We all need to be creative in our lives — to solve problems at home and at work, to negotiate agreements large and small, to conceive, plan, make, and do all the things that must be done to survive, to move ourselves and our families through our lives. These all are acts of creativity. Discovering how to fit healthy habits into an overly packed day takes creative problem solving. Figuring out how to find and enjoy healthy food does to.
I’ve had the chance lately to read through studies of “creative people,” by which the researchers mean people whose jobs are to create something — people whose jobs are to come up with good ideas. Something interesting surfaces again and again when discussing the “creative process” with these people.
When asked what the “Aha,” the “Eureka,” the moment of discovery feels like, and what people were doing when they had it, the answer is often that the greatest moments of creativity come when people aren’t actively thinking about the problem at hand at all. Sure, they spend time studying the problem, researching, investigating, hypothesizing, testing. But solutions often come after they’ve done two things. After they’ve given their minds a break, and after some rest and exercise. Often, in fact, big ideas happen during exercise.
Yes, exercise. Researchers are busy trying to discover exactly what biochemistry is at play when a good workout helps our minds work better. Meantime, circumstantial evidence reveals that exercise does help our minds work better, especially as we age. People at risk of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s are now prescribed daily exercise to help ward off those illnesses. And of course we’ve known for a long time that aerobic exercise can help manage depression, too.
The other day I was sitting and thinking about how to work in workouts, and not coming up with good ideas. I spent some time looking at my calendar for the upcoming week, wondering when I’d get to the gym, when I would run. At some point it occurred to me that the whole time I was sitting there working on working out, I could have been working out. You know?
And if I had exercised while thinking through my problem? Chances are I would have come up with better ideas, more creative ways of sneaking exercise into every day. So, I guess I’m saying that if I thought less about working out, and just did it, I might become more thoughtful about it. Or something. Okay I’m confused. But I’m pretty sure if I worked out enough, I could figure out how to figure it out.
The upshot is, if we move more, we think better. So, if you’re stuck on a problem, at a crossroads on your project, can’t figure out your next steps, get up and move through it. Take a break, and make yourself sweat for awhile. Your body needs it. Your brain does too.