Friday, June 4, 2010

Running, time for creativity and for expanding horizons

Among the blogs I read is ZenHabits, a collection of thoughts on living a simpler life (tagline: smile, breathe, and go slowly). Leo and contributors post often about running (see recent posts Beginner's guide to trail running, and Beginner's guide to barefoot running) But the one that caught my eye and made me think was The #1 habit of creative people.

In this post, Leo talks about creativity and, in one word, links it to solitude. He has examples from many well known thinkers and creators of all stripes, (artists, authors, actors, scientists, etc.) who describe solitude, being alone with one's thoughts, as a key to creativity. In the spirits of the book 'Laws of Power', he concludes the post with an almost contradictory second top strategy for creativity, which is participation. The idea here is that being exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking can be equally helpful in deriving creative solutions to problems.

In an example of the latter, consider the utility of a coffeeshop, or if you prefer, the local pub. Any place where people gather to discuss issues and their thoughts about them. The phrase has become trite, but this strategy is at the root of the advice to think outside the box. When presented with a problem, sometimes the best solution is one that is totally different from what you are used to.

What struck me when I read this post is the thought that when I am out running, I tend to do both of these things. For the majority of my runs, I listen to podcasts, books, and other spoken word productions. This type of audio tends to help slow my pace, whereas music excites me so much that I often overdo it. Now, I am a doctor, so I deal with medicine for the vast majority of my day. So running and listening to podcasts about things that have nothing to do with running helps me to broaden my horizons and be more creative when I am at work.

So what do I listen to?
This Week in Tech: I've been a huge fan back to the Screen Savers on TechTV
The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe: found through a mention in Wired magazine, excellent science
Real Time with Bill Maher: not because I agree with his politics, but because actual debate occurs from time to time (unlike cable news)
NPR Science Friday and It's All Politics: Good science and dry humor about Washington DC
Phedippidations: clearly, I like Steve Runner's work

The discussions from these shows frequently give me new perspectives and ideas, or remind me of old ones I should not have forgotten.

On the other end, it should not be hard to imagine that going out running (sans MP3 player) can provide immersive solitude. Obviously not always, since immersive solitude while crossing four lanes of traffic could result in a very, very, long period of solitude. Being alone, or nearly so, especially immersed in the beauty of natural areas, clears my mind, and from that void come incredible ideas.

Lastly, I should mention a third strategy for creativity that occurred to me while writing this. Leo touches on this at the end of his post, but I find writing to be a great may to be creative as well. Sometimes it is amazing the ideas that come about when you just start writing. A great exercise I use sometimes when I am trying to generate new ideas is called mindstorming (or that's what the professor who taught me called it). The exercise is simple. Write down the question or dilemma you are facing, and then write the number 1-25 (which, incidentally, is almost exactly the length of one page of standard ruled paper). Then just write the first 25 things that come to mind as solutions or strategies to approach the problem. The important part is to have NO FILTER WHATSOEVER. Don't judge the pros and cons as you are writing, just write! The first few will be obvious and perhaps unrealistic. The last few may be outlandish and worthless. Somewhere in the middle though, you may very well find the nugget of wisdom you need to solve your problem.

Anyway, so this post ended up being a fairly long way away from where I started with posts from Leo's ZenHabits, but it was a creative journey, wasn't it?

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