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3 Steps to Fuel Your Creativity and Purpose with Exercise

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3 Steps to Fuel Your Creativity and Purpose with Exercise

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 exercise
      Now 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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      Last Updated on October 7, 2021

      Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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      Are You Addicted to Productivity?

      “It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

      Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

      “Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

      Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

      Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

      “The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

      This is my mantra:

      I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

      But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

      Addiction to Productivity is Real

      Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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      “A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

      Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

      “It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

      Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

      “A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

      “There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

      “For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

      There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

      Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

      By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

      Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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      Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

      Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

      Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

      The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

      Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

      • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
      • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
      • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
      • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
      • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
      • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
      • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

      The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

      Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

      Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

      1. Set Limits

      Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

      For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

      2. Create a Not-to-Do List

      Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

      3. Be Vulnerable

      By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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      4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

      Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

      Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

      There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

      5. Don’t Be a Copycat

      Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

      That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

      6. Say Yes to Less

      Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

      That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

      Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

      7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

      “In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

      “That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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      • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
      • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
      • Establish realistic goals.
      • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
      • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
      • Hold yourself accountable.
      • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
      • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

      8. Simplify

      Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

      The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

      9. Learn How to Relax

      “Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

      “But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

      “And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

      But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

      • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
      • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
      • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
      • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
      • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
      • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
      • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
      • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
      • Visit a massage therapist.
      • Just breathe.

      “Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

      It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

      Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

      Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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