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BY IRENE ENTILA
Cottonwood trees on the side of the Bosque Trail zoom by as I ride my bike along it. It’s just me, my bike, and my thoughts. The only sounds to be heard are the wind rustling through the leaves, a repetitive squeak coming from the bike, and the occasional “leeeeeeeeft” as I pass pedestrians and other cyclists.
Things are coming together in my mind, and those thoughts are about the research I’ve done about the correlations between “not-giving-a-f%@#” and quality writing (meaning how does giving too many f%@#s serve as a barrier towards creative energy when it comes to writing). While on this bike ride, I was able to visualize a web about this research. By that time, my Endomodo app recited that I was at the 10-mile mark which is the perfect point to pull into a coffee shop and start writing. I sat at Java Joe’s with my journal, a cup of coffee, and biscotti ready to draw out the web I visualized along with a page explanation of the diagram.
Happy, satisfied, and accomplished, I sipped my coffee and looked out of the window for a mental break of people-watching.
The purpose of sharing this story is to show that biking can be a tool to use when there are oodles of thoughts to organize. I found that being a writer whose mind is always going at 150 mph frustrating, especially when there are a gazillion awesome thoughts running around in my mind like a daycare full of children hopped up on too much birthday cake. For the longest time in my writing career, I hadn’t pinpointed what works for me. A quiet room with something tactile to use, such as a stress ball, is not for me. What works is constant movement. Unless I have one of those fancy bicycle desks, taking bike breaks works for a few reasons.
Biking (or any type of intense cardio) produces three compounds in the brain that are essential to anti-anxiety, attention and concentration. Those are endorphins, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Endorphins are the “feel-good” chemicals (also known as our bodies’ natural opiate and anxiety reducer). Dopamine and norepinephrine are responsible for attention and concentration (think of an alternate Ritalin).
So, what does all of this have to do with writing? Well, if you are the type who gets overly anxious about approaching deadlines and/or wanders off to “mindless internetting time” during productive hours (like me), then this means a whole lot. On the days I don’t take a bike break (or any kind of exercise break), my mind feels like a drunken one man band stumbling everywhere and bouncing from one incoherent song to another making a bunch of racket with the instruments that don’t make sense.
After biking, the anxiety turns into the productive type of stress, and I am able to focus on the task at hand for more than 30 minutes—versus the alternative 5-10 minutes.
To me, biking has served as a space to imagine the process of organizing and categorizing thoughts, which is an essential stage to the writing process while burning energy at the same time. This is because the rhythm or cadence of biking relaxes the mind like meditation. Then, the floodgates of effective problem solving opens. I am able to think of a solution to a problem, or how to write that pesky paragraph. When it comes to organizing thoughts, all of the thoughts are trying to squeeze through the same door before biking. During or after biking, thoughts come through the door one-by-one in a single file line which makes them easier to categorize in the proper main idea.
There you go folks. If you are a writer and have the energy of an Australian Cattle Dog or Jack Russell Terrier, I would suggest incorporating exercise breaks in your writing routine. It doesn’t have to be biking. It could be running, walking, dancing in your living room, etc.
One more note: Keep in mind that there are safety precautions. Exercise is best done on a multipurpose fitness trail where there is no motorized vehicle traffic. Also, it is best not to listen to music—or keep the volume relatively low.