Photo: Lenti Hill (Shutterstock)
For many of us—especially before the start of the pandemic—walking was a means to an end, a straightforward way to get to a planned destination. Since COVID hit though, more people are walking around their neighborhoods or on trails simply for the benefit of their physical or mental health.
But even if you do go on strolls without goals, you’re probably checking your phone, or thinking about what’s for dinner, or listening to a podcast, or doing any number of other things to distract yourself from the actual walk.
Instead, try flaneuring—the art of leisurely wandering. Taking a stroll (especially in an unfamiliar place) with a “goal” to simply notice your surroundings can have a calming effect and possibly increase your sense of happiness and well-being.
Aimless wandering is also used as a mindfulness practice. It’s a technique taught in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs, which encourage “choiceless awareness,” or openness to what is unfolding in front of you. Instead of focusing on a specific movement or activity, aimless wandering encourages you to notice what’s around you, move toward those things, and observe and appreciate them.
While the overall experience is unstructured, there are a few ways to maximize your wandering. Here’s what to know before you go.
- Leave your phone at home (or put it out of reach in a bag) to avoid inevitable distractions.
- Find a safe place so you can relax while you walk. It’s probably best to avoid aimless wandering across busy intersections. Likewise, consider whether you need to be hyperaware of your surroundings, and tell someone where you’re going.
- Dress comfortably and appropriately for the weather. It’s tough to embrace aimless wandering when you’re cold or if your feet hurt.
- Make it a game. Erika Owen, author of The Art of Flaneuring, suggests adding a tiny bit of structure to your wandering can be a good idea. For example, plan to turn around when you see a certain color car.
- Get off autopilot. In choiceless awareness, you move toward anything that catches your eye rather than of toward a destination. You may also try matching the pace of your breath to your footsteps or taking very slow steps to notice each part of your foot touching the ground.