Exercising Your Creativity

The creative spark. It’s what everyone is looking for as it provides an engine for projects and people to reach their potential. No creative spark and many things become like a template: predictable and boring. Yet you can only step on the creative gas pedal so long before you need to take a break and allow the mind to rest before soldiering on. The best thing to do before and after creative stints is exercise.

Two Hours of Creative Spark

If you want two hours of creative juice, try a 30 minute walk before you start. Exercising before starting in on a creative venture opens up the mind to being more creative up to two hours after. Consider this from Newsweek on exercise, “Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward. However, there’s a catch: this is the case only for the physically fit. For those who rarely exercise, the fatigue from aerobic activity counteracts the short-term benefits.” (http://lifehacker.com/5600470/use-a-half-hour-of-exercise-to-boost-creativity-for-hours)

So the best thing before you go off to tackle a project is to exercise for 30 minutes but the key is to make it a habit. The habit is what makes your body used to the exercise. You then benefit from the extra flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. If your body isn’t used to the exercise, you end up using extra resources to recover.

Too Small To Fail

If you aren’t used to exercise, start with too-small-to-fail. You have heard of too big to fail in regards to banks. Too small to fail is taking a habit and starting at a level that is so easy, you can’t not do it.

If you don’t exercise and want to start, make it a five minute walk (or two minutes) everyday. Just a quick five minute walk is something anyone can do and then over time you build from there. Although many articles such as the one from Newsweek offer a best amount of exercise, really any amount will do. Sure 30 minutes might be optimal but people have sparked ideas from within the shower. Did they have to have just the right amount of time of showering? No it is the process, the stepping away, and the activity. You need movement as it helps your brain get distracted and allows ideas from the subconscious to float up to the conscious mind.

Consider this from Psychology Today, “Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious. Every thought that you have is a unique tapestry of millions of neurons locking together in a specific pattern-this is called an engram. If you do not ‘unclamp’ during the day, you get locked into a loop of rut-like thinking. If for any reason you are unable to do aerobic activity, focused meditation is also an excellent way to create a default state.” (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201202/the-neuroscience-imagination)

The best way to unclamp is to move.

Exercising After Taps the Subconscious

There are also benefits to exercising after intense work on a project. All those ideas from the subconscious get reworked during exercise. The exercise provides time for the subconscious to communicate to the conscious mind and start spitting out answers and sudden epiphanies. By exercising right after working on a project, all the ideas you just played with get reworked. Try working on the project and then provide the mind questions you need an answers to before you go on your walk or run. Review the material you have been working on and then go outside and exercise. Ideas may come during exercise but don’t expect them or you just force the process. Focus on your exercise, the environment, talking with other people if you walk with others, etc. The different environmental conditions often give rise to interesting associations you might not otherwise have.

Different Environment

Exercise provides a different scene, movement, and breathing. You end up being a different person when you step outside and interact with the world. Sure, you could still do your bit of exercise on the treadmill but getting outside provides much more stimulation and the possibility to see things or people you might not otherwise. Things in your environment might provide an ah-ha moment by sparking an idea in your mind. If you get stuck or get to a place where you keep looping around the same problem and same solutions, step outside. By stepping outside your usual spot, by moving, you allow the mind to freshen its perspective, you allow for different angles on the same problem. You allow the body to move while the mind is freely associating what you are working on with the surrounding environment. That environment has sights, sounds, smells and other things for instant association. When working on project you control your minds associations. By stepping outside and doing something else, you free the mind to work behind the scenes and make free associations, freely roam and think on problems in ways your conscious mind won’t allow. Your conscious mind needs control while your unconscious mind is allowed to provide wild ideas. By exercising you allow both your conscious and unconscious mind to communicate without interference. When there is an epiphany, your conscious mind pings you with an ah-ha moment and solutions are created.

Mood and Opportunities

Exercise also improves your mood which in tern helps keep the mind looking for solutions instead of just giving up. When you are creating, there are all kinds of different ways to look at things.

“As Dr. John Ratey noted in his seminal work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008), exercise isn’t just about physical health and appearance. It also has a profound effect on your brain chemistry, physiology, and neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to literally rewire itself). It affects not only your ability to think, create, and solve, but your mood and ability to lean into uncertainty, risk, judgment, and anxiety in a substantial, measurable way” (http://www.fastcompany.com/1783263/creative-brain-exercise)

Creative problem solving often involves an “ability to lean into uncertainty, risk” to come away with new ideas. Exercise helps the brain to “rewire itself” and you look for possibilities rather than obstacles. As Dr. John Ratey and others have noted, there is a reward for exercise within the brain that is scientifically based. Taking advantage of that reward involves making an exercise routine that can’t fail. The exercise habit should be a part of your other creative habits. Don’t leave that ah-ha moment to chance, walk, run, dance and move your way towards intentional creativity, epiphanies, and ah-ha moments. Try taking that five minutes to walk before going into a meeting and then after a meeting. Try doing this on a regular basis and see if you notice improvements in the ideas generated. Try it for 30 days. This is long enough for the habit to have formed and for enough ideas to have been sparked. You will notice a difference as long as you are consistently exercising your creativity.

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    About Wyatt Christman

    Wyatt Christman is a freelance Internet Marketer (http://www.linkedin.com/in/wjcvt) living in Vermont. He has a regular podcast on creative habits as well as book reviews at googlehangoutsbookclub.com.


    1. […] Habit: when do you reach that point? Take a break, get outside an exercise your creativity, take a nap, do something that refreshes or “sharpens the […]

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