We know that there are times when we are just on our game, at our creative height and we can associate that with our physical condition. How can we recreate those conditions to be at our best more often?
Prof Baba Shiv of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business offers some really great direction.
In an article in Inc Magazine (Feb 2014 pp 86-87) Ryan Underwood writes: “According to Shiv, creativity resides at the intersection of two primary pathways in the brain. along one pathway, the neurotransmitter serotonin governs whether you are operating from a sense of calm and contentment or from a position of anxiety and fear. On the other pathway, dopamine moves you from boredom or apathy to excitement and engagement.” You want a high combination of serotonin and dopamine to be calm and energized at the same time.
Serotonin is the key and the article discusses a way to maximize the effect of this neurotransmitter which is a sense of well-being, satisfaction, seems to be in terms of initiating, creating. Shiv/Underwood points out that a calm, probably aesthetically pleasing environment, work space finding ways to reduce stress enhance the effects of serotonin. Other studies I’ve seen have discussed a pleasant ambient noise, like a coffee shop environment, pleasant music. They point out that “…two hours of deep, non-REM sleep at night enables the body to restore the proper levels of serotonin.”
“Serotonin levels tend to be highest in the morning, making it an optimal time to schedule brainstorming sessions.” I know I always seem to be at my best in the morning, if I really need to do my best I try to get on the task immediately and get as much as possible done in the morning. Shiv points out that a good breakfast helps to enhance the effect of the serotonin. That means put the donuts and the puffy carbs away and eat a breakfast higher in good proteins and carbs. My breakfast is boring as heck, but it’s two par-boiled eggs (and get over the cholesterol thing. The effect is no where as bad as has been suggested and eggs have elements that are necessary and not available in other foods. Boiling retains the health benefits and minimizes the effects of frying and cholesterol.) Also oatmeal with strawberries. All good energy food and Shiv adds: ‘”That’s the best brain food,” he says. “The proteins produced from it in the body are converted to the much-coveted serotonin and dopamine.”‘ And they both add, throw in the caffeine for extra effect.
“Cardiovascular exercise also enhances the neurological conditions for creative thinking by releasing a peptide that helps produce serotonin.” it helps to get up and get a little exercise before any effort. Forty minutes of vigorous exercise at least five days a week are recommended. I have been doing a vigorous workout every morning since my twenties (over thirty years). I have found on days when I didn’t do a workout, that I was very sluggish, everything seemed to be challenging and I was not very productive. You may think that tough physical activity might somehow wear you out, make you too tired to be productive, but it’s been my experience it enhances my entire physical well-being.
“Maintaining a variety of intellectual interests also keeps the creative juices flowing. Shiv says it’s important to talk to people in other disciplines and read widely outside your field to develop ‘knowledge nodes’ – bits of unrelated information that can come together to produce an unexpected solution.” I maintain a wide variety of interests, having had a professional career in corporate finance, in the Coast Guard, in Christian ministry. Add to these interests in physical fitness, science, travel, language, writing, I like to read extensively, talk with different people. As a Police Chaplain I get to interact extensively with various levels of police officers and people undergoing trauma, stress. In ministry I get to share with people over some of the biggest life events, marriage, birth, death. injury, loss etc. Some may seem more pleasant than others, but all of them present their own stressful challenges.
Ok, so a little digression, but the take away from all this is as follows: Good diet, eat right. Cut the nonsense with the big donuts, muffins etc. They don’t do you any good. Find some way to make a calming environment, not to put you to sleep, but to help build the up lifting effects of serotonin and the calming effects of dopamine. Dopamine is important because it keeps you in control, you can have a high level of energy and creativity, and you focus with a good dose of dopamine. Vigorous exercise also produces dopamine necessary to help you maintain your composure. Get your sleep and maintain a lot of interests. Yes, be expert at what you do, but maintain a broad perspective.
A good way to maintain that perspective, on top of everything else, is to maintain your life in Christ. Yea I know, “something else?”. I manage to fit it all in, get into the office and pretty much always put in a 50 plus hour work week and I will match a lot of the stress I deal with, have dealt with, with anyone out there. Remember what it is all ultimately about. What we do today is important, but in Jesus we have an eternal perspective, and we also have a here and now perspective. I’m sure Prof Shiv could have taken it a little further and added that when we have positive relationships with those around us, stay in prayer and connected to God the Father, that we are energized and guided by the Holy Spirit. Get up a little earlier, quit the stupid things that waste time, focus on the things that make you better. Put the lameo games away, the phone, the silly stuff; Take time in prayer, get some real exercise, get good nutrition, get good sleep, interact with people who will help you grow, broaden out your interests to help you grow and then watch the good things happen.
A side bar to the Inc article talks about how “Method” which makes cleaning products offers employees training in improv acting … “all in an effort to keep people weird, creative and humble.”‘ Hmmm, I’m thinking there’s a lot out there and we’re spending way too much time on silly stuff that not only doesn’t do anything for us, but actually can harm us. Start it all up with prayer and look for God’s guidance in all you do.
We meet Wednesday mornings 10 am, First St Johns, 140 W King St, York, Pa, take some time in the middle of the week to discuss your life in the workplace as a Christian. No charge, I even buy your first cup of coffee, no obligation.