Creative Cross-Training: The Secret of High-Performers


Runners can only improve so much by only running. 

A runner gets faster, stronger, and more efficient by swimming, doing yoga, biking, or even some aerial gymnastics.

The fancy word for this is cross-training. 

Hockey players improve with gymnastics, strength training, or baseball. 

Same goes for your craft. 

Like most kids, you would have called me creative. Growing up, you’d probably find me with a sketchpad, drawing my cat, coloring life-sized murals on my childhood walls (true story), AND I had my parents’ permission—how cool is that?

If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was 10 years old, I would have told you that my biggest wish was to become a rich and famous fashion designer and live in Paris. I had oodles of notebooks overflowing with designs. Some were radical—things most people wouldn’t wear, and some were slight improvements on the clothes I was already wearing. You know, a high-fashion Kmart-shopping 10-year-old. 

Slowly, over the years, the dream of ruling the fashion world faded away, and I told myself a story: 

“Fashion school is too hard to get into, besides I don’t have the money or know how to sew.”

“I don’t have any fashion sense.”

I didn’t bother pursuing a creative career. Instead, I got a marketing degree and did what any reasonable 22-year-old does—I took the first job I could. I landed a great job in consulting, which had nothing to do with marketing, said yes to everything, pulled up my Spanx, and climbed the corporate ladder. 

And damn was I good at climbing the corporate ladder. As a management consultant, and then in corporate communications, the word “creative” wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Creativity didn’t belong in my professional world—that was for other people. I wore Spanx—I was fancy. 

A decade later, something shifted.

I got the inkling to pick up a paintbrush again thanks to paint nights popping up all over town—fun with friends, wine, and I get to take home a souvenir from my evening out? Sign me up. 

My first remix back at the canvas was the Chicago skyline (where we lived at the time.) Even though my husband looked at my work of art as I strutted through the door and said, “I hope you don’t plan on hanging that in here.” 

I wasn’t even mad. And I didn’t care. I was so thrilled I hung it up anyway. 

Something sparked in me, and I was hooked. I bought supplies and started painting at home. 

Now, my home is filled with my own artwork. And I made so many pieces before our last move from Illinois to New Jersey that I got to leave some with friends as parting gifts.

On Monday after those early paint nights, combined with returning to work after two maternity leaves and feeling a little empty inside, I felt stifled in my 10-shades-of-gray office. I started taking risks and bringing my creative side to work and my colleagues noticed. They’d say stuff like, “Something’s different with you, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.” 

The difference was that I was quietly building my creative habits.

It was this creative cross-training that made me better at my work.

I’ve since quit the corporate stationary bike in favor of writing full time. Now, I get to use my creativity every day. Creating on-demand though, can be mentally draining. Over the years, I’ve found some ways to help creative business owners like myself build daily routines that will serve my creative life and make the most of my talent.

Painting, dancing (tho not very pretty), lettering, drawing, sketching, decorating, crafting...

This all makes me a better writer.

We can’t do the same thing over and over and expect extraordinary results. 

Creative cross-training is my latest obsession. Stretching my creativity by trying new artistic mediums and adventures keeps me ready to create. 

Artists could learn an instrument, musicians, try writing poetry, jewelry makers could play with acrylic paint.

I first had this spark of inspiration to write this article when applying cross training to sports. 

I derive tons of insight, inspiration, and lessons from athletes. For example, my son plays hockey, as a goalie. If he were to only to tend the net in hockey, his body would get used to those movements. Which is great—muscle memory is fantastic and helps him be awesome out on the ice. 

And he needs to move his body in other ways, too. For him, that means off-ice training, agility, flexibility, running, soccer, playing basketball. It all helps him become faster, stronger, and better. 

The same is true for any sport. If you do the same repetitive motion with your body, it could result in injury. As a writer, I'm probably not going to pull any muscles or break a leg, but thinking about my brain after writing, writing, and more writing—it’s going to need something different.

I'm really in the flow I get lost in it. I have no idea what time it is or how long I've been at it. And yet if I only looked at creative expression through writing, I’d be missing opportunities to unlock the potential in so many other areas—all ways to enhance my writing skills. 

Author Julia Cameron talks about this in the Artist’s Way. She talks about going on artist dates—intentionally getting out and doing something, usually alone, that feeds your creative soul and provides inspiration. 

How can you apply creative cross-training to your business?

First, consider your primary area of focus in your business. Are you a photographer, coach, jewelry maker, marketing expert, author, yoga teacher? Look at the skills you have today and consider all the knowledge you have to make you good at your work today.

Then, consider the seemingly unrelated creative activities that will also make you better. The benefits will likely present themselves later. In the moment, you might feel inspired and even lose track of time. You could find that flow that has you feeling like you could do this thing all day.

Need some creative cross-training inspiration? Here’s a marathon’s worth of ideas. 26.2 creative cross training ideas to be exact.

  1. Acrylic painting

  2. Pottery painting

  3. Sketching

  4. Charcoal drawing

  5. Grown-up (and kids one’s too!) coloring books

  6. Playing an instrument—piano, guitar, trombone

  7. Candle making

  8. Refinish some old furniture

  9. Buy blank note cards and draw your own greeting card for that next birthday or thank you

  10. Write a poem

  11. Take a dance class

  12. Visit an art gallery

  13. Learn how to code

  14. Wander down a book aisle you’d never normally read at the bookstore

  15. Pastry making class

  16. Learn how to have better sex

  17. Write out your biggest wishes and wear them on your wrist 

  18. Design a 1-page flyer in Canva

  19. Create your own stickers, give them to all your friends

  20. Write your bio

  21. Create a personal manifesto

  22. Walk a new route and take 10 pictures of things you discover

  23. Decorate a worn out pair of jeans

  24. Collect some rocks or shells and put them in a small jar

  25. Listen to some fiction or romance books. Scribd is my new favorite app for this. Unlimited books for $8.99 a month and through this link you can get two months for free.

  26. Join Masterclass and learn about things completely unrelated to your work. I’ve been learning about comedy writing, wine, and Italian cooking. Here’s $30 off your membership.

26.2. Practice your craft, whatever it is, from a completely different location than you normally would

If you loved this marathon’s worth of creative cross-training ideas, you might like to try a Write Like a MOFO writing marathon! Learn more then get on the waitlist to try one out for free! 

Note that there are some affiliate links in here. That means if you click one and buy something, I’ll add some quarters to my creative cross-training fund.