Charles Dickens once said, "If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish."
As I begin 2018, I find myself thinking about my everyday walking as a business and mindfulness strategy. Many people I know know wear Fitbits to track their walking. This is mostly a health and fitness measurement. However, I increasingly see walking as a business and even a spiritual tool.
For example, Steve Jobs made a habit of taking walking meetings, particularly when first connecting with a new business acquaintance. Walter Isaacson, in his book Steve Jobs, reports, "Taking a long walk was [Jobs'] preferred way to have a serious conversation." Sigmund Freud actually conducted a number of his psychoanalysis sessions while walking with clients. And Aristotle reputedly frequently instructed his students while walking. His students were often called "peripatetics."
I increasingly see the value of the walking meeting, both personally and for business. As I move I always find my mind is more free, funnier, more truthful, more natural--whether it be a first date or an important business discussion. You breathe more and deeper and fall into a more natural rhythm. And find "truthiness" (as Steven Colbert would say) more easily.
Furthermore, it is worth considering how we walk most effectively as business people. For instance, I increasingly try to walk briskly to meetings rather than take cabs or subways, simply to break the unhealthy sedentary nature of much of my business and writing life.
Walking is a salubrious habit and it can be done both mindfully and strategically.
I was once caught by a headline in the WSJ titled, "Get Out Of My Way, You Jerk." The article was about the sidewalk equivalent of "road rage." In the article, Dr. Leon James of the University of Hawaii discusses the danger of the intermittent explosive disorder termed "sidewalk rage." James actually devised a way to measure this phenomenon called the Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome Scale.
I'm a busy New Yorker. And New York is a walking town. I've lived here over 30 years and I am an aficionado of practical ways of navigating Manhattan most efficiently. I still ride the subways regularly, just as I did in my salad days as an actor many years ago.
But I am also a wily and strategic walker when I am in New York. I have certainly experienced "sidewalk rage," which is a dangerous thing for any executive prior to a sales meeting or presentation. It just throws you out of sync and can leave you emotionally unfocused and concentration impaired. So, in addition to well-know techniques of deep breathing and letting go in such circumstances, I use some little practical tricks to remediate my semi-chronic vulnerability to this state, particularly when I am running late. Here's just one.
You are rarely not in a crowd when in mid-town Manhattan. So, when I am late as I come off Metro North at Grand Central Station, I pick the largest, fastest-moving man I can find and follow closely (about three feet behind) in his wake. When he veers in a different direction from my destination, I switch to the next large, fast man going my way--much in the manner of a football running back following his left guard through the line. I avoid the awkwardness of a strict open field run and its real risk of knocking over old ladies and small children in my frantic urgency to make my next appointment.
Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, "Walkers are 'practitioners of the city,' for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go." Thank you, Rebecca.