Jump-Starting Mental Efforts and Creativity through Physical Exercise—Does It Really Work?

spinningSeveral times a week, I head to the gym for bicycle spinning class. At eight in the morning, I’m not hepped up about vigorous exercise, but after participating for years in this stationary bike effort, I’m happy to do so, particularly if I’m wrestling with a knotty problem in my writing.

Recently I mounted the machine with two major issues nagging me. One was a cliff-hanger for my work-in-progress (working title, Never Retreat) when the heroine is separated from the hero during a flash flood and comes to realize her deep feelings for him. The other was a series of critical scenes and character development to strengthen conflict for a mainstream novel. I walked out an hour later, well on my way to solving both.

How did I accomplish this while supposedly pedaling my heart out? I’ve found that mental activity can result from physical, especially if the exercise is routine, meaning I don’t have to be alert to oncoming cars or snapping dogs. Imagination blossoms and ideas flow, free from my internal critic. I suspect I enter an “alpha state,” a condition that fosters creativity and ideas. This also can occur when I take walks. (See my essay in the Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/The-Home-Forum/2009/0306/p19s05-hfes.html) Some people claim to unlock their minds through yoga or meditation, mental puzzles, playing golf.

On its own, the attribute of creativity is over-rated. It’s essential to producing new works of art, raising a child, cooking an excellent and unusual meal, discovering new paths in science, taking photos, or inventing a computer game or machine. But it’s useless without the additional qualities of determination and hard work, native talents, education, and luck.

Still it’s useful to know how to jumpstart your brain out of frustrating, fruitless ruts. If you’re struggling with a personal problem, a conundrum at work, or an approaching challenge at work or school, rather than pushing yourself harder, harder, harder, try taking an exercise break. You may find yourself able to return refreshed and productive.



workersA big buzz word in education and self-improvement circles is “creativity.” We’re urged to unlock our creativity through classes and hands-on activities and to encourage the quality in our offspring. Businesses and organizations are told creativity will solve employee dissatisfaction and will improve the bottom line by bringing out innovative ideas.

Stop and consider, however, that the gap between the well-to-do and the middle class grows wider by the day. This inequality is based not infrequently on the types of jobs members of each category hold. Once you have a potful of money, you have flexibility to invest it, save it, loan it, explore for precious metals with it, i.e., become wealthier.

As the curves indicating income diverge more and more, it’s obvious the future doesn’t bode well for the middle class. So what’s the big deal about creativity? Why do we constantly moan we’re not giving people enough time to get creative? The last thing we need is a workforce like that, brimming with innovation and enthusiasm. What jobs are going begging?  In my neighborhood, the signs posted on telephone poles, the listings on the Internet are for unskilled workers, people to fill positions in fast food joints, lawn care, child care, telemarketing.

Let’s stop lying to ourselves. All we need are wage slaves, drones*, who can tolerate mind-numbing routine. In fact the more we can do to dumb people down, so they’re satisfied with tedious jobs, the better off the nation will be. Creativity can only lead to intense dissatisfaction with these jobs and subsequently with the hand-to-mouth existence mandated by them.  So what we should be doing, short of lobotomy to remove the ability to experience dissatisfaction, is crushing the populace until all they can think about is that drink, joint, pill, or sexual experience waiting them after work.

I recently read Anthem by Ayn Rand, a dystopian novella that bears some of the hallmarks of her political philosophy. At a future date, society has regressed and lost technology. People live collectively, and socialist thinking rules every action and decision. Individuality is a punishable crime. Despite these restrictions, the brave hero, a creative fellow, manages to reinvent electricity and breaks free to start his own settlement. That’s the trouble with creativity. Unfortunately those folks with that trait are almost impossible to suppress.

*(To be clear, drones are not, by-and-large, workers; but they loll around and have the ability to reproduce. Sound familiar?)

BEAR With Him

c. 2013 Martin McCune

c. 2013 Martin McCune

Americans dream of retirement. It becomes a Never-Never Land or a Utopia for them, as they fantasize about free time, a dearth of mean bosses, the independence to do whatever they choose.

Truth is, not everyone has a wonderful retirement. However, one person who realized a dream he didn’t even know he possessed is my brother-in-law, Marty. He figured he’d travel, having always had an itchy foot. As a teacher, he used photos from trips to Africa and China to inspire and educate his students. One boy was so impressed that after Marty retired, he enabled Marty to obtain a professional-quality digital camera.

The stage was set. Since that time in 2006, Marty has snapped thousands of images, often while on a trip. He’s found he possesses quite a talent, and since he’s past the point of needing to make a living or a reputation from his skill, he simply takes photos and shares them with family and friends.

And organizations he supports. His images of wildlife have graced publications for the Denver Zoo as well as Rocky Mountain National Park (http://rockymountainnationalpark.com/ . One particularly popular one shows a female bear (a bearette?) at her ease on the edge of the forest. It’s featured on the front of the current membership brochure for the Rocky Mountain Nature Association (http://www.rmna.org//rmna.cfm), the park’s support group.

Professional photographers would kill for the visibility that Marty’s gotten for this piece, which resulted partly from sheer coincidence. Early one morning in May 2009, he was driving through the Park when the bear (http://coloradoblackbears.com/) ran across the road. It was the first he’d since in all his years of visits, so he stopped. She headed into the woods, then came out into a clearing at the side of the road and lay down on a rock. Seizing his opportunity, he stood in the driver’s seat and took his shots through the sun roof.

Later, when he read a request from the group for interesting wildlife photos, he submitted his. And was met with skepticism. Some thought the bear wasn’t wild or had been posed. His story and the sequence of additional shots convinced the staff.

While the shot occurred serendipitously, Marty says, “Sometimes photography is luck, but you still need to know what you’re doing with the camera. And the more you know about the subject, the better off you are, too. . . .One thing I try to do is look at something from a non-standard point of view.”

He continues, “I always enjoyed taking pictures.” Retirement allows him more time at it as well as studying how to take better photos For him retirement has opened a new door into an opportunity to learn and explore life in a new way.