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  • Writer's pictureAlistair Ross

Go swimming for ideas.

I'm often asked the question 'Where do you get your creative ideas?'. In marketing and advertising, the best ideas always come out of the problem. But I've noticed over the years that my most lateral LogicLogicMagic® thoughts come from loading problems into the subconscious mind, then engaging in a banal activity. Sweeping leaves, painting a wall or over the past six or seven years, swimming. During said activity, or just after, thoughts that are novel, useful and potentially influential seem to appear unprompted or uninspired by the particular activity. By removing creative stimulation and replacing it with a repetitive, mundane task, it appears to prompt the brain into creating its own entertainment and out of that flows creativity. It's the opposite of a forced group boardroom brainstorm. I can only speak from personal experience, but it's magic that works for me.

The logic and science seem to back it up. Repetitive low skill activities cause little drain on the frontal lobes of the brain that deal with decision making. This allows the medial prefrontal cortex area, which is responsible for associations, context, events and emotional responses to become much more active and deliver those creative ideas. Neuroscientists also believe that the release of endorphins and dopamine (if the banal activity involves what classes as exercise) stimulate the brain further. Swimming adds one further positive element, which comes from what is known as the diving reflex. Submerging our faces in warm water creates a physiological effect that slows the heart and lowers stress and cortisol levels. This is known to aid relaxed, creative thinking. So, if you swim without getting your face wet, you're missing out on this benefit, and likely to give yourself neck and upper back issues quickly too,

Swimming at a manageable pace and distance for each individual (I tend to do 1500m/35mins daily before work) creates a unique environment where three known factors that aid creativity overlap - repetitive, mundane activity + dopamine release + cortisol reduction = a great environment to let the creative mind swim free.

Swimming was something I fell into, as rehabilitation following surgery to relieve a prolapsed disk. But the creative benefits have equalled those to my core muscle groups, and so it's become part of a daily early morning routine. Let's be clear, I don't see myself as a swimmer. I have no ambitions to don the neoprene and join the middle age tribe of triathletes. I'm just a person in a pool, realising that a little forced adversity in the right environment - which is how I see swimming - seems to aid the creative process. An underwater mp3 player doesn't seem to inhibit the creative flow, and provides the necessary motivation on the days you feel more driftwood than dynamo. Pick your playlists wisely though.

I'm conscious that this could be a self-defeating post if swimming pools fill up and become a creative chowder of people seeking inspiration. But I'm also aware that you'll need to hear these claims and insights from seven or eight sources, across four or five different media channels before you think about acting on it too. Such is the way that our brains are wired. All I can say is, it works for me.

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