Tag Archives: inspiration

Study Finds Walking Boosts Creativity

View from a walk along the Charles River in Boston.

View from a walk along the Charles River in Boston.

Many of history’s most famous thinkers were walkers—Henry David Thoreau, Charles Dickens, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, and Walt Whitman, to name just a few—and many of them held a deep belief that walking boosted their creativity. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, from Stanford researchers gives scientific weight to this belief.

The study, composed of a series of four experiments, looked at idea generation conducted while sitting and while walking, using different experiment constructions, for example, walking outside versus walking on a treadmill, sitting first, then walking, and so on. Walking was the clear winner. In the first and the most straightforward experiment, where participants completed a four-minute task of creativity first while sitting, then during a walk on the treadmill, researchers found that walking increased participants’ creativity by 81 percent.

Walking itself, whether done on the treadmill inside while starting at a blank wall or outside, was found to produce this greater creativity. For example, two out of the four experiments compared creative idea production for sitting, walking on the treadmill, and walking outside. Participants exhibited greater creative divergent thinking—or what you might think of as free-flowing ideas—whether they walked outside or on the treadmill. Moreover, participants experienced a residual creative boost when they were tested while sitting after they had first walked. In contrast, participants who were tested twice but both times while sitting did not show any improvement, demonstrating it was not merely an issue of repetition.

To measure creativity, researchers administered two types of tests. In the first three experiments, participants were told to generate new uses for common objects, such as a button, a shoe, and a key. As an example of this kind of test, one participant heard “button” and brainstormed “as a doorknob for a dollhouse, an eye for a doll, a tiny strainer, to drop behind you to keep your path.” The last experiment used a different kind of test for metaphoric-creativity thinking, which asks participants to come up with symbolic equivalencies for the prompt they are given. For example, a candle burning low might produce “life ebbing away” or, as an example of a more creative response, “the last hand in a gambler’s last card game.”

Previous studies have already found that aerobic activities, such as running, promote greater creativity. Yet, for those who don’t have time to run or who simply don’t want to, taking a quick walk can be a great way to get the creative juices flowing. On a broader note, it also points to the importance of gym class in schools, which seem to be disappearing, and provides yet one more reason for effective and supported workplace wellness programs.

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The Art of Small

chef-movie

The requirements of success

So much in today’s world is measured by “the big”—big numbers, impressive achievements, wide reach, big salaries. It’s understandable, of course. It’s hard to purchase a lot with “small,” both metaphorically and in real life. But labors of love and a true connection to art often require small, especially at first, and I think there’s a real craving for that in our mass production world. When you focus on pleasing the big crowds (and all that that entails), something gets lost.

That’s certainly the case for celebrity chef Carl Casper in the movie Chef. Losing his “big” job opens up the path to a richer, more authentic, and more connected life. Director and writer Jon Favreau, who helmed the Iron Man franchise and who plays Casper, has here returned to his indie roots, and it’s easy to draw parallels between the crowd-pleasing art that Favreau produces in the form of those Hollywood blockbusters and the crowd-pleasing food “hits” Carl is pressured to produce in the restaurant in which he’s chef. When Casper exits his job at the famed L.A. restaurant in some heated circumstances, he eventually starts up a food truck. This intimate setting—not to mention his refreshed mindset—allows Carl to re-connect with his authentic creativity and craft, as well as with his son, who has borne the brunt of his father’s workaholism.

Taking time for connection and art

One review of the movie criticized it for being slow and essentially plotless, but I don’t agree at all. The movie relishes its storytelling, perfectly appropriate for a labor of love, and it was hands down one of the sweetest movies I’ve seen in awhile. Carl is incredibly respectful of his ex-wife and her say in any parenting matters, magnanimous in his well wishes for his colleagues (even where they’ve profited from his loss), generous with the people around him, and incredibly touching (albeit gruff) as an imperfect father who’s trying to get it right. There is a section of the movie that meanders a bit, but it allowed for some fun bonding as well as for spotlighting the role of Twitter and other forms of social media in generating word-of-mouth marketing. It was fun, like hanging out with friends over a long, delicious meal.

I walked out of the movie feeling happy and hungry—the latter despite its focus on meat (though I will advise to other non-animal eaters that I had to turn my head on an early scene). It was impossible not to admire the themes of integrity, attention to craft, following one’s heart, the importance of relationships, and, of course, the emotional depth with which food affects our life. As Carl says, “I get to touch people’s lives with what I do. I love it.”

Chef is a good reminder of the power of small. It’s also a great testament that “art”—however you define that—is everywhere, in anything. It’s the way you approach what you do that matters.

What do you think?

 

On the same note, albeit a different medium, be sure to check out this better blogger series profiling how some writers, such as Nina Badzin, have found their own voice.

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Ugly Duckling or Swan?

photo(20)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

-Marianne Williamson

 

And on that note…

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!
Diann_D

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Where Books+Body Meet: Interview with Novelist Jacqueline Sheehan

Novelist-Jacqueline-Sheehan

Inspired by “On the Lit Mat,” “Where Books+Body Meet” will take a look at writers’ habits—both in terms of when they sit down to create and in terms of how they restock their well of energy and creativity.

I’m thrilled to launch the first “Where Books+Body Meet” interview with Jacqueline Sheehan, a novelist and essayist who also teaches workshops on the combination of fiction and yoga.

Sheehan is also the author of one my favorite books, Lost and Found, the story of one woman’s struggle to heal from grief after her husband’s death. The book features an absolutely lovable dog whose animal wisdom and instinct is key to that healing. Sheehan is also the author of Picture This, the sequel to Lost and Found; Now & Then, which follows a woman in transition who goes back in time; and the historical novels Truth and The Comet’s Tale: A Novel About Sojourner Truth.

Sheehan lives in New England; you can read more about her on her website.

7 Questions with Jacqueline Sheehan

one

How many hours a week do you spend writing?

This is hugely variable. It could be anywhere from five to fifty hours. But I often work on multiple projects, so while I might not be writing directly on my next book, I might be working on an essay, or outlining a workshop that I’ll teach in Boston [Sheehan teaches writing workshops at Grub Street].

two

What’s your favorite time and place to write?

My most productive time is in the morning from about 9-12. About a year ago, I had a writing studio built on my house and I love it. My desk faces out to a deck and a large meadow below my property. I honestly think that it makes a difference to be able to rest your eyes on something beautiful when you look up from writing, and my view of the meadow works for me. I keep my binoculars on the desk, so that I can get a better look at the hawks, deer, and foxes as they wander through.

three

Where do you find inspiration when you aren’t feeling it?

I don’t always find inspiration, but I do sit down to work. Inspiration is the thing that happens when I wake from a dream that has to do with my book, or when I hear someone say the perfect word as I pass them on the sidewalk, but I don’t count on inspiration. I count on writing, word by word. I also read constantly, and I’m often inspired by other authors.

four

What one book—fiction or nonfiction—would you say most influenced your approach to writing?

I have re-read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, about five times. Every time that I read it, I think, This is a perfect book. The plot is riveting, characters strong, fresh dialogue (even now), and not a neatly tied up ending. Children are treated as complex characters.

Currently, I just read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and I’m in awe of what she was able to accomplish in this nonfiction tale. While grief is the plot that simmers below the surface, the rigors of the Pacific Crest Trail are the perfect metaphor.

five

Many people consider fiction writing to be an unhealthy, antisocial, depression-courting activity and/or profession. Thoughts?

There is a certain amount of sit-your-butt-in-the-chair that must happen with writing. But my experience with writers is anything but solitary. I am part of a strong and vibrant writing community. I meet weekly with the same group of writers every Wednesday night. I don’t ever schedule anything else for Wednesday nights. Never. I’ve written with them for ten years. My very best friends are writers and we support each other, cheer each other on, and yes, inspire each other.  In fact, I know these people better and more intimately than I know some of my family.

six

What rituals or activities do you consider your islands of peace (and possibly to balance the effects of writing)?

While I would love to get weekly massages, I have to settle for monthly massages. But wow, do I love massages.

I get a great deal of peace from nature, so I try to be outside part of every day and to really observe and be fully present when I’m in nature. On a perfect day, it goes like this: Coffee, newspaper, meditation for about 15 minutes, shower, writing. Then it is essential that I get out, take a walk for an hour or more or go to the YMCA where I work out with weights. I like to eat good food, so I usually make a big pot of soup on Sunday evenings, and it lasts for half the week.

seven

If you do any physical activities, how do they affect your work?

I can’t imagine how I would write without yoga and vigorous exercise. I need to be connected with my body so that I can stay connected with the physicality of my characters. Readers often tell me that they could really feel what my characters are going through and partly this is because I write very physically and I am able to do this because of my deep appreciation of the physical forms that we have.

For ten years, I worked with Patricia Lee Lewis who ran writing retreats internationally. Aside from running workshops about writing, I also taught yoga every morning. That is how we would all start our day in Scotland or Wales or Ireland for the week. This helps writers get to the places in our cellular memory that is such a rich source of writing.

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Murakami on Running and Writing

View from near the Charles River, where Murakami often ran while in Cambridge.

View from near the Charles River, where Murakami often ran while in Cambridge.

Some words on writing from Haruki Murakami‘s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

The whole process [of writing novels]—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling dynamic labor going on….

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day.

These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself?

I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different.

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On My (Reignited) Love Affair with Running

rainbow

For most of my life, I’ve been an active person. I frequented dance classes. I’ve slogged it to the gym (though that’s never my first choice). I spent a good chunk of time devoted to yoga, even going through a year-long teacher training class to deepen my study. But I think if I were ordered to choose just one method of exercise, it would have to be running.

I’ve had a very long love affair with running. As I said, there’s always been other things and right now my yoga bug is reigniting, but there’s something truly special about putting one foot in front of the other in rhythmic succession as your body cuts through the air and you move and the endorphins pump through your veins. There’s a freedom about it that’s intoxicating and I’m always happier afterward. There’s so much of the world you see that you wouldn’t see otherwise. Life as it looks at sunrise. The happiness of other runners out in the snow. The elation and pride as people cross the finish line of a challenging race.

And there’s so many places I hold dear because of running—I’ve ran on the bike path along the beach in Venice and Santa Monica, California; I’ve chugged it along the Minutemen Trail in Cambridge, Massachuetts, and out into Arlington and beyond; I’ve ran along the Charles River in Cambridge and Boston; I’ve run through downtown San Francisco and out to the Embacadero Promenade along the waterfront; I’ve gotten up at the crack of dawn for a 7-mile cruise along the Las Vegas Strip; I’ve gotten out for a quick lunch run through the streets of Boston; and gotten soaked running through Portland, Oregon.

Speaking of rain.

It was pouring today, and a little window of time opened up when it slowed. I quickly put on my running clothes and went outside, but sure enough the sky opened up and began dumping buckets. Frustrated, I went back inside, and began complaining to my boyfriend over gchat.

A confluence of factors, including some recurring injuries, have found me in my least in-shape status ever. As I became less active, things that would never have stopped me before—the cold (so what, go to the gym), I’m too busy (so make time), I don’t feel like it (I always felt like it!)—suddenly became “reasons” for not working out. Today, I truly had only enough time to run outside, the gym would’ve taken too long, so it was brave the elements or nothing. As I whined away, I suddenly thought of my sister, who is truly an awe-inspiring machine and who ran almost an entire marathon in the rain. It’s amazing how we all impact each other, how what we do can inspire the people around us. Another friend, who is more of a newbie, also ran an important-to-her race—a half marathon—all in the rain. She ran it with a friend who has since died of breast cancer (at the age of 30), and the memory of that rain-soaked run will be one she treasures. And then there was myself of not so long ago, who loved running in the rain because it always evoked the joy and freedom of being a kid. When else do you have a free pass to splash through puddles as an adult?

It dawned on me: I was not going to let Winter boss me around anymore—or any other “reasons” for that matter. I put my shoes and jacket back on, headed out in the rain, and did my run. And like something from The Secret, the rain slowed until right at the end when it gave me a good soak.

By then, of course, I was too happy to care.

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