“I don’t have enough time to work out.”
Physical health seems to always take a back seat to the rest of our lives. Scapegoats include our careers, our dedication to art, our families, our social lives, and so on. So we won’t mind not being in shape, we’ll eat anything that tastes good to cope with stress, and we’ll “sacrifice” sleep to get more done. While this sounds like a noble endeavour, it may not be as effective as you think.
What if physical health actually contributed to your success in your creative endeavors, like your business or your side projects? Let’s look into how good physical health affects our creative work:
Physical Fitness: Save Time using High Intensity
Apple co-founder and Pixar investor Steve Jobs was well-known for his walks (even while recovering from his liver transplant). Bestselling author and American Apparel’s director of marketing Ryan Holiday said a lot of his best ideas come to him when he’s running or swimming. World-renowned novelist Haruki Murakami runs tens of kilometers daily. (He influenced author Mohsin Hamid to do the same.) Legendary writer Charles Dickens walked a dozen miles nightly.
While these are some mighty fine anecdotes, recent research has shown that a single workout boosts creativity in people who regularly exercise. More importantly, the study highlighted that intense exercise enhanced creativity the most.
You don’t have to travel to and from the gym every time in order to start regularly exercising. And it’s certainly not impossible to fit intense, physical exercise into your day: try the 7 Minute Workout, as made popular by The New York Times. It’s a high-intensity circuit training workout that can be done in a small space, requires no equipment except a wall and a chair, and takes no more than seven minutes. It would be difficult to make it more convenient and effective.
After noticing their increasing pant sizes, the Tiny Hearts team created a mobile app called Quick Fit for busy people like themselves. The app guides users through the 7 Minute Workout (you can also try their free web app). Don’t let a lack of information stop you from regularly exercising and actualizing your creative potential.
Willpower certainly plays a large part of perseverance; it takes a conscious choice to continue facing pain from rejection, failure, and stress on roller coaster ride ventures such as entrepreneurship or art.
Professor Roy F. Baumeister discovered a correlation between glucose and willpower. In a study outlined in a book he authored with journalist John Tierney entitled Willpower, respondents were separated into two groups. One group was fed lemonade, and the other was fed a drink with artificial lemon sweetener. These two groups then had to play a game that grew more difficult as users progressed.
Here are their findings, which I’d previously summarized for The Globe & Mail: “The game grew impossibly difficult as it went on. The participants given the sugar-filled lemonade kept playing despite their frustration, but those who received the diet sweetener were much more likely to get angry.”
Baumeister and Tierney share this sentiment for readers to maximize willpower: “To maintain steady self-control, you’re better off eating foods with a low glycemic index: most vegetables, nuts (like peanuts and cashews), many raw fruits (like apples, blueberries, and pears), cheese, fish, meat, olive oil, and other ‘good’ fats.”
The science behind this: low glycemic index foods release glucose more slowly, and more steadily, into the bloodstream. Therefore, we will have more steady levels of willpower, fewer moments of extreme fatigue, and steadier and clearer minds throughout the day.
Get More Sleep
“Sleep is the best (and easiest) creative aphrodisiac.” (Click to Share)
In addition to its relationship with our physical health, sleep is also crucial for creative work. Artist and radio host Debbie Millman writes, “Sleep is the best (and easiest) creative aphrodisiac.” Yet a lot of motivational speakers today advocate sacrificing sleep in order to put more work in. Although this enables workers to log more hours, it’s doubtful that the sacrifice is as effective as it may seem. As author Laura Vanderkam noted in The Wall Street Journal:
I told people I worked 60 hours a week. I claimed to sleep six hours a night. As I lamented to anyone stuck next to me at parties, I was basically too busy to breathe. Me time? Ha!
Now I work 45 hours a week and sleep close to eight hours a night. But I’m not getting any less done.
37signals partner and Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson advises people to plan for only 4-5 hours of real work every day. (So does entrepreneur and angel investor Tim Ferriss.) Even the late (and, in some circles, legendary) scientific management consultant Frederick Taylor discovered that reduced work times attained remarkable increases in per-worker output.
Although sleep seems like the perfect activity to draw time from, it’s actually important for a variety of factors. Research has shown sleep to foster new, unusual, connections in the brain. There are studies that indicate both REM sleep and NREM sleep to be crucial to creating new associations or making them accessible to the mind.
Additionally, a study in the Journal of Sleep Research shows that respondents had more creative solutions after a night of shut-eye with the same scent as the environment in which their challenge was presented, than when they slept with a control scent or no scent at all.
The occasional all-nighter or burn of the midnight oil won’t hurt you, but you should think twice about consistently dedicating more time to creative output by cutting out sleep. And perhaps next time you’re burned out by an entrepreneurial or artistic obstacle, try performing some creative judo by sleeping it off.
Physical health and creativity are inherently interlinked. By taking care of your body, you’re not only doing your future self a favor, you’re also increasing the likelihood that you create better art for the world. Fit short, high-intensity, workouts regularly in your schedule. Ensure your diet has a healthy supply of low-glycemic foods. Get abundant amounts of sleep.
Create better by living well.
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