Whenever I feel stuck or stagnant in life, my days inevitably feel long and monotonous. Every day starts to blur, feelings of apathy start to set in and I experience stinted growth in my ideas and inspiration. With my mind stagnant, I find it hard to fire up the old idea machine when it comes to my work, passion projects or fitness/training.
To overcome this lull, I’ve learned that the easiest solution is to stimulate and feed my mind with new information in the form of books, blog posts, and articles. Reading across multiple disciplines has helped me develop a more rounded view of my work and life. For many years, I used to almost exclusively read articles on self-development and when it came to audiobooks, it was non-fiction or bust. I found repetition and redundancy absorbing the same self help mantras most of these resources preach. Instead, I decided to dive into the world of biographies, classical fiction and poetry, which oiled my creative limbs in a new way.
My routine for the last several months has been two parts reading, one part listening; that is, I try to designate at least one hour of the day to indulging in a good book and thirty minutes of the day tuning into an audiobook. Since mid-March (the commencement of quarantine), I’ve managed to consistently tackle at least one physical book and one audiobook a week. I’ve incorporated a healthy mix of fiction and non-fiction. Some of it’s a bit dry, but even reading a book like Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci has given me a new appreciation for art. Despite lacking any artistic skills myself, I can still benefit from synthesis; uniquely mixing multiple techniques and disciplines to create something truly unique. In Leonardo’s case, bringing his deep learnings of anatomy, science, and mathematics to create art the world had never seen before.
As I’m sure a lot of self-conscious writers will tell you, I like to write what I know; whether that’s through education or experience. With all the articles and blog posts that already exist, I always look for something new to offer and contribute to the conversation, and I find leaning on my experience is a great way to achieve that. It’s one thing to write about a topic, it’s another to write about a topic through the lens of someone who’s lived it.
I think everyone has at least one book in them. People may shy away from writing because they feel like the topic or genre has been previously explored and/or exhausted by other authors. This may be true, but what differentiates your voice is the story behind it. Between your unique tone/ writing style, your personal anecdotes and your lived experiences, you have the perfect recipe for a novel idea or story to tell.
However, the benefits of reading don’t end at improved writing, it’s also helped my diction. I keep a “new word dictionary” on my laptop, where I store any new terms I’ve encountered. Continuously circling back to the word, I’ll try to find new ways to include it in my vocabulary or writing that week. Essentially, I pick about three words each week and will try to include them in different contexts/sentences in my journaling app. Doing this helps me become more comfortable using a word in the appropriate setting. To me, there’s nothing more rewarding than having the perfect word at your fingertips to describe a feeling, thought or emotion.
I need new inputs though. If I don’t read, I lack ideas. It’s that simple. I used to wonder how content creators could consistently produce quality creative. Don’t they ever run out of ideas? The truth is, if you’re on the lookout for new ideas that aren’t limited to your specific field, you’ll create more neurological pathways in your brain. This will grant you the ability to connect ideas in a new and exciting way.
In my post How I Transformed My Body and Running Performance in 1 Year, the first section tackled “ongoing learning”. Continuously learning, unlearning, and then relearning new exercises and nutrition best practices has been a key catalyst in helping me achieve my performance goals.
The resources and information to further educate ourselves are literally within grasp – there are YouTube videos, long-form articles, books, online lectures/workshops and numerous other online destinations to explore. We have access to everything we need to accomplish any of our goals.
So it’s one thing to stockpile on books, but the other aspect to consider is the application. If I’m trying to learn a new skill, I want to read just enough to learn it then get to work with the application. It’s kind of like the college application method vs. learning theoretical concepts at the University level. For example, I wanted to learn to invest. So I read Quit Like a Millionaire, The Simple Path to Wealth and then went through the free Millenial Revolution Investment Workshop. I then took that information, signed up for Questrade and learned how to invest in low-cost index ETFs and bonds. Investing used to terrify me, but I learned that it’s actually quite simple.
When it comes to my workouts, if I learn about an intriguing new diet, I’ll follow it up with research then I’ll experiment myself. I did this with a 30-day vegan challenge and testing the 16:18 Intermittent Fasting protocol. I’ll follow the same process with my workouts – I found the Anabolic Aliens YouTube channel, started incorporating the videos at the beginning of my workouts, then naturally started learning new exercises. I stopped plateauing and continued building up my muscular endurance. I started noticing real changes to my body that I’ve never seen before.
Creativity, productivity and growth have to be cultivated; you need to do the heavy lifting by feeding your mind with new ideas, new thoughts and new perspectives. Then apply what you learn as soon as possible to make those ideas stick.
Ideas are erratic – they surface at unexpected, and sometimes inconvenient, times. For me, it’s either when I’m reading, working out or in the shower. It’s when I give myself the attentional space to quiet my mind and allow for new ideas to enter. I’m not saying this a foolproof method, because honestly, most of the time these “ideas” are duds. However, the key is to read and let the words on those pages soak in your subconscious. They’ll emerge when they’re ready.
They aren’t going to all be good, but hey, at least there’s a steady stream. James Altrucher, author of Choose Yourself, makes it a physical practice to write down at least 10 ideas every day. He said many will be shit, but as you continue this practice, then over time the ideas will become better and better and, as James puts it, you’ll become an “idea machine.”
All of my achievements can be attributed to strength of mind. I would have never been able to complete the #RUN70 Consecutive Half Marathon Challenge or my first 100-miler this past September if it wasn’t for my ability to prime and train my mind. Even just 30 minutes every morning adds up to material gains in idea generation and clarity. Since 2008, I’ve followed this mantra. That’s a twelve-year investment into ongoing learning, and seeing how this learning has manifested in creative and innovative ways.
When you stimulate your mind with new information and then apply your learnings, you’re inadvertently developing a growth mindset. You’re opening your mind to new ideas. On the inverse, if you’re not open to new ideas, you’ll keep your mind ossified and inhibit personal growth. I hope you choose the former 🙂