Have you ever noticed that people tell each other all sorts of things when you are on a walk? If you have walked any long distance trail then you will instantly understand where I am coming from. There is something about the act of walking that bonds two people together much quicker than any other social environment. At first, I found it a bit weird that a total stranger was telling me about their divorce, or how they were a recovering drug addict. One lady told me that she had tried to commit suicide just a few weeks before she walked the Camino and another lady told me that she only had a few months left to live and she chose to live it her way and just walk.
We do not share this sort of thing in normal, everyday life, so why do we feel comfortable sharing personal things when we are walking?
It doesn’t just happen on a long distance hike either. I have had many personal conversations with fellow walkers on the Adventure Geek short 3-5 mile walks. I have also overheard endless stories between walking club members where people relate stories of a struggle with depression, alcohol and mother-in-laws! Don’t get me wrong, walking is not all doom and gloom, but it certainly creates a perfect environment for people to get things off their chest.
Walking and taking – why does it work so well?
I may be wrong, but I believe that there are a few factors that contribute to the creation of the perfect “therapy” for talking:-
- Lack of eye contact. When you are walking with someone, the eye contact is minimal. Looking into someone’s eyes is a bit like looking into someone’s soul and it can be uncomfortable. When you minimise eye contact, you are creating a good environment for communication.
- Distraction. When you are walking and talking you still need to have half an eye on where your feet are going, checking the views, opening gates, navigating stiles etc. This may sound counter productive, but I know that I learn quickly when I am listening to an audiobook or a podcast whilst I am also distracted with other things. For example, if I am lying in bed, listening to an audiobook then my mind wanders and I am thinking of other things and not listening to the book at all. If I am driving, washing up, or out for a walk where my mind needs to be active to achieve the activity, then I absorb the information better. I think it is the same with walking and talking with a fellow hiker. Your brain is active as it needs to be aware of its surroundings, but this somehow enables you to concentrate on the conversation.
- Walking in nature – fresh air, exercise, and walking amongst the trees and nature must be a natural way that we communicated with each other back in cave man days. So perhaps it is built into our DNA? Perhaps there is a magic ingredient that we are not aware of, that stimulates something in the brain to enhance our communication skills when we are outside?
Have you ever wondered why people tend to tell their hairdresser all their worldly problems, but when they sit in front of a doctor then it can sometimes be difficult to explain how you feel? Perhaps it is the same as walking? When you are having your hair cut there is very little eye contact and the hairdresser is also distracted which creates the perfect environment for the perfect conversation.
I have no idea if my thoughts are scientifically correct (I now want to Google “is distraction good for communication?”), but in my experience walking and talking is good for the soul, heart and mind.
Can you imagine Boris Johnson saying to Jeremy Corbyn – “let’s go for a walk and chat about this Brexit issue”. Life would be so much easier!