How making simple changes can lead to transformation Indirect change through the magic of walking

With a characteristic glint in his eyes, Milton Erickson (*) leaned forward and said “I’m not going to stop you from smoking, drinking or eating the foods you want to”. The man relaxed, yes he was overweight, smoked and drank far too much.

Milton in a much lower voice continued, “You are only to buy enough food for one meal at a time. You will walk to the shops three blocks away from you. You can smoke as much as you want but you must keep the cigarettes at the top of the house and the matches at the bottom of the house. That’s right. You can drink as much as you like, but you can only have one drink in each bar, if you want another drink you must walk to a bar across town. Now, that makes sense to you, doesn’t it?”

The man sat there in silence with his eyes focused on Milton.

Slowly the man seemed to come to his senses, “Yes, yes it makes sense”

Going beyond symptoms for long lasting results

In my opinion one of Milton’s greatest skills was seeing past symptoms and in our example his patient needed to improve his health. The man knew he had to give up excessive eating, smoking and drinking. Yes, we all know this to be true, but have you noticed that as soon as something is taken away from you, you want it more.

Milton did not deny the man the food, drink or cigarettes. Milton understood that by helping the man to physically move more, he would start to feel better about himself and would naturally become healthier.

So what was the common thread that Milton had the man do?

Walking. Walking to the shops each day for food. Walking from top to bottom of the house in order to smoke. Walking from bar to bar if he wanted to drink.

What is it about this type of movement that creates change?

Why does walking have a transformational effect?

Human beings have been built to move. Connect this with the NLP Presupposition of “Mind and body affect each other” and it all starts to make sense.

When you move your body you think differently. Want different thoughts? Move in new ways.

Milton knew this and research confirms this to be true.

There are many books available on ‘movement’, but here are two in particular that I would recommend:

(i) ‘Get Up. Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It’ – James A Levine, MD.

(ii) ‘Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death – And Exercise Alone Won’t’- Joan Vernikos.

James says in his book:

“Chair addiction – like the alcoholic thirsting for another Scotch – is the constant need we have developed to sit. We slouch from bed to car seat, to work seat, to sofa. The cost is too great; for every hour we sit, two hours of our lives walk away – lost forever.”

Joan says in her book:

“Groundbreaking new medical work demonstrates how modern sedentary lifestyles contribute to poor health, obesity, and diabetes, and how health can be dramatically improved by continuous, low-intensity, movement.”

I’m sure that part of you already knew this.

When you go for a walk or jog you have a flow of ideas. As soon as you sit down to write them down they disappear. If you have a problem and you go for a walk, it seems easier to sort through it.

I was running an NLP course at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and people find it quite amazing that we can cover such a broad range of related topics. Of course we began to discuss the subject of movement. One of the employees, Jonathan, told us that he started to have his meetings walking around the grounds at JLR. He went on to tell us that he estimated that meetings took less time, about 10 minutes and that he would also get better results and outcomes.

Yes, it is all falling into place. The clues are adding up. Movement is transformational, not just on our bodies but also on our minds. So how could you put this concept into action?

What could you do when walking?

What about writing a book? Not as wild an idea as you may think.

First time I came across this idea was in a book called ‘Eat Move Sleep’ by Tam Rath – a great book that was written by Tom as he walked. You could adapt and use this idea for your own writing activities, such as preparing emails, writing blog posts or just work.

Unlike Jonathan above, you may not have access to spacious grounds to walk around, so I will share with you an alternative suggestion drawn from my own personal experience that will yield great benefits. You will need a running treadmill machine (like the type of thing you see in the gym), a laptop computer and a wooden board.

Place the board across the handles of the treadmill and set the running machine to a very slow, easy walking pace of about 1.5 miles per hour. You should be able to type and take phone calls with no problems. It takes a few sessions to get used to this style of working where one of the key benefits has been the generation of a steady flow of ideas. Having carefully noted new ideas for my next training course, I’m not even out of breath writing this blog….hey, excuse me, just got to get this call.

I’m back. Of course there are some practical issues to consider, such as the size of machine and the noise it can make in your working environment. I’m looking to invest in a smaller and quieter unit….but not the greatest problem for the results gained.

Walking full circle

This simple idea of walking has many benefits.

We started with Milton using walking to solve his client’s problem. That the chair is addictive, that large companies have walking meetings and that you can write while you walk.

Whenever Milton planted an idea in your mind, you tended to act upon it. His client decided to cut out smoking and drinking, and yet kept walking.

I’m not saying that that this article has planted the idea of transforming your life through walking, that’s for you to decide. Just let me know your results by posting your experiences below.

So as you can see I talk the talk, by writing while I walk. I’m off to walk the dog now…….

(*) Milton Erickson was an American psychiatrist and psychologist who specialised in medical hypnosis and family therapy (1901-1980).

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  1. Peter Maule says:

    Hi John, what a coincidence. I normally ride a bicycle to work but decided to walk for a change. I have been asked to give a presentation and was struggling for a format. On the way in I had the opening, the buy in hook and most of the content. I just needed paper NOW to write it all down before I lost it

    1. Hi Peter, you know I have been waiting until you decided to walk to work to release this article. I have found that i can make notes on my phone by talking. How did the presentation go?

      1. Peter Maule says:

        I did a quick run through with a colleague and it went very well thanks. Good tip with the phone.

  2. Val Woolford says:

    Yes, walking is a great stimulant. As a writer, and teacher, ( I usually work indoors) walking outside gives me new vistas to see, sounds, scents, the feel and rhythm of my feet on the path and the breeze on my face. Ideas flow. Sitting in front of the computer screen seems dead by comparison..

    1. Hi Val, Yes walking outdoors is great for all the senses. I know someone who teaches companies to have walking meetings because the meetings are more productive and take less time. I think it is because of the flow of ideas you mentioned thank you for sharing

  3. Holly Spiers says:

    I am implementing a new initiative for the company I work with to get staff moving during the day as opposed to just sitting at their desks . This article has highlighted that it would be just as beneficial to keep it simple and encourage walking (on the spot or around where possible)- So Thanks!

  4. John
    In yesterday’s Sunday Times (2 September) was an article about how GP’s are going to prescribe movement instead of meds for patients with certain health problems. As always NLP ahead of the game!

    1. Hi Sandra, wonderful to hear from you. I will see if I can still get a copy of the Sunday Times, thank you for letting me know.

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