Over the years, I’ve read various articles on the benefits of running (i.e. health) and writing (i.e. clearer thinking) but never paid too much attention to either one. However, now that I’m on my 4th year of distance running and just completed my third marathon (which is 26.2 miles – I get asked that a lot) I have noticed an additional benefit from running. And while I’ve only been writing regularly for a few months, I’m also seeing a positive impact there too. What’s the benefit and impact? Well there are two – 1) better problem-solving and 2) deeper thinking. Even though I’ve found these two benefits to be more focused on my entrepreneurial journey, they have also helped me with personal/family activities too.
Since my writing has been relatively recent compared to my running, I’m seeing the two of these activities are complementary and actually increase my problem-solving and thinking effectiveness. I believe this because while I’ve found running definitely helps me with problem-solving and deeper thinking, the thoughts or ideas aren’t “tangible”. When I started writing, those ideas and thoughts became tangible, had much better clarity and were more “complete”. I should note that writing includes both hand-writing out ideas as well as typing them on a computer. I find hand-writing is more effective for me when working on a business issue. Hand-writing tends to be a little slower for me because I can type faster than hand-write and I also find it focuses my thinking a bit more. I can’t just “undo” or “delete” words when hand-writing so I need to be more thoughtful before putting ink on paper.
Better Problem Solving
When I first started running, I used to listen to music to help motivate me and past the time. But once I started running marathons, I learned listening to music is discouraged for safety reasons. So I started running without music and quickly noticed a difference; I became more self-aware and appreciated my surroundings. There were less distractions. After running a certain number of miles, my thoughts start to “broaden” but also become “focused”. By this I mean I will think of a lot of different (broad) topics (mostly business related) and then get focused in on one business challenge I’m currently facing. Either because of the “rush” of so many thoughts or the influence of the environment I’m running in or a combination of the two, I find I’m able to generate a lot of different solutions to a problem. Then I start to refine those solutions and narrow them down to one.
After running, I’ll take the solution and write it down in more detail. This helps solidify my thoughts into concrete actions. Writing it down forces me to think thru how the solution will get implemented. Even writing blog posts helps me clarify concepts so I can more effectively communicate them.
When I write, I find I need to think deeper and in advance of putting words down to make sure the idea(s) I want to convey make sense and are complete. If I just leave my ideas as a simple thought, they tend to be a little “fuzzy” and not “sharp” because they’re still just my thoughts. Writing them out forces me to think deeper and with better clarity so my content makes sense and is useful. If I’m writing a blog, deeper thinking help me try to have the perspective of the reader which allows me to write with an audience in mind. I’ll admit this is an area I’m still developing. Thinking thru ideas and writing them to effectively convey a message readers will get value out of takes a lot of practice.
While I’m out running, I find I can spend more time focusing on an idea and brainstorm on a lot of “what if” scenarios. Being away from my office environment provides some mental freedom to “go deep” or “go broad” as needed to think thru whatever business challenge I’m currently facing. As a sidenote, even though I’m talking about my experiences with deeper thinking from running, I believe taking long walks are also an effective way to achieve similar benefits. However, I think the duration is probably one of the biggest factors, i.e. running or walking for 5-10 minutes will not enable you to achieve the same benefit as 30+ minutes will.
For my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve found the combination of distance running and writing have really helped me work thru some tough business challenges. I actually think the two of them together are a competitive advantage because they provide me two different ways to attack problems in very different ways. And because they are complementary, I can combine the two activities into a very powerful system to help me achieve business objectives. As an added bonus, as I run or write, I also find I come up with new ideas.