a regular lunchtime escape. Also somewhere I enjoy holding coaching sessions.

For me, the space I’m escaping to needs to have an epic quality to it. Ideally, there needs to be drama. Colour helps too. The experience gives my mind the opportunity to stretch. As the endorphins (gently) surge around the body, so my senses tingle. Surprising thoughts and insights emerge as a result.

To prepare this post, I’ve looked over some pictures I’ve taken – moments which record the moment nature has worked its magic on my tangled mind.

The picture at the top of this post is from Yorkshire last year. Me and some old University friends walked in and around Ilkley. On that walk I reconnected with them, rekindling a friendship I had previously thought was lost. I remember, part-way through the walk, how remarkable it was that despite not having seen each other for such a long time that we had effortlessly picked up exactly where we’d left off fifteen years before.

Walking in the Nepalese hills helped me understand that a lot of thinking I’d recently devoted time to wasn’t helping me especially. I returned home physically exhausted but more energised.

And during a recent climb in the Nepalese hills I recall having a moment when I suddenly gained a perspective on London life which helped me appreciate how I had taken my everyday life for granted. I saw the business of London from the Nepalese hills. That helped me understand that quite a lot of the thinking I devote to various things back in the UK wasn’t especially useful.

It was a special moment, one I can only describe as a feeling of completeness.

The first set of steps taking walkers out of Port Isaac and onto the Cornish headland.

And a particular favourite is this shot from a long walk I did around Port Isaac a couple of years back. My father-in-law had joked with me that I was putting on weight. So I immediately headed out on a seven mile walk listening to music by my favourite composer.

The sun was hot and the skies an electric blue. I experienced the physical sensations of freedom on that walk. It was incredibly invigorating. I returned back to the cottage we were staying having reminded myself that what was important was merely being active, rather than doing something purely to lose weight.

Such moments are difficult to convey in the written word largely because they’re personal. What’s important is that those moments are personal discoveries, as opposed to the rather cold and joyless experience of someone telling you what you should or should not be thinking.

Walking in the outdoors is the ultimate kind of ‘safe space’ for you and your thoughts.

Walking and Coaching

Coaching in parks, takes clients out from the everyday-ness of the office environment. It gets them into a space where nature can act as an illustration for present thinking, and helps underpin future goals.

New perspectives always emerge in these kind of environments, not least because walking and talking promotes a focused kind of listening between coach and client.

Sometimes just the opportunity to stop and take in the sights around you is enough. Some things resonate more than others in the moment. Identify what resonates, and what thoughts are triggered, and sometimes paths to new thinking are uncovered.

And to really ramp up the awareness, I’d definitely recommend the Headspace App. Andy Puddicombe has recorded some excellent meditations to carry out whilst walking. I thoroughly recommend them.

About the author

Jon Jacob is an executive coach with over three years experience specialising in leadership, career, transition and personal development coaching programmes at the BBC. Follow @TGoodCoach on Twitter. Email Jon for further information. 

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