Dec 6, 2023 - Health

Axios Finish Line: Why wandering (not just walking) is good for you

Illustration of a untied sneaker, one lace is straight, and the other is looping and curling.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Instead of walking straight from point A to point B all the time, try wandering.

Why it matters: Strolling and observing without a specific plan — being a flȃneur, as the French call it — is good for your wellbeing.

What they're saying: "Today, everything we use centers around efficiency and productivity, and [it can reduce us] to being machines," Scott Shigeoka, a speaker and author who researches curiosity, tells Axios.

  • Being a flȃneur "is what it means to be human," Shigeoka says.

Between the lines: Being curious and open has proven health benefits.

Wandering is more than just walking.

  • It's staying "really open-hearted" when you're out and about, and listening to what's happening around you instead of relying on Google Maps and top reviews to guide you, Shigeoka says.
  • On his own destination-less stroll during our interview — which included a stop to admire the "pineapple-shaped plants" in a neighbor's garden he never before noticed — Shigeoka said this kind of movement is driven by curiosity.

Getting in touch with your deep curiosity can involve what Shigeoka calls the DIVE method in his book "Seek."

  • Detach: Let go of your assumptions and biases.
  • Intend: Remember to be open-minded.
  • Value: See the dignity of every person, including yourself.
  • Embrace: Welcome the hard times in your life.

Although the flȃneurs of yore were 19th-century French men with loads of time, Shigeoka says you don't need to be a rich dude to open yourself to possibility.

  • You don't even have to be outside on a walk.

How it works: Of course, you can employ the flȃneur mindset while traveling, but you can also use it while at home, at work or with friends.

  • Being present and curious will sometimes "make us feel uncomfortable," Shigeoka says, but it can open you up to adventurous play with your kids and insightful chats with loved ones.
  • Having curiosity-led conversations can mean calling without an agenda, and asking open-ended questions like, "Did something surprise you about your trip?" "Is there something you learned about yourself recently?"

Thought bubble: On a recent trip to Paris with my husband, we did what the French do by letting our senses lead us.

  • We followed the sounds of excited conversation to a packed bar with a mesmerizing shadow art installation. We were lured into a quiet cafe by inviting flowers outside, and found a perfectly cheesy croque monsieur inside.
  • Truthfully, we also relied on Google Maps to help us determine which general areas we should wander in while traveling. So we weren't perfect wanderers.
  • Now that we're home, I'm back to following around the best flȃneur I know: my dog.
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