Sometimes you need to walk away from a problem, think about something else, and wait for a new idea to pop up. This happens all the time to me, and lately I've been trying something a bit different.
I love taking walks, but I was starting to find myself zoning out when walking alone, staring at the ground in front of me as I walked to clear my mind. This didn't work for me. I would return from a walk right where I left off, with light exercise being the only benefit. The problem, after all, was racing through my head the entire time. I wasn't able to get away from it.
I've started to make a conscious effort to notice details as I walk. I notice how a leaf is curled around on itself, or how grass in a yard is not uniform, but slightly clumped together in patches of varying density. By forcing myself to focus on the details of what I'm looking at, I'm able to really take my mind off the problem at hand. This usually gives me the break I need, and I end the walk feeling much more refreshed.
It isn't over the top; I don't stop and gawk at lawns or trees. All it takes is a consciousness of wanting to focus on details of what you see as you walk along at a normal pace.
Update: May 12, 2013
Just a few days ago, I heard a very timely story about observation on NPR. It seems I'm not alone in this technique on specifically noticing things while taking a walk. Another great piece of advice mentioned in the story is counting things. When you count, it forces you to focus. This story is definitely worth a listen if you enjoyed this post: Noticing: How to Take a Walk in the Woods (All Things Considered. May 9, 2013)