Physically Tired, Mentally Wired: Exercise, Meditation, and Creativity

The Zen of Home Improvements ( and other things)

We had only six days until the new kitchen was due for delivery; we still had so much to finish. Nothing for it, though; after an intense and stressful week at work, I set the alarm on Saturday for 5 AM. After a coffee, I got on with it, and by the evening, everything was 95 per cent done.

The funny thing I noticed was that I hadn’t thought for a second about the stressful week or that the following week would be as or even worse. The physical effort took my mind to a restful and relaxing place. The day ended being physically tired but mentally recharged.

Disclosure. I use an AI assistant when writing. The assistant may suggest outlines, topics, or subtleties I had not thought of. The actual writing is all human me.

The image depicts a serene home improvement setting, capturing the essence of finding mental peace through physical activity in a home environment.
The Zen of Home Improvements Generated by DALL E 3

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A wonderful topic for an article, I thought to myself, and here it is. I didn’t start writing this straight away (I already had an almost completed article for last week). Instead, I waited to see what benefits this mental zen moment would have over the following week.

We’re now at the end of the week, and I’m ready to spill the beans. It worked brilliantly; my zen moment lasted several days into the week. Even the three-hour drive home (due to weather problems), which would typically take one hour, didn’t bother me. I relaxed and listened to an audiobook (Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks if interested).

Mental Regeneration

It wasn’t the first time I had experienced such a long-lasting zen moment; years ago, when I lived and worked in Scotland, I’d head to the mountains almost every weekend, every season. This always gave me a grounded sense of perspective, what matters and what doesn’t.

A quick search on the subject returned several hits, confirming (what we all knew already) that a good workout positively affects your mental well-being. We all have experienced these mentally regenerative moments ourselves, or at least, I hope you have. I won’t regurgitate the summaries of each link here; a quick overview is more than sufficient. They say that physical activity has a significant positive impact on mental health and that regular exercise has been linked to better mental health and emotional well-being, along with lower rates of mental illness.

Then, they go into specific types of exercise, such as aerobics and yoga. I wasn’t expecting to see kitchen renovation on their list, and I was right; not mentioned anywhere. In my experience, it doesn’t matter whether I’m going to fitness or some other form of exercise.

Any non-mental activity is regenerative for knowledge workers. As you concentrate on more simple physical tasks, the smarts take the chance to rest, reorganise, and be ready for the next round of stress and pressure. Puts a person in a good mood, too, mostly.

Breaking the Vicious Circle

How often do you find yourself running around in mental circles? You are stuck in a repeating cycle and seem to be getting no closer to your goal. Instead, you cover the same ground over and over again. It would be best if you had a mental reset. When this happens, the best thing to do is drop everything and take a break. Pick up some other task, preferably unrelated, and work on that for a while instead. Even better, take a walk.

Need a Eureka Moment? Take a Hike!

This is where I’m supposed to offer practical advice on integrating physical activity into a daily routine. Suggesting activities like taking a walk, doing a quick set of stretches, or engaging in a hobby that requires some physical exertion. In reality, it’s a lot simpler. Any non-mental activity helps, even if it’s something you detest, cleaning the house, washing the car, or working in the garden. Oddly, the more tired we are physically, the better it is for our poor over-cooked brains.

Writer Unblocked

Today is another example; from 8 AM until after lunch, I was busy helping my wife, a chef, prepare everything for a private dining appointment. While not physically as tiring as a workout, it still helped me mentally reset, ready to finish writing this newsletter.

I was a bit stuck with how to move my writing forward today. I had considered abandoning this post and starting over. Perhaps I should write whatever I felt like writing about; it occurred to me that is precisely what I’ve always done. Being constantly busy washing up, running errands to the store, helping to make the fresh curry paste, and a dozen other tasks set my mind free to wander.

Until today, I’ll admit that I’ve always been annoyed when my writing time is interrupted by having to help my chef wife. But I learned today that it can not only be fun, but it also gives my poor brain cells the break they need.

Physical activity doesn’t have to mean an intense workout or going for a run; less strenuous activities have exactly the same effect. When we are busy with our hands, the creative juices are having a party in our heads. Mostly, we are oblivious to the mental reset; it’s only when we eventually sit and relax that the benefits hit us.

My wife has another appointment next weekend, preparing and serving an extensive Asian buffet for over twenty people. She won’t have to ask me for help; I volunteer.

Final Thoughts

Going for a 10-mile run, hiking up the Alps, or a hundred other forms of exercise can keep your mental health in tip-top condition. But for us more sedentary people, it’s good to know that more straightforward activities also have the same effects. But without the pain. We all need a little physical exercise, within reason. There is no need to overdo it unless, of course, that is how you roll.

The new kitchen has been delivered; they will install it tomorrow. This time next week, we’ll finally be able to have a bit of a normal life again. It’s a first-world problem, though; at least we have a roof over our heads without somebody trying to bomb it.

See more articles, posts, and discussions about business, project management, human nature, Generative AI and Creative Writing on Medium here. If you have not already, subscribe to Medium. Or follow me here on Substack. The Substack newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. I would appreciate the support; you won’t regret it. 👍

I apologise to my readers for some of the spellings you may feel are incorrect. I was born and brought up in the United Kingdom, and this is the spelling I am comfortable with (Grammarly is happy with it anyway).