Anyone in a creative field will tell you about the slumps. It might not be the term they use, but you’ll know what they’re talking about.
These are the times when your brain just doesn’t want to kick over. Your fingers don’t want to move, and the ideas are all stuck like fossils buried too deep to dig up.
You’ve probably been in a creative slump yourself. You might even be in one right now. There’s a good chance that you’ve looked up creative exercises to help get you back on track.
However, you might be surprised to learn that physical exercise can be very helpful. And, done regularly, exercise might even help you avoid some future slumps.
Although the data is fairly new and more research is needed, recent studies suggest that exercise helps stimulate the creative centers of your brain. Cardio specifically fires up the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls imagination. Plus, did you know that researchers have found a connection between weight loss and your mental state?
So when you go for a run, hit the pool, dance up a sweat, or do whatever it takes to get your heart pumping, your imagination gets an extra shot of energy. And that’s exactly what most creative people need to get them out of their slumps.
The best way to tap into this effect—and increase your overall energy levels—is to exercise consistently. While you might not think you have time in your schedule right now, there are always a few places where you can steal 20 or 30 minutes to get your heart pumping and the creativity flowing.
Here are a few easy ways to fit exercise into your routine to promote creativity (without setting up your studio or workshop at the gym!):
1) Jog It Out
Creative person to creative person, let’s be brutally honest for a second: we tend to spend a lot of time on Netflix and social media. When we hit a slump, it only gets worse.
That’s because we hope that consuming media will help jog our own ideas. And sometimes, it does!
But this also eats up a lot of our time. A better approach—and one I personally use—is to mix in physical activity while I consume my chosen media. This might mean that I jog in place during chase scenes in movies or while my character is running in a video game.
Or it could mean choosing an audiobook instead of a physical book, something I can play over my headphones while I go for a light run. Podcasts and many YouTube channels also work well since I don’t have to look at the screen.
The audio is the important thing. It’s something that the brain can process while it’s fired up from the exercise.
Of course, this isn’t something you should do during every workout. Sometimes you need to focus all of your intention on pushing your limits.
But if you’re on a tight time budget, combining your screen time and your workout might not be a bad idea.
2) Take Mandatory Workout Breaks
This tip is great whether you’re working on a new creative project or just slogging through the daily grind. As long as you can break your work time into 10- or 20-minute chunks, you can pull this off.
Set a timer for 20 minutes and focus on one specific creative work task. When the timer goes off, start another one for 10 minutes and do HIIT exercises as fast as you can (while staying safe, of course).
These will get your heartrate up and stimulate your hippocampus, while also getting you up out of your chair.
Leave yourself a minute or two to cool down and get some water, then get back to work for another 20 minutes.
Some people claim that the average adult attention span is about 10 to 20 minutes, which is what this system is based on. While there is no hard evidence for those numbers, breaking your workday up like this keeps things fresh and flowing.
3) Take A Rest Day—From Creative Work
When you pursue a creative talent, it can feel like it should fill every free minute of every day. That, unfortunately, is a great way to burn out. And it means you won’t have time for anything else!
So once a week or every other week, take a whole day off from your creative pursuit and do something active instead. This could be a hike, a night of dancing, or cleaning out your garage. Really, do anything that gets you moving, ramps up your heart rate, and makes you break a sweat.
Twice-a-month workouts aren’t quite enough to help encourage creativity on a regular basis, of course. But they will get you into the habit of getting up and getting out to do something physical.
If you find something you like, you might find yourself adjusting your schedule so that you’re exercising more often.
4) Work Hard When You Work Out
As I mentioned before, there’s nothing wrong with working out while you’re watching Netflix or listening to an audiobook… but that should be done in moderation. If you want to get the most creative stimulation out of your workouts, you’ll want to make sure you’re going hard at least every other workout.
When I say go hard, I mean you should be sweating and breathing a little hard. You shouldn’t be in pain—for a variety of reasons—but feeling a little bit like your legs have turned to jelly isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It might not seem fun to push yourself that hard, at least not for most people. But it’s the best way to guarantee that your brain is being stimulated in a way that will encourage your imagination.
At its core, the easiest way to find more time for exercise is to collect up the bits of time during your day where you’re not doing much else… like the time you spend scrolling social media or binging Netflix.
Downtime is good, but you might have to reassign some of it if you want to fit more exercise into your day and promote more creativity.
As a creative person, exercise is going to help you stay in peak creative form. It will stimulate your mind and give you plenty of time to come at ideas from new angles.
Exercise works much the same way that taking a shower does. When your brain is busy with those routines, it’s free to find new points of view, and that’s when the lightbulb usually goes off.
This isn’t a fail-proof method, of course. But every little bit helps when you’re looking for your next big idea or the next hit of creative energy.