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Why being creative means being healthy

Last week, I was on a plane home from Israel and feeling restless. I couldn’t concentrate on my book and Taylor Swift looped uncontrollably in my head. Generally, the main culprit for restlessness on a 12-hour flight is continuous sitting, but I lucked out with an aisle seat and no one in the middle. I think the restlessness went deeper than my seat.

I’ve written many times about my routine, which includes meditating, journaling, reading, and exercising. The main reason I felt antsy, I realized, is that I barely touched my routine during my ten-day trip, the longest such stretch in well over a year.

Later that night, I arrived in New York to make the final preparations for my show the next day. All evening, I was cranky and nervous about the upcoming performance.

Then, something magical happened. I got ten hours of sleep and woke up completely refreshed, ready for the show.

Now, of course, getting sleep was helpful–I had been awake for twenty-four hours. But even though we know this simple fact, it’s easy to forget how interconnected health and creativity are.

The problem is that we tend to think of creativity as something that happens in the mind, but is equally a function of the body.

Chase Jarvis, a sports photographer, explains that there is a false notion that great work is born exclusively from struggle and hardship, or that the purest art comes from being drunk or on drugs.

However, while struggle can unquestionably influence the content of your art, it should not be the way you make it. More specifically, communicating struggle is vulnerable and vulnerability forges a connection with your audience. But effectively communicating that struggle requires a clear head and a healthy body. If you’re exhausted and hurting, those feelings will overwhelm the work you’re trying to create.

For example, Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of Wilco, talks about treating his body improperly at length in his autobiography. Tweedy explains that while he did make music as a drug addict, it wasn’t even close to his best work, and he came dangerously close to losing important relationships before he got clean.

While the abuse of hard drugs is obviously bad for you, and relatively uncommon, almost all of us (college and high school students especially) treat our bodies improperly in a more mundane way: we sleep too little. Sleep scientist Dr. Matthew Walker details how much worse we become on minimal sleep–even six hours compared to eight. We become worse drivers and students, have worse mental health, and even look uglier.

Furthermore, one way to improve our sleep, health, and creativity is through exercise, due to the fundamental connection between mind and body. Quite simply, exercise leads to better sleep which leads to better exercise in a massive positive feedback loop. And if exercise helps you sleep, and sleep helps creativity, then taking time to consistently exercise means that your mind will be primed for greater creative output.

By now, I hope you agree that in order to be our most creative selves, we must invest in our health. But you also might be wondering–isn’t making art supposed to be hard? Isn’t struggle part of the process? Yes, it is.

Making great art is frequently the product of pushing through when others would typically stop. I’ve written about finding time when it seems impossible, about reconfiguring my priorities so that I can invest in magic and personal growth, and holding myself accountable by finding stillness when all I want to do is give up.

It is accurate, in my opinion, to say that making art is struggle. Therefore, we must clarify: We aren’t trying to avoid struggle. Muscles need to tear to grow. The point is to put yourself in a good physical and mental space so that the struggle is healthy, like a controlled burn.

Another added benefit of exercise is that learning to struggle through a workout unquestionably gives you more longevity when you’re struggling through a project, and vice versa.

Finally, it’s not just that health leads to better art. The entire field of art therapy, for example, suggests that making art leads to better health. Likewise, I use magic as an outlet to communicate what’s on my mind. I wrote an entire show about the process of leaving college for the real world because I was upset about the way we talked about it. Performing is an outlet for me to take normally scattered thoughts and communicate them in a concise and entertaining way.

Of course, health is not a destination that you reach but a continuously evolving process of ups and downs. Any artist must unquestionably spend time on their craft. But when I’m in a creative rut, it’s comforting to know that I can contribute to my art by taking a break, getting sleep, or going on a run.


Looking to see a show this summer? You’ve got four chances to see "Professional" Magicians in Denver. Check them out below:


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