Run Your Way to Creativity

Apr 11, 2023
Mylene Isler | High Performance Coach | Run Your Way to Creativity

Creativity opens the mind.

It allows us to express ourselves, enter a happy zone, have fun, develop innovative thinking and solve problems, tackle challenges more easily and come up with new ideas.

Now, I’m going to share a secret with you; gentle exercise outside is a great way to get into the flow and spark your creativity!

In fact, believe it or not, my best ideas always come while I’m running. More specifically, there’s a particular downhill section on the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn (see cover picture), which is on my regular running course. It’s a gentle downhill section, meaning I don’t need to focus too much on my stride, but it’s challenging enough that my body gets into an easy, steady flow where effort feels low, but speed is faster. And right there, on this particular bridge section, it’s almost always guaranteed that a new idea or a burst of confidence comes up. I often feel reinvigorated and unstoppable, ready to work on that new idea immediately!

I couldn’t explain why this happened until I listened to a podcast by Erik Korem about the “Optic Flow".


What Is Optic Flow?

Have you ever observed someone deep in thought pace back and forth? Or perhaps you’ve ever gone on a walk to clear your head? 

The relationship between walking and thinking was established a few years ago. Studies are clear; walking increases creative thinking by up to 60%! Steve Jobs himself was famous for his walking meetings!

Optic flow explains this powerful relationship. As you walk, run or perform any type of exercise including forward ambulation, your eyes make constant lateral movements. This allows them to update your brain about where you are in space.

That’s optic flow in action.

And as your eyes move to engage with the optic flow, the parts of your brain that process your response to threats relax, which, in turn, can positively affect your thought patterns. That’s because as you walk/run, optic flow creates visual stimulation, which reduces activity in the part of your brain responsible for fear and anxiety. This altered emotional state helps you be more focused and is more conducive to creativity as it prevents distraction and self-sabotaging from your brain.


How To Activate The Optic Flow?

Now that we’ve established the positive relationship between optic flow and creative thinking, how can you boost your optic flow?

As mentioned, gentle and moderate exercise is a powerful way to activate the optic flow. 

Here are some of the best exercises to spur creative thinking and innovation:

●      Running

●      Walking

●      Cycling

●      Swimming 

Now, walking, running, swimming, or cycling outside and during daylight hours is ideal as it combines light exposure and optic flow activation. During your walk or run in the forest or on the streets, objects will gradually appear bigger as you approach them, letting your brain know you’re getting closer. Similarly, as you swim in a lake, the bottom of the lake will recede underneath you, and the objects on the other side of the shore will appear larger as you get closer, relaxing your brain and allowing you to better focus on your thoughts. 

When you exercise outside, take the time to check in with your vision every now and then and deliberately promote awareness of the optic flow by noticing objects moving and sizes and shapes changing around you.


What Exercises Won’t Work To Active The Optic Flow?

Walking at night has been proven less effective for optic flow as your eyes can’t perceive your surroundings as well, and you only see objects that are close to you.

It's the forward motion of your body that boosts the optic flow. Therefore rowing on a rowing machine, riding a Peloton bike indoors, or running on a treadmill won’t activate your optic flow as your body won’t be performing the forward movement it needs to perform to boost the optic flow. When you exercise indoors, your eyes only take in the two-dimensional, and you’re not engaging your peripheral vision, which is critical to activating the optic flow. A sedentary lifestyle (including exercising in an indoor space) prevents your eyes from using their ability to focus or unfocus on objects as you move past them, which, in turn, prevents your brain from relaxing and impairs your creative potential.

So, while indoor fitness is great in many other aspects, it’s not the best type of exercise to fully connect and engage with your body, spur creative thinking, and spark innovation. 

That’s not to say you should never exercise indoors. Instead, the idea is to find a balance between indoor and outdoor exercise to help you get back into your body and spur your creativity!

Ready to activate your Optic Flow? Lace up – let’s meet outside!


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