Stand in front of Meindert Hobbema’s painting, The Avenue at Middelharnis, after a mentally and physically demanding time and you can’t help but want to step into it. It’s a picture of a calm and silent town and an invitation to take an afternoon stroll, switch off from everything and relax in an unknown place.
Deep inside, we all know that we need such moments of escapism. We need to refresh and recharge. Wandering around with no fixed destination is the path to relaxation.
It is also the path to random associations.
These two – relaxation and random associations – are two of the most sought-after results of the incubation period in the process of generating an idea. Taking a walk can bring them to fruition.
An incubation period is when you stop thinking about the problem you’ve been working on. After intensive work, you leave the challenge aside and get involved in another activity to distract yourself. Walking is a perfect opportunity to do this – to let go of everything and relax. It’s an undervalued activity that’s accessible to almost everyone, almost all the time.
The walk in the town of Middelharnis could turn out to be more interesting if you pass the vanishing point. Who knows what you’ll come across after that point?
Could what you see inspire a potential solution to your challenge? Perhaps, because randomness and coincidence play important roles in creativity and problem-solving.
The road you choose to take could be paved with cues that lead to the right answers. Something you see while walking could awaken something else in your subconscious: an experience, a trip, a dialogue that took place long ago. At the end of the day, this is how our memory works. Information stored in your memory can stay dormant unless you retrieve it. For example, you might have learned about, experienced or noticed something related to your current challenge some time ago but forgotten about it. Something you notice while walking could function as a cue that triggers that information. New and novel connections are triggered and random associations are made. One of these new links could lead to a solution or you could gain a completely new perspective.
And if it’s your lucky day, you may even experience mind-popping, a concept introduced by George Mander: all of a sudden, the solution pops into your mind. It seems to have come out of nowhere, unexpectedly.
Try going for a leisurely walk more often to gain different insights and allow such mind-popping moments to happen, particularly after working intensively on a problem which has not been a walk in the park. Try to really let go, enjoy the walk and stop thinking about the challenge, while staying receptive to the solution if it decides to pop into your head.