Some of my best ideas come on the saddle of a bike or during a run.
That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised by a recent study that shows people are more creative while in the great outdoors versus when they’re staring at a screen. Pacific Standard‘s take on the study explains that too much screen time rewires our brains in a way that can inhibit creativity, whereas being outside amongst the elements enhances it.
Personally, my job requires a lot of creativity. I have a ritual with each new article I write: after the first draft is complete I go for a run and think on it, and come up with a number of ways to improve it. I used to send my editors so many emails saying, “Ignore that first version! I went for a run and thought of some new stuff. Use this version instead,” that I forced myself to not submit articles until I’d done my “run edit.”
I recently wrote about using music as a motivator for exercise, and learned that it’s a great tool for dissociation from the discomfort of exertion. While I do like blasting the tunes while exercising, I enjoy letting my mind wander as well. Essentially I daydream while running, cycling, skiing or even walking to help distract myself.
An interesting thing I’ve noticed is, the higher the level of effort, the less creative I feel. When you’re making a massive effort, all your attention is focused on things like heart/lungs/pace/not dying. When you’re at a more moderate pace, you can allow your brain to wander more creatively. When I run intervals — a high exertion exercise — nothing creative happens upstairs. But running at a moderate pace allows my brain to relax and wander a bit more.
Interestingly, I find that cycling allows for even better creative flow, possibly because the exertion is a bit lower than with running and I can really let my mind go. I’ve had so many article and story ideas — as well as creative quips and analogies — that I installed a recorder app on my iPhone to dictate them to so I wouldn’t forget. I came home from a bike ride and outlined an entire book recently — my agent was happy with that!
Yes, I have a job that requires creativity, but even if you work on an assembly line there are benefits to be had from enhancing your opportunities for creative thinking. Creativity can be implemented in many ways like improving your abilities as a parent, time management ideas, reorganizing your home, cooking…even reinventing your career. The possibilities are endless. If you need to brainstorm a good way to improve something — anything — you’re better off doing it away from a computer screen — just make sure you bring something to record those flashes of brilliance!