If you want to increase focus and creative thinking take your coaching conversations out of the office and onto your feet. New studies demonstrate the powerful results of the ancient art of reflective walking. Here’s how to coach while walking.
Coaching while walking may be new to many leaders, but it has a long history. Aristotle regularly taught while walking. The Bible relates several significant walking conversations between Jesus and his disciples, the most notable being along the Emmaus Road.
Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote, “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs.”
The Creative Boost of Walking
Is it really true that walking increases creative thought? A series of four recent experiments at Stanford University sought to answer this question. Researchers measured the creative ideation of people sitting and walking. The first three studies found 81%, 88%, and 100% of participants were more creative walking than sitting. A fourth study tested the effect of walking outdoors and found 100% of those who walked outdoors were more creative than those sitting indoors.
The findings are compelling:
- Walking enhanced creative ideation when compared to sitting.
- Walking increased the talkativeness of participants, which was linked to their creativity.
- Walking outside produced the most novel and highest quality insights.
- The increased mental effect occurred not only during the walk itself, but also shortly after when participants sat down again to work.
Dr. John Ratey, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains what’s happening when we walk. “Exercise is a prime mover of the brain, helping it to deal with emotional ups and downs as well as anxiety, tension, stress, and help the brain function better. The more we exercise, the better our brain gets, the more focused we can be, and the smarter we are.”
Four Ways Coaching While Walking Will Improve Your Results
I’ve incorporated walking into my coaching practice as well as when I train others to use coaching skills. Walking brings a number of specific benefits to the coaching relationship.
- Coaching while walking creates more relaxed conversations. Walking noticeably relaxes both the coach and client. Coaches do not feel the pressure to “perform” or produce results. More relaxed means greater listening and coaching presence.
- Coaching while walking is less formal than sitting face to face. The social pressure of eye contact is gone. The posture is side-by-side, a partnership. Walking together builds relationship.
- Coaching while walking assists clients to talk more. My wife Lori has noticed that if we go for a walk I will chat away, but once we’re back at home I’m done talking. The Stanford studies confirm that I’m not alone in this tendency.
- Coaching while walking makes silence easier for coach and client. Walking paces and slows down the conversation. Sitting across from one another we often feel a need to fill the silence. Yet, silence while walking is not nearly as uncomfortable.
The combination of these four benefits of coaching while walking is increased reflection. Our brains are focused and engaged. Our creativity is released and we put together solutions that previously did not occur to us. “It is solved by walking,” St. Augustine wrote.
Getting Started Coaching While Walking
Here’s the great part about coaching while walking: it’s free. It doesn’t take any special equipment or even a special place. I’ve coached while walking in a park, in a shopping mall, through a neighborhood, and in an airport waiting for our flights.
Invite a client to walk as you coach together. I’ve found people to be very open to it. Share this article if you think more explanation is needed.
As you walk, reflect on what happens in you. How is your pacing different? What about your listening and question asking? What do you notice about your engagement? Your client’s engagement?
While walking, pay special attention to when a client stops walking, turns to you, and explains something. Consultant Bobb Biehl told me years ago that when people do this, what they are saying and thinking about is often deeply meaningful or full of emotion. They are accessing a part of their brain that does not even allow them to continue an unconscious walking movement.
Coaching while walking is a powerful way to increase creativity and problem-solving ability. Ready to give it a go?
Question: What benefits have you experienced from coaching while walking? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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