Why Exercise Makes You a Better Researcher

My new year’s exercise goals are holding strong. It’s been unbroken since January 2. I’m thinking more clearly. Inspired, with fresh ideas. More than ever before. Why are flashes of insight and creativity so easy to come by so far this year?

I’m starting to layer this question with a book I recently read, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, where the author (Daniel Levitin) describes the two modes of the brain:

  • 1) The central executive brain – Central-decision making mode. The job of the central executive is to prevent you from being distracted when you’re engaged in a task, limiting what will enter your consciousness so that you can focus on what you’re doing uninterrupted.
  • 2) The wandering brain – Responsible for our great moments of creativity and insight. This is when your brain is not engaged in a purposeful task – no screens in view – when you’re sitting on a sandy beach or relaxing by a fire, and your mind wanders fluidly from topic to topic.

If you think about your typical flow of thought throughout any given day, these two modes will make sense. Both happen, and both are critical functions of the brain. But, only one function can happen at a time.

As I’ve pointed out before, I believe, and The Organized Mind agrees, our executive brain is on overload. And it has been for some time. A growing number cry for a chance to disconnect. Many know they need time and space to think, but they can’t find time – or, worse yet, they don’t make time.

Data and insights are at the heart of any creative idea whether it’s a new product, new market, or new marketing strategy. As marketers and researchers, we need to deliver data and insight but also inspire this creativity to happen for ourselves and our teams. To do this, it requires us to switch off our executive brain on occasion. Switch off our thinking about the tasks we need to do, the meeting we have next, etc. Switching off our screens for a period of time.

Exercise is a great way to do this. It’s a primal switch. The one that forces your brain to focus, heighten alertness, and yet let your wandering mind takeover.

Get out from behind your desk and move. You will thank yourself, and others will too when you deliver that next great idea.

Will Krieger