How Activity Inspires Innovation

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When I first developed the concept for Hackfit, there were many who thought I was naive. And if not naive, maybe insane. “You’re going to take engineers and ask them to do WHAT? Yoga? Rock Climbing?CrossFit!? That’s never going to happen.” innovation and exercise: these characteristics combine together like oil and vinegar, right?


I’m an interesting hybrid of attributes myself – an athlete and a huge nerd. I’m at my best, both physically and mentally, when I am active, engaged, and stimulated. This doesn’t just apply to me. Most people have their Eureka moments, not while stagnant, but instead during incredible conversations, adventures, and physical challenges.

Hackfit is built on the ethos and understanding that technology development and a healthy lifestyle do not have to be mutually exclusive. Last year, we hosted our first Hackfit Startup Competition here in Boston with Constant Contact as one of our major sponsors. Our goal was to unite coders, students, and athletes to develop fitness and health related hacks, interspersing work with play by participating in exercise classes such as rock climbing, yoga, CrossFit, martial arts, running and more – healthy food included. Not only do Hackfitters live a healthy lifestyle, they make the world a healthier place as well.

What was the result? We sold out with over 165 Hackfitters in attendance and even had a Constant Contact engineer, Jason Weden join the ruckus. In just one weekend, each Hackfitter (on average) walked/ran 50 minutes, biked 30 minutes, did yoga/meditation for 47 minutes, and participated in heavy exercise (rock climbing, CrossFit, weight training) for 48 minutes. That’s a total of 2.9 hours of activity IN ONE WEEKEND! And so you might think, “how does anyone get work done?”

Well, we also discovered an overwhelmingly positive correlation between each team’s activity level, and their final project score (teams were scored on tech, business model, and WOW factor). The teams with the highest activity levels, had the most creative ideas and hacks. This result is not surprising.

Physical activity, particularly aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, and swimming, has many cognitive benefits and effects on the brain. This includes increased neurotransmitter levels, improved oxygen and nutrient delivery, and increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus (crucial for learning and memory storage).

There are a number of ways in which exercise also reduces levels of stress. Exercise produces feelings of happiness through the production of endorphins while also improving stress resiliency (people who exercise more are more likely to have less of a stress reaction to adverse situations).

At Hackfit Boston, we found the overall stress levels of our participants to be low, which is extremely uncommon for typical hackathons. Tylor Hess, one Hackfitter commented, “when you get frustrated with your work, you can go climb and then come back to [your work] after you’ve cleared your head, this is super helpful.” Another participant, Joey Orlando said, “I biked to the rock gym, did CrossFit, and then worked on my demo presentation. I felt so productive and exercise helped a lot.”

Some of you might be thinking, “I could never do something like this. I’m out of shape. Too old.” Wrong again. There were Hackfitters who had previously never run a mile in their life, complete a 3.8 mile run along the Charles River. It’s all about adopting a mentality where work, play, and activity are one-in-the-same. You are capable of more than you could imagine.

In innovation intensive environments, physical activity and exercise is absolutely critical for the success, sustainability, and wellbeing (both physically and mentally) of individuals. We hear very often about the long-term benefits of living a healthy lifestyle, but very rarely do we hear about the acute effects on productivity and creativity. At Hackfit Boston, we proved that activity truly inspires innovation.

The Value in a Personal Mission Statement

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A good friend of mine and fellow adventurer & entrepreneur recommended that I write a personal mission statement. I’ve only ever seen mission statements used by businesses in the past, so initially I wasn’t sure how this would be applicable to myself. But as I started to brainstorm ideas, thought about places I wanted to go, obstacles I wanted to conquer, I realized that this was a real and valuable way to hold myself accountable to these goals and dreams.

At first the process of writing this was relatively daunting. How and What was I supposed to put here? Then I decided to just start talking out loud and think nothing of form, grammar, or sense. I generally do my best brainstorming out loud, and if you are by yourself, sometimes this can feel a bit strange. SO do it when you are in your car driving to work…because after all, what the hell else do you have to do during your commute? In my case, I set my iPhone to record, and just started talking…Here is the transcript of that:

I will build an epic community/organization where fun is no different than work. Wherein work is no different than what I thoroughly enjoy. Where work is not a task but rather an enjoyable activity.

I will live in an environment that is conducive to my personal mental wellbeing and where it is enjoyable to meet active professionals and non-professionals alike who inspire and motivate me to become better than I could possibly be on my own.

I will build an epic organization with a culture that fosters continual innovation that creates a profound change in the world wherein work is enjoyable. Where everybody feels as if work is enjoyable and gratifying and motivating.

I will live in an environment that is conducive to my health. To not network but to build lasting and beneficial relationships with those that inspire me and share my passion. An environment that is sunny bright and warm. Mentally and emotionally warm.

As a person who is inspired and motivated by building. I will build an organization and culture that is considered by all to be epic. I will no longer consider work to be any different than what I thoroughly enjoy and I will live in an environment that inspires me and allows me to connect with people that motivate and inspire me and create lasting and positive change in my life.

After I recorded this stream of consciousness, I found that there were some definite keywords, and some definite redundancies. So that’s where I began. After a bit of organization and cutting out of excess fat, I ended up with my final product:

I am a builder of ideas, resources, people, and organizations. I impart lasting and beneficial change upon myself and millions of others by doing what I love. I exude positive energy. My playground inspires me and contains friends and family who empower me to crush it.

Notice how I used NO future tense here. If you indicate that you WILL impart lasting change or you HOPE to exude positive energy, it leaves room for you to simply put it off until the future…ie, you’ll never do it. So make sure to use present tense. I also used verbiage that has personal meaning and impact to ME. Some people might look at my last sentence and think, “crush it? that sounds negative/weird.” But to me, when I imagine “crushing it”, I think of conquering the world. Slaying giants. Saving damsels in distress. So on and so forth. So use words that build your confidence and help you imagine the best YOU, you can imagine. If you need help with this, check out my post on how to talk like a badass motherFu*$er (without using obscene language).

Once I finished my personal mission statement, I thought it only right that I take this from simple black Times New Roman font in Microsoft Word and convert it into something visually EPIC. For those curious as to how you can do this yourself, I designed this in GIMP which is free software you can download online. Take a few hours and go through some free tutorials on Youtube and you’ll be ready to design your very own masterpieces in no time!