My morning runs are the best. The forest is just waking up, the atmosphere is still a bit sleepy, the sun is still low and not too hot. And best of all, there are hardly any people around! No annoying bikes flying past in 50km/h, or elderly couples that look annoyed when I run past them. It’s only the forest and I. This is the time when I have the most energy, and I let my thoughts run freely. I stopped listen to music a while ago. I can better here myself this way, and I feel ‘embraced’ by the forest, rather than being in a little bubble of loud music.
This is when I’m the most creative. I have had my ‘pitches’ coming to me while running, as well ideas about the videos I would like to create, people I want to connect to, and what to write on my website. My ideas around the retreats and what to add to the program were born this way. I’ve basically been brainstorming with myself.
There is no coincidence that I get all these ideas while running. There is indeed a very good explanation for it. Our brain is basically geared in such way that our creativity is increased during exercise due to the additional blood flow to the frontal lobe. People have known the effects for a long time. Charles Darwin went for long, daily walks around his home Down House, which he named ‘my thinking path’. It was during such period of frequent walks, that he developed his groundbreaking theory; ‘the origin of the species’’.
An example from more recent days is Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple. He continuously did ‘walk and talk’ meetings as he found it gave more inspiration than sitting around a desk. He managed to get most of the elite in Silicon Valley to follow suit, among them Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.
Give your ideas some legs
There are numerous scientific tests which support that exercise boosts creativity. To mention one; Researchers at Stanford University did a test with 176 subjects, where they carried out a number of creativity tests. Some of the subjects should take the tests after first have walked around the campus, and some should take them after having rested. The result? Well, the name of the study speaks for itself ‘Give your ideas some legs: the positive effects of walking on creative thinking’. More than four out of five of the subjects did better after having walked first. On average, their results were 60% better!
The main effect could be seen on their ability to brainstorm and get new ideas. Researcher Marily Oppezzo commented on the result by saying: ‘we’re not saying that a walk can make you into a new Michelangelo, but in the initial phase of a creative process, it can help you to get started’.
Based on my own experience, I couldn’t agree more.
Maybe reading this can make you and/or your children take the bike or walk to work/school next time?
Most of the effect can be seen just after the walk or physical exercise, where the duration of the exercise should preferably be at least 30mins. But the added boost only lasts for a few hours! Why that is, is not yet fully known, but it could be that the boost is due to the brain getting additional blood flow when we are moving. Our cognitive abilities, including creativity, are improved due to the additional blood flow, and are hence fading again after some time without additional flow. If you push yourself too hard, and get completely exhausted, it will actually have the opposite effect as that decreases the blood flow to the brain.
I find this fascinating. That something which is for free, and possible for most of to do, has such a massive impact. It also makes me think of all the children today that are always driven back and forth to school. Not all of us can have our children walking or biking to school every day (including my own), but it shows that sports or just being outside ‘to burn off some energy’ pays off when it comes to their school work.
If you want to read more, you can find more information in Anders Hansen’s book ‘The real happy pill’.
Want to try? This is what you should do:
- Run (preferably) or walk for at least 20-30 minutes. Most of the effect can be felt afterwards and lasts for approx. 2 hours
- Don’t push yourself to hard
- The better shape you’re in, the more your creativity will be boosted
- Consider whether you can you introduce ‘walk and talk’ at your company or with you team?
As I wrote initially; most of my ideas have been born while running, but if I analyze further, they tend to come after 20-30 mins, not in the beginning, which is in line with the findings above.
Knowing this makes it so much easier to get out in the morning, even on days when it’s rainy and windy. Especially when I have a question or an issue, where I feel I’m stuck.
Exercising together with meditation, has been paving my way forward. Maybe it can do the same for you?