Nanohabit for boosting divergent thinking

Nanohabit: put your shoes on and go to the forest


  • boosting divergent thinking
  • feeling healthy and energetic
  • being present and sensing beauty

I introduce you to a nanohabit that both boosts your creativity and promotes your mental and physical wellbeing. During the Christmas season in Finland, we tend to stay inside since it's so dark most of the day. In addition, there's a lot of good food around that is somewhat difficult to resist! Instead of staying inside and eating, I recommend putting shoes on and going to the forest. You'll get some fresh air and a healthy dose of exercise. The forest also has a calming effect which helps you to feel relaxed, present and connected. And there's a good change that something almost magical happens if you need to do some ideation. 

Start with a minimum effort and end up with a flow

Let's elaborate on this a little. The actual nano-action is to put the shoes on and go to the forest. That's all. This activity is so small that it is difficult to come up with reasons not to do it. You may ask if committing to this small thing is enough for achieving any reasonable effect. The answer is likely to be "yes". This is what often happens with nano-actions: you begin with minimal effort but end up with a flow that takes you much further than you expected.  

I'll recall my own experience from this morning. I put on my spiked running shoes since it can be dangerously slippery outside if there's some ice underneath the snow. It took me about 5 minutes to walk to the closest forest. Finding a wooded area in Finland is not too difficult, since about 72 % of the land is covered by forest. The air was a bit chilly and fresh, so I decided to do some running. I love jogging in the forest because I tend to focus on my steps, the path I choose and the jump I have to take to cross the stream. I don't notice any strain on my muscles or occasional heavy breathing. I soon lose track of time and distance covered; running for a quite long time. 

Moving boosts divergent thinking

When the blood started to flow in my veins, my brain started to generate endless streams of ideas related to the work which I had been doing just before my outdoor escapade. I stopped every now and then to record the ideas to the Google Keep on my phone and taking some photos of the beautiful surrounds. 

Most of us know from experience that ideas start to flow when we walk. We may also have heard of famous inventors to have daily strolls and walking meetings. But there is more to it than just stories -  researchers have quite recently been able to prove that walking boosts creative inspiration. According to the study conducted in Stanford by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz , a person's creative output increase by an average of 60 percent when walking. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. The study demonstrated that the benefits of walking applied to the “divergent” element of creative thinking, but not to the more “convergent” or focused thinking characteristic of insight. So when you need to get new ideas, walking really is a great strategy. If you want to learn more, the study has been published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition and can be found here

Beauty as a bonus

When walking or running outside, I like to switch between internal thought processes and the awareness of my environment. When in the forest, you notice minor details and manifestations of untouched visual beauty. I took some photos which you can see below. I hope that they inspire you to put your shoes on and go to the forest. You not only get some fresh air but fresh ideas as well!

Running in the forest - feeling the fresh air. Korpilahti, Central Finland.

Running in the forest - feeling the fresh air. Korpilahti, Central Finland.

A scenery with birches.  Korpilahti,   Central Finland.  

A scenery with birches. Korpilahti, Central Finland. 

I finished my run at the lakefront and was confronted with this nice scenery.  Lake PäijänneCentral Finland.