It needed to be the perfect gift, but I’m really bad at this.
Gift giving is a skill I don’t possess and, honestly, it’s a skill I don’t even want. It complicates life. I don’t want to always be thinking about it. Life is much easier when you suck at giving gifts.
Until it really matters.
Ava was in the final days of her radiation treatments for breast cancer. One of the side effects is deep fatigue. All you want to do is sleep, but you don’t feel any better when you wake up. Thankfully, the fatigue lifts gradually after the treatments are done. But, a couple days before Christmas they weren’t done yet and my wife was feeling it.
Typically my Christmas gift to Ava is a marathon race. She’s a runner and loves long distance events. She’d pick the race and I’d pay for the registration and a couple nights at a hotel if the race was out of state. It was perfect. She got a gift she liked and I didn’t have to figure it out.
Because of her cancer treatment, we decided to change it up and do something together as our gift to each other. It would be decided later what that was. I was off the hook again.
One of the benefits of my atrocious gift-giving skills is expectations are pretty low. In other words, there were no expectations on me at Christmas. We’d already decided what we were doing and that was that.
Which made it a perfect opportunity. It had been a rough year for Ava and a special surprise Christmas gift would mean so much to her. I decided to make that happen.
I felt really good…until I realized that was the easy part. The hard part, excruciating for me actually, was figuring out what to get her.
So…I took a walk.
This is how I solve problems. As much as I love walking for fitness, walking for solutions is even better. I have more mental clarity when I’m moving. I’m more creative. I find answers when I walk.
And, it’s not just me. Marilyn Oprezzzo is a researcher at Stanford University. She wanted to find out whether people are more creative while sitting or while walking. The results were pretty clear. Creative thinking increased by 60% among those who were walking compared to those sitting.
This is how Steve Jobs created products that changed our culture. The co-founder of Apple often went for a walk when he had a creative problem to solve. He held most of his one-on-one meetings while walking…especially if the subject was serious.
It’s how I solve almost all of my problems now. At my job, I’m responsible for our on-air fundraising events. A couple years ago a significant snow storm was forecast to happen right in the middle of our fundraiser week. I knew this would have a big impact and I needed to be prepared. The day before our fundraiser started, I went for a walk and found a solution. If we missed our goal because of the weather we would add an extra day and call it “Sno-vertime.”
Most of these blog posts are “written” while I walk. I think through what I want to communicate and how to best do that. By the time my walk is finished I have an outline in my head and then sit at the computer to write it out.
Walking also helps me organize everything going on in life. It helps me set priorities and a course of action. I think through the upcoming week on a walk and when I get home I put it in my calendar.
After I decided to make Ava’s Christmas extra special with a surprise gift I started walking. What could I give her that would move her to tears? I wanted it to be that extraordinary.
The research at Stanford recommends having a specific problem to solve before you start walking. In other words, don’t just go for a walk hoping you’ll find a solution to an unspecified problem. I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish before I started this walk at 7am on December 23.
Within moments of walking and thinking I had an idea, then another one, and then another. They were OK, but none felt extraordinary. The researchers recommend you think of your walk as a brainstorming session. You might have to roll through a few ideas until you land on the best one.
The key, they discovered, is that your activity is done at a comfortable pace. If you have to concentrate on what you’re doing your mind won’t have the freedom to explore and take advantage of this wonderful connection between movement and creativity.
As I was trying to solve the Christmas gift riddle I was actually walking around our basement. It was cold morning and I didn’t want to focus how uncomfortable I was if I went outside. So I paced through several rooms thinking of ideas. And, then I saw it. Instantly, I knew it would be perfect.
I don’t need to know the scientific reason behind why I think better and can find solutions when I walk. I just know it works. And, it worked beautifully on that day, just 48 hours before Christmas morning.
As I walked through our basement I noticed my iPad plugged in and charging. It wasn’t even the first time I saw it that morning. But, this time everything connected and I knew what I was going to buy. I left the house telling Ava I was headed out to get some last minute Chick-fil-A gift cards.
Less than an hour later I was home sneaking a bag from Best Buy down to my basement office. I wrapped it later that day and gave it to Ava on Christmas Eve because I couldn’t wait until Christmas morning. Two things happened that night. I forever changed expectations. And, yes, she cried.
All because of a walk.
Do you have a problem that needs a creative solution? Walking is a great way to find one. To help you organize your thoughts and find the best solution, I’d like to give you this free Creative Solutions Worksheet.
If you’re skeptical about whether or not this works, I encourage you to at least give it a try. I’ve reached a point that anytime I’m facing a difficult decision I know going for a focused walk will help me uncover a solution…or at least the next step towards finding one.
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