In 1891 a German physicist, Hermann von Helmholtz spoke about a thought process that he used when he was trying to solve a problem or make a connection or create something new.
He said that this process included 4 stages.
- The Preparation stage – the stage where he studied, researched, explored, and acquired as much knowledge related to the topic. He would try and do it as uninterrupted as possible – with no specific timeframe.
- The Incubation Stage – he felt that when he had prepared enough, he would consciously disconnect from it entirely. He would do something else like spend time with work colleagues or work on something else entirely. He believed that while he was doing this all the information, he’d acquired during the preparation stage would incubate
- The Illumination Stage – he then said that it was the moments when he was completely relaxed – walking in the fields and forests that the light bulb moments, the answers, the illumination came to him.
- The Verification Stage – he would take these ideas, apply them, put them into practice, and see if they worked.
This process is backed up by the likes of Ludwig van Beethoven who used to walk for 5 hours every afternoon after having composed the full morning. Friedrich Nietzsche was an outstanding walker who spent up to 8 hours a day in this activity in some periods of his life, and said that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”
Charles Dickens, Thoreau, Hemmingway, Tchaikovsky, Virginia Wolf, and Tesla – to name a few were all keen walkers when seeking inspiration.
I believe that it’s not only walking that promotes creative inspiration but putting in the work and then relaxing enough for everything to brew together and rise to the surface. It’s the need for both work and release.