We’ve all caught wind of inspirational anecdotes about how the “greats” used exercise to help with creative flow. To fuel his writing, Charles Dickens walked for 3 hours a day carrying his notepad with him. Steve Jobs held walking meetings around Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. Bestselling author Ryan Holiday runs because he believes it makes him stronger at his job, explaining that “ running is predictable, dependable, satisfying and thus a counterbalance for the mercurial muses of the creative professional.” Famous choreographer, Twyla Tharp, is famous for her consistent workout schedule, where she’d go to her Manhattan gym to exercise for 2.5 hours every day.
I started my fitness journey in 2007 for two fundamental reasons: to lose weight and build muscle. I religiously followed an eating and training plan and slowly, but surely, my body began to change. I gained more confidence, felt stronger, but more importantly, I developed a newfound passion for running and training.
Over the last few years, I hit a ceiling with my body recomposition. I do still see physique improvements, but they are incremental and much more subtle. I no longer use fitness goals as a prime motivator for my workouts. In fact, when I do focus on body composition changes alone (calories in, vs. calories out or lowering my body fat %), I usually suffer through my workouts – I procrastinate, feel dread, and cut corners.
It was only until recently that I reframed the way I look at my training. Instead of focusing on improving my performance – lifting heavier and running faster – I used my training as a way to problem solve and brainstorm on the creative projects I’m working on; similar to object meditation where you pose a question and focus on the answers during your practice. With my running, I start by reflecting on a specific problem or issue I want to solve. This isn’t an entirely new concept to me – some of the best ideas I’ve ever had surfaced while I was running. The idea behind the 10k/day challenge + the #RUN70 challenge were both conceived when I was out for a run. The idea for this series even came about when I was doing a steady state 5-mile treadmill workout.
It’s the internal, or intrinsic motivation of feeling creative, more confident, and higher energy that I crave for my workouts now. While I think aesthetic goals are great and provide a good direction for where you want to go, you’d be remiss to overlook the other amazing side effects that can flourish from exercising. I think to truly stay consistent and sustain an exercise regimen over the long term, we need to find deeper meaning in our training, besides just hitting body recomposition and performance goals.
This got me thinking…how many other people frame their training this way?
While there isn’t too much tangible evidence that exercise will turn you into a creative artiste, there have been a few studies that have emerged making the correlation. An article in Business Insider titled, Exercise might be more than good for your brain — it could make you more creative as well lists some studies and also quotes neuroscientist, Wendy Suzuki, on how exercise can influence our creative flow.
Another study from Stanford University conducted multiple experiments on how walking increased “creative production” on creative tasks. They found that the respondents’ creative outputs increased by any average of 60% all the way up to 81% in a few different experiments.
This thinking led me to a new project fueled by my own, genuine curiosity. This month, I’m launching a new series titled, The Athletic Artist: Sparking Creativity Through Training where I’ll be exploring how other creative professionals (ie. writers, YouTubers, entrepreneurs, etc.) use their training as an impetus to harness their creative juices.
Let me just be clear, I do think all of us are artists and creators in our own way. No human being can claim they “aren’t creative”. We’re each born with creativity deeply ingrained in our DNA, it’s how it comes to life that differs from individual to individual.
Art is not synonymous with skill.
While some may have a more precocious talent for the arts, we all have the ability to create our own art – using creativity to solve real challenges in our lives despite our vocation.
I’m excited to embark on this new journey with you. The goal is to serve you, the reader, with a healthy dose of creative inspiration for your training, some fun little anecdotes, and hopefully provide a new perspective on how you can harness the power of exercise to foster creativity in your own endeavours.