When I’m not sitting at my BatesMeron desk, writing headlines and blog posts, you can often find me running on Chicago’s lakefront path. I love running, and beyond giving me Beyoncé Legs (© Becka Bates), running has helped me become a better worker and creative thinker.
It seems a bit counterintuitive that an activity where you just run in a straight line for a long time would help me in a creative career, but it’s true! And here’s a numbered list to prove it.
1. Sometimes you need to unplug to get good ideas.
I get some of my best ideas on long runs. For the first mile or so, I’m often thinking about what I need to get done that day. But as my legs get in the zone, my brain does, too. I start to free associate. I can really mull things over, without being distracted by my to-do list or that next email.
Sometimes this brain puttering pops out brand names and taglines and ad copy. I can’t really control what I fixate on while running, so sometimes I fantasize about starring in a music video instead of brainstorming marketing ideas. But you take what you can get!
Even when I’m not running, I’ve found that using this same “unplugging” approach can help me find new ideas when I’m stuck. Sometimes I need to get out of the office, or just away from my computer, to unclog the neurons and find a new perspective.
2. Goal setting gets results.
I’m sometimes afraid to establish firm goals at work because it can seem scary to set things in stone. What if I set a performance goal and I’m not able to reach it—and I let everyone down?
However, running has taught me that setting a goal gives you the framework you need to follow through. I usually start training for a race by deciding a pace I want to run the race at, or a time I want to finish in, and mapping my training out accordingly. For example, while training for my most recent half marathon, I added speedwork to my training schedule for the first time (runs where I’m running at or faster than race tempo, for the non-runnerds). Without a set goal, I wouldn’t have the kick in the pants to throw in those extra challenging workouts—and I probably wouldn’t have set a new personal record in the half marathon.
Also, I’ve learned that it’s not the end of the world when you don’t meet a goal—as long as it gives you motivation to improve for the next time. When I was training for my first marathon, my primary goal was to cross the finish line. I also had a secondary goal: to finish in under 4 hours. I accomplished my first goal (woo-hoo!), but I came in 6 minutes slow on the second.
Does not meeting my second goal make me a failure? No. I still ran for 26.2 miles and finished my first-ever marathon! Does it encourage me to look back at my performance and determine what I could improve on in the future? Yes. I’ve already thought about what I’ll do differently when I train for my next marathon, including practicing running in the heat, eating better and adding in speedwork.
Working hard and coming up short isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it has given me extra motivation to smash my goal the next time around.
3. Spending time on the stuff you hate makes you better at the things you love.
I love running, but I’m not as fond of some of the activities that accompany running…like stretching, waking up early on the weekends and more stretching. However, I HAVE to do the stretching and wakeups, or I don’t get to run. My hips will snap off, or it will be so hot by time I roll out of bed that I will melt into a pile of liquid skin and Dri-Fit. So when I’m torturing my IT band by rolling it over a piece of extremely dense foam, until I make wounded animal noises that probably disturb the neighbors, it helps to remember that this sucky activity enables me to do what I love.
Same principle works at the office. When I am taking care of one of my responsibilities that’s not necessarily my favorite, like attending long meetings or calling people I don’t know, it helps to take a breath and think of these activities as a necessary complement to the parts of my job that I do love. You have to have a few endless email chains and hip stretches to get the gorgeous long runs and invigorating brainstorming sessions.
4. Just get going.
When you are training for a race, you have a training schedule. You have to run a certain number of miles on certain days of the week. This training is what allows you to complete a race without (excess) crying.
However, some days you will just not feel like running. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe you’ve been slammed at work. Maybe it’s raining. Maybe you will just never, ever in your life be happy about waking up at 6am. You still have to lace up your running shoes and get out there. Sometimes, you’ll feel better about the run after you get out the door. Sometimes the run will suck the whole way through. Doesn’t matter. You have to run.
Similarly, I, like all creatives, have times when I can’t get into the writing groove and it seems like the blank page will be the end of me. Just starting to write—something, even things I will just delete later, even Disney song lyrics—helps me bust through the funk.
Running is just as good for your mind as it is for your health. So all you creative folks out there, tell your boss you’re doing some professional development…and then go for a run.
All photos © Tim Davis, noted running photographer.
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