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Step away from you screen…

… and come walk with me. How about a day along the windswept West Wales Coastal Path? The title image for this post is taken at the tip of the St David’s peninsula around this time of year. Let’s have a day buffeted by autumn winds surrounded by colourful heather, looking out to the endless horizon. I would love to have a day like that today.

In reality, although that part of the Coastal Path is only just over two hours from my desk, I am much more likely to take a walk along the Taff Trail with the dogs today. Not quite as dramatic when it comes to scenery, but my daily miles are a wonderful daily escape, a practice for my body and mind that benefits my wellbeing as well as my productivity.

Walking is a big part of my life. It’s a necessity when you have two big dogs that want to cover 3-5 miles a day. It’s a hobby, as I walk, jog and run my way to greater physical fitness. It’s also where I like to think, reflect and have important conversations. Over the past ten years, it’s definitely become a kind of superpower that gets me through tough days.

I like walking on my own, with the dogs, with someone else, sometimes with headphones in, sometimes in my head, alone with my thoughts. During my postgrad years I developed an academic interest in walking, and some of my PhD thesis was based on ethnographic walking and a phenomenological exploration of place and landscape, so it’s fair to say that I’ve read quite a lot a about walking as a practice, as a method of enquiry, as a way of life.

It’s always inspiring to read of great explorations or long walks, spanning a whole country for example. My own walking has stayed at a much more quotidian scale. I don’t really care whether I’m taking turns in my local park, walking through bustling city streets or trudging along the Coastal Path. What is important to me, and what makes it work, is that I get to reflect and process whatever is on my mind that day. If I have the company of a coach or a friend (or most commonly my partner), I have the added benefit of someone else’s perspective and the principle remains the same.

When I worked with my mentor Margaret we used to meet up every few months for a longer session, and we always tried to make it a walk. Between these meetings all our work happened online, via email or a phone call, but whenever I really needed to think something through, figure out a new vision for the next three years or confront a difficult situation in my role as CEO, we would walk together and talk it through.

Parenting books often suggest that the best way to have conversations with teenagers is not to sit around a table, facing each other, but to create a less confrontational atmosphere when you are side by side, driving in a car or walking somewhere for example.

In a work context, particularly if you work virtually, there’re many situations in which you face each other, or a whole screen or room full of people. You face each other, stare at your own reflection, at someone’s bad hair day and so forth. It’s not often conducive to focusing on thinking and reflecting. Screens are distracting.

Stepping away from the screen can feel hard. Technology is sticky, capturing our attention, and removing yourself from its constant nudges is a key reason why taking a walk is helpful. Walking is an embodied experience, you are moving through the world, experiencing it with your senses. All of which is helpful for getting a fresh perspective and to gain clarity.

Of course, it’s not often possible to head out for a whole day on the Coastal Path. More often, a walk around the local area has to suffice, and in my experience it works just as effectively. With a bit of forethought you can even gain some of the benefits of a walk indoors. Whenever I don’t have the time to actually go outdoors, and I have a call I really need to focus on, I put my headphones in, put the screen to sleep and pace up and down in my office. Sometimes with my eyes closed, sometimes looking down at the floor or nowhere in particular. I am still moving, focusing, and not distracted by screens. It does take some practice and discipline to make this work, and it’s much easier to give yourself the benefit of actually going for a walk, but on days when you have 10 back to back meetings it may be the only option.

I am really looking forward to exploring how to step away from the screen in my upcoming course on hybrid working. I am not sure if many people realise that walking can be a hybrid working superpower… but we’ll have fun finding out. Incidentally, I designed the course to be podcast based, focusing on audio rather than video content, so that folk who would like to walk along with me could do so as they work through the course. It’s free, so why not register 🙂

Some of my coaching clients, for whom I also offer walking sessions, really enjoy having a session talking on the phone whilst exploring their local park and pathways. And sometimes, when we are able to meet in person, we get to walk and talk together. Those are always the most exciting days for me.

I haven’t done any coaching on the Coastal Path as yet, but I have had many, many excellent conversations whilst exploring that beautiful part of the world. So.. if you are ever in South Wales or if you have a path near you that would make for a good place to think, get in touch.

A photo of Rhossili beach in autumn

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