Last summer, I made a decision to get in better shape through a phenomenal program called P90X (you can read about my results here). With a new found focus on fitness, I chose to do something a little different this summer. I wanted to challenge myself with something I’ve always resisted doing – I took up running.
If you know anything about me, you might know that I don’t like running and I don’t like to run…even if I’m being chased.
At the beginning of this challenge, I thought the benefit would be increased cardiovascular health and better endurance. And that’s definitely a benefit. But I soon discovered there was a mental side to running. The time I was spending on the road was having a direct impact on the work I was doing in front of my laptop. It was helping me to become a better writer.
The other day I tweeted that running had helped me become a better writer. A few people responded to that tweet with a simple question: “How?”
Here’s what I’ve discovered:
1. Running clears my mind so I can write clearer thoughts.
During my initial days of running, I would always be thinking about how my body was responding physically. This is because some part of me always hurt. My legs ached, I short of breath, and I was tempted to stop with each step. But after a week or so, I began to notice that my mind would begin to wander. There were moments where I would catch myself thinking about other parts of my day or tasks I needed to do. It would suddenly occur to me that I had run for a couple of minutes without even thinking about how I felt. I started to call this “my happy place” in my mind. It was like putting my running on auto-pilot and then focusing my thoughts on something else.
Part way through the summer, I began to get intentional with this. I would look at the next page, section, or chapter I needed to write before I hit the running trail. Then during my run, I would start to put the thoughts and ideas together. I soon discovered I felt more creative while running then I did simply sitting behind the keyboard. I was able to focus. I didn’t have all of the distractions that typically try and steal my attention. I actually felt like my brain was functioning at a higher level.
2. Running made me write more.
Now, when I’m done running, I rush to my computer or moleskine notebook and try and capture everything I just worked through in my mind. I became a “sweaty typist.” I didn’t want to lose the ideas that surfaced out on the road. Some have suggested that I run with a recording device and dictate my ideas into it while I run. The only problem with that is I’m trying to BREATHE as I pound the pavement. I don’t know if I’d be able to understand my short sentences through all my panting and wheezing. 🙂
I’ve always heard that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Whenever I’m done with a run, I always have something to write. Running gets my mind thinking about what I am going to write and I can “hit the ground running (couldn’t resist!)” when I get to my laptop.
3. The discipline of running fuels the discipline of writing.
I’m a firm believer that building discipline in one area of life creates momentum for discipline in other areas. There are days I don’t feel like running. There are days I don’t feel like writing. But I’m finding I’m a better writer if I run…and I’m a better runner if I have something I need to write. They aren’t mutually exclusive events.
Another way they’re connected is the way each activity makes me feel. I feel better about myself if I run (not to mention healthier). I feel better about myself when I buckle down and write. Both activities produce confidence in me. That confidence and positive feeling fuels the desire to keep doing more things that will build confidence and produce positive feelings.
I’m sure there is some great science behind all of this. I hope I’m simply learning to live in more holistic and healthy ways. The end result is I feel more productive, creative, and effective in what I’m trying to accomplish each day. I started running because I believe that exercise is important. I keep running because I found out how much it is benefiting other areas of my life as well.
Tell me this: If you’re a runner, what are the benefits you’ve discovered beyond improving your health?