Midweek Motivator! The Overload Principle

image courtesy of google images
image courtesy of google images

The best job I ever had was working at a gym. I got paid–to work out. But it was more than that. I got paid to associate with healthy, motivated, people who were confidant enough to show up without their makeup on, and perspire so hard that embarrassing places on the body had saturated rings of discoloration.

I liked to tell my family about my job, and like a true exaggeratrian (we call ourselves writers) I would bulk up my stories with so much detail they could bench press the word impressive. I even told my husband once, that I was like an exercise terrorist, and then demonstrated (with him as my pupil) how I could “trick his body” into doing more reps. (If I remember right, that was the same episode he pulled a neck muscle and was not very happy with me.)

Granted, the reality of the situation was that I was no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and if you were to come to my class you would have been shocked to find that the median age in my classes was over sixty. (Sixty, but in amazingly good shape!)

Regardless of age the principle of exercise does not change much. You can exercise to maintain weight or muscle tone, or you can exercise to increase strength and stamina. In both cases the Overload Principle applies:

The principle of overload states that a greater than normal stress or load on the body is required for training adaptation to take place. The body will adapt to this stimulus. Once the body has adapted then a different stimulus is required to continue the change. In order for a muscle (including the heart) to increase strength, it must be gradually stressed by working against a load greater than it is used to. To increase endurance, muscles must work for a longer period of time than they are used to. If this stress is removed or decreased there will be a decrease in that particular component of fitness. A normal amount of exercise will maintain the current fitness level. (Overload Principle)

It came to my attention this week, that this principle is applicable in more than just a physical sense. You may have heard of exercising your faith, or your patience, or even your self restraint. But these are all slightly vague in the application. Without ten pound weights, how do you know you are really exercising said virtue?

These thoughts crossed my mind as I was meditating about how to have an INCREASE IN CREATIVITY, and as vague as the aforementioned virtues I came to the conclusion that I needed to exercise my creativity. But how?

Perhaps we could apply the overload principle. I referenced my notes from college. A professor had taught us a quick way to remember the basics tenets of this method. (Think: “it makes a DIF how you work if you Mmmwant the results!”)

Duration: How long an exercise is performed.

Intensity: How hard you are working. This could be varied using heavier/lighter weights, or changing the speed of your movement.

Frequency: How often the exercise is performed.

Mode: The way you exercise. For example, crunches vs. sit-ups.

Now let us refer back to our creativity. I mentioned “Creativity” without giving specific examples because I don’t want you to think of just one place in your life where your craft or skill requires creativity. I want you to think of creativity in all aspects of your life.

Remember, the principle is that we have to overload, which means what we are doing to maintain our current stamina will not be enough to propel us forward into a more flexible, strong, creative mind. You are going to have to do something out of the ordinary.

Duration: How much time are you allowing for creative endeavors? Do you value that time?

Intensity: How big are the challenges that you set before yourself? Do you set goals that you know you can easily accomplish? Do you avoid goal setting altogether, or just fail to write them down? Do you let yourself dream really big?

Frequency: How often do you challenge yourself creatively? Do you stay well within your comfort zone? Do you even see a purpose venturing out of it? Why? What are you missing out on, because of your comfort zone?

Mode: Do you always use the same methods to spark creativity? Are you open to trying new things? Are you willing to try things you aren’t good at?

Probably the biggest question is: “Are you comfortable where you are at, or would you really really like to grow?”

If the answer is yes, you probably have a specific place, artistically, in your mind that you would like to become better at. GREAT. Keep that in mind, but don’t let that goal take all your focus. Increasing creativity in any manner will help you towards your ultimate goal.

Knowing what we know about the overload principle, the question remains, what will YOU do, to help challenge yourself? Do you need to increase the frequency that you put yourself out of your comfort zone? Do you need more intensive challenges? Do you need to change the mode of your creative stimulus? (May I suggest you forget for a moment about photography and try Salsa Dancing. Salsa eating will also work, but unless you make the salsa it really isn’t a creative experience.)

I’ve mentioned this before, but I am reading, “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron. This book was recommended to me by one of Brooke’s awesome photography students. (So hey, this is a shout out! Where ever you are…great recommendation!) I would recommend this book to anyone, whether they see themselves as an artist, or not. One of the many things that I love about her book is that she does give a lot of ideas for challenging yourself creatively. She gives many awesome ideas that will all help you with the overload principle.

I have also been following photographer,  Me Ra Koh (who, not surprisingly, is also a fan of “The Artist Way” and often references it). Me Ra just held a competition for a photography scholarship called Soar! As a result of the scholarship she has invited people to participate and grow together online, by offering creativity assignments to help people grow as artists. I love this! I love that she is inspiring photographers to see themselves as artists. I also love her challenge for this week.

I took her challenge personally, with the overload principle in mind. She asked that her three scholarship winners, along with anyone who would like to participate (Ummmm…me…hopefully you!) to 1. Take a self portrait of themselves. 2. Take a picture of something that represents you right now.

This is the kind of exercise I was invited to do all the time as a modern dancer in college, and I have to admit that I always enjoyed the process, but really dreaded sharing it. I knew that this would be self revealing, but I wasn’t ready to reveal that to others. However, I want to extend that invitation here, because I really believe that vulnerability and sincerity are the lifeblood of art. Just like the exercise of a muscle, exercising creativity requires endurance and often results in a wee bit of soreness. (Or a lot of soreness if you have the exercise terrorist as an instructor!) Yet, overloading your creative muscle really is the only way to make it grow.

I hope you challenge yourself this week. I really hope that people try this particular challenge. If you do, please post a link in the comments with your results. I will be posting mine later in the week.

To give you some inspiration, here are the results of the three winners of Soar!:




biophotoLindsey Maughan is a mango enthusiast with a degree in modern and ballroom dance from BYU. She believes that when you read books you should take notes in the margins, that sandwiches taste better when cut on the diagonal, and that most mundane tasks can be improved upon with the right background music.

She lives with her tall, dark, and logical husband, and her almond eyed, airplane loving daughter in Hawaii. In April of this year they will welcome a second child, a boy, into the family. Both parents hope he will grow to love hiking, vacuuming, and Indian food.

Lindsey loves her jogging stroller, her ipod, good books, her journal, music, writing, dancing, cooking, yoga, and going on dates with her husband.

3 Responses

  1. Your post made me realize how flabby and underdeveloped and in a rut my thinking and aspiring has become. Thanks for the motivation to wake up!

  2. Lindsey- I love this post- it really spoke to me. I did my SOAR! portrait exercise in two blog posts so that I could hear responses from people before I explained what I was trying to do, just like they do at the workshop. It was a very powerful experience and I recommend it for everyone!



    I’m looking forward to seeing your self portraits!

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