Image: Brave the run
Those who know me well know that I have a serious, worrisome, highly problematic addiction. I’m 100% addicted to exercise.

Seriously, it’s a problem.

You’re probably asking yourself why that could ever be a problem. Most people try hard to create an exercise habit, and here I am complaining about my compulsion to hit the gym?

It’s not just my body that is hooked on the endorphins and treadmill-running. I think I could deal with that, if that were the case. But, here’s the kicker — my brain is completely addicted. 

How could the mind be addicted

to exercise?

In my experience, there is no better place to come up with ideas than on the treadmill. I’ll usually be mid-run when an idea pops into my head, and I’ll reach for my phone to jot it down. Sometimes, it comes in the form of a full-fledged project and other times only a string of words. Either way, it’s amazing how running and working out helps me come up with amazing new stuff.

More than half of the blog posts I write originate on the treadmill or some kind of exercise machine. I may only jot down three or four words while I’m working out, but I later turn them into full-fledged posts when I’m sitting at my laptop.

This is your brain on exercise.

What happens to the brain when you exercise? Here are a few facts from Greatist.com:

  • Mind wandering allows the brain to focus its attention on more distant tasks and issues in a unique, way allowing you to fuel your creativity.
  • Exercise can reduce stress, because galanin (a chemical found in the brain during exercise) seems to diminish certain stress-related cravings.
  • A midday workout can help productivity skyrocket (and even boost job satisfaction), so we can quickly gain back those hours lost in gym-land.
  • Besides increasing levels of feel-good endorphins, physical activity may work like antidepressant drugs to alter brain chemistry.
  • Staying in shape can also help us gain confidence and distract us from worries.

Mind wandering, releasing stress, feeling badass? Check, check, and check.

Eureka! So, research shows that there is a link between exercise and greater brain activity. Nolan Bushnell explains it like this:

Get your heart rate to 80% of your ability, and then for the next three hours, just learn something. It turns out that when you are exercising aggressively, your brain is creating BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), ‘Miracle-Gro for your brain. You’re putting in hardware for the software.

So, it’s definitely not a coincidence. When I’m running or exercising, my brain is developing that BDNF thing, and the ideas start flowing more freely than ever.

Let’s get you on that Brain Miracle-Gro.

Image: Brain on exerciseNow that we’ve established just how beneficial exercise can be to your own creative spice, how can we get you to start benefiting from it?

Also known as, how can we make sure you start exercising ASAP and start churning out  awesome ideas as a result?

It’s hard to get into the exercise groove. Everyone wants a hot body and a healthy heart, but actually doing the work is another story, right?

I’m looking at you, unused gym memberships.

But what if the result you’re looking for at the gym has changed? Now it’s not just six pack abs and killer endurance. Now you’re looking for the ideas that will launch your life and your career further than you could ever imagine. Now you’re looking to grow your entire life.

Now — at the gym — you’re looking to find the life you always dreamed of.

Here’s how:

1. Aim so low you can’t fail.

Honestly, could you work out if I told you it would take you only five minutes? Could you say no to five minutes? Because that’s all I’d ask you for the entire first week you start exercising. Five minutes — you can do this.

I can’t tap into my idea well if I don’t just start running, so I make it sure there’s no pressure involved.

I find that part of the reason most people fail at attacking the monster that is Getting In Shape is that there is so much fear of failure. So, instead of trying to beat that monster outright, how about we hack the system and make it so there is absolutely no way you can fail? Five minutes a day is doable, and you know this!

2. Let your mind wander.

It’s time to disconnect and let your mind go free. This is not the kind of exercise where you are pushing so hard that you can’t focus on anything other than trying to catch your breath. If you are exercising that hard, stop and take a breather. What we’re aiming for is the kind of exercise that would work for meditation or makes you feel like swaying to some relaxing music.

Stop scaring the ideas away by trying to outperform yourself.

The ideas definitely don’t flow as well when I’m trying to beat my best mile time. The ideas flow when I’m being generous with myself, and allowing myself to relax into the workout. Sometimes that means I put on slower music, and other times that means I daydream. In very few cases will I put my creative hat on and try attacking specific problems while I’m running. Being out of touch and in tune with the music somehow activates areas of the brain that were dormant just a few hours before.

Before I know it — bam! — there’s my solution.

3. Keep a “capture device” handy.

Whether you use Evernote like me or you prefer a traditional notebook, the magic is in capturing every single idea that pops into your head. It may make immediate sense or it may sound like mumbo jumbo — but that’s okay.

Some mumbo jumbo idea is better than no idea!

Ideas lead to other ideas, so the trick is in not judging ideas for not being good enough. For example, a lot of my treadmill time is spent daydreaming about playing the drums onstage with my favorite bands. Who cares? The ideas still flow while I’m daydreaming, so why judge the daydream itself?

As long as my Evernote is ready to capture that innovative idea whenever it decides to show itself, I’m golden. As soon as I identify some semblance of a blog post or a new project, I write it down. As soon as I feel an important line or new concept coming on, I type it in.

If nothing gets passed up, nothing gets wasted.

Guess where I came up with the idea for this post?

I’ll have you know that the gym is probably my favorite place to be. My poor phone needs a good cleaning, and my husband has resigned to my addiction and decided to work out with me.

If you exercise, do you feel your ideas soar, too? If you don’t, could it be that you aren’t letting your mind wander far enough away from the exercise itself? If you don’t exercise, do you want in on the idea-grab?

Forget looking good for the summer. Ideas are so much cooler than that.

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