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Quick, riddle me this: what do running and the shower have in common?
Okay, they may be activities some people do daily, and they’re definitely NOT both things you do naked.
Ready for the answer? Running and showering are two of the only times during the day you’re completely unplugged from technology, and in doing so, both are activities that encourage creativity, problem-solving, and random, rambling thoughts.
(And yes, I do realize that many people run with their phones and smart watches and occasionally answer a phone call or text — but for this article’s purposes, we’re talking about time not actively spent engaging with your phone.)
Let’s back up a minute to your brain and creativity before we get into why running boosts your creativity. You’ve likely been told that the left side of your brain is your logical, analytical side, while the right side is more free-form and innovative.
Turns out, it’s a little more complicated than that. There’s not a specific creative area of your brain, per se. In his book Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing, Andrew Smart argues that creativity comes as a result of increased blood flow to the brain, and when you’re not focused on a specific task, different areas of your brain become way more active.
Running specifically has a few huge advantages in boosting your creativity. First, like we’ve discussed already, your brain isn’t focused on a specific task when you’re running, and Smart even describes your brain as “idle.” Without a job to focus on, different areas of your brain are free to play around and collaborate in ways they might be suppressed from doing during the workday. When you’re running, then, your mind is free to wander, opening up space for creative thoughts and “aha!” moments.
Additionally, running (like all physical activity) produces an increase in dopamine, the chemical that’s most often associated with creativity. That, combined with a relaxed mind, can create the ideal environment for new thoughts.
Finally, take a second to consider the repetitive nature of running: the steady pace of your footsteps, the specific rhythm of your breathing, the way your arms pump back and forth over. Although they’re working to make sure you’re running, your brain and body are on autopilot, freeing up your subconscious for deeper thinking.
Novelist and noted runner Haruki Murakami put it best in his novel What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (which, incidentally, I highly recommend):
I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometime. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing.
So the next time you’re stressing over a problem at work or facing writer’s block at your computer (ahem, note to self), try turning off the technology and going for a run. Your creative mind will thank you.