There is a certain type of activity that is my absolute favorite for clearing the mind for some really productive thinking. It has the ultimate blend of physical activity, low mental resource usage, and a change of atmosphere. A perfect storm for some good ‘ol fashioned subconscious problem solving. Nothing adds a shot of productive thinking to the day like a spirited run.
Running is a pretty automated procedure. Your legs probably know what to do on their own, so the only thinking needed is when you’re planning your route. Other than that… just set those legs to autopilot and let your subconscious go nuts on a problem.
While I’m no expert on running, I have been fairly successful competitively at it over the years (high school track and cross-country, and later running the Boston Marathon). Here are some tips I’ve discovered throughout the years that can really make your running times perfect for getting a leg-up on thinking creatively and solving problems.
- Start with a problem. Many times I’ll find that if I start the run thinking about the problem, by the end of the run I’ll have it solved. No joke. Having something for your mind to wrestle with at the very beginning of the run is a great way to start your run on the right foot (pun).
- No headphones. I’ve found that while headphones are great for giving you that extra adrenaline, music forces you to focus on the music and not whatever is in the back of your mind. Try running without them or listening to music that doesn’t have lyrics (classical, jazz, etc.) to really improve focus.
- Pick routes you know. The less your mind has to think about where you’re running, the more resources it has to process whatever has been stuck in the back of your craw.
- Quiet routes. Running on trails or quiet back roads allows you to focus less on distracting surroundings (honking cars or nasty exhaust) that can keep steal your attention.
- Appropriate weather. Try running at times where the weather is optimum. If you run during the heat of a Summer day, odds are you’re not going to have a pleasant time. Planning for the weather is an easy way to eliminate distractions.
- Keep the pace manageable. Don’t plan on doing a lot of productive thinking if you’re going to be pushing yourself to the limit. The only thing on your mind will be how much you’re in pain if you’re having a really hard time breathing. The whole lack of oxygen bit can really hamper good thinking.
- Wear appropriate clothing. While this is kind of a no-brainer anyway, it really makes a difference with your train of thought. If it’s really cold outside and you’re in shorts and a tank top, your thoughts probably aren’t going to be much deeper than “It’s cold it’s cold it’s cold it’s cold…” etc.
- There’s always next time. Don’t think that every time you run you’ll start to brew mind-blowing ideas. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it doesn’t happen. But don’t worry, it wasn’t a total loss. You’ll feel better when you go back to work that day.
A great running environment can really give your mind a comfortable place to really crank through some nagging problems, or even give you that next great idea. Not to mention that you’ll feel energized and healthy afterwards, which is a great side effect too.