Frustration Breaks III: Walking for Solutions

I just could not make any progress on my project. Every attempt I tried was a dead end. I jokingly told my coworker, “That’s it — I’m going for a walk. Watch me have the answer when I get back!”

“Riiiiight,” my coworker replied sarcastically.


After the lessons learned from rewiring a transmission and my bleeding gums, I am starting to take more frustration breaks. At work, I enjoy taking walks around the building for small problems, or around the block for big ones.

This is what I call walking for solutions.

While I was out walking, I passed my boss’s boss in the parking lot. He asked what I was doing. I said, “I’m walking around so I can solve a problem.”

His response? “We should do that more often!”

There’s something powerful about taking frustration breaks — that is, stepping away from difficult problems. Just a little distance — mental or physical — clears away the fog. I like walking for solutions because it combines the two with an excuse to go outside.

And often the solution comes to you before you get back to work.

I can link my productive days at work with the number of breaks I took.

Chip and Dan Heath describe this concept regarding decisions in their book Decisive. They explain how important it is to “Attain distance before deciding.”

Hmmm. Powerful, isn’t it?

Your non-conscious brains have an incredible ability to solve problems with just a little bit of distance.

But you will only spin your wheels until your conscious brain takes a hike.

PS – Believe it or not, I did actually figure out the solution to my problem before I got back to my desk!

Frustration Breaks I: Wiring the Transmission
Frustration Breaks II: Bleeding Gums

Are you more productive when you take breaks? Instead of walking for solutions, what do you do to solve frustrating problems?

  • Mike

    I frequently solve engineering problems in my dreams. It’s incredible how the mind works!

    • That fits with what I was just reading about how even one cycle of REM sleep does wonders for brain processing. Cool stuff!