Heikki Hellgren


Importance of physical exercise for problem solvers

If you are in problem solving business, such as software development, it is very important to get your heartbeat up at least few times a week. You should do this not only for physical reasons, but for the mental boost it gives you.

I must admit that I have never been the most fit person and do my work mostly sitting. I try to compensate this with physical activities such as walking, running, playing soccer and doing wall climbing every once in a while. Because of my somewhat hectic work and home life I have chosen sports that I can do ad-hoc without a tight schedule. Especially long walks to the nearby forest with our dog have given me lots of solutions and new ideas for my job and personal projects such as this blog.

Hitting the wall

Everyone in the business knows the feeling when you hit the wall and just can’t get the solution figured out. This happens to every one of us and it’s nothing new. Sometimes, especially junior developers, seem to even panic when they cannot find a solution for a problem right away.

Most of the time it’s best to stop hitting your head to this wall and concentrate on something else — the solution will usually come to you sooner or later. Besides exercising I can recommend for example listening to music, reading a book, having a coffee break with your co-workers or playing some game. Especially changing music or book genre you are mostly listening or reading can open a totally new perspectives to the problem at hand.

Also meditation can be very powerful tool to rewire your brains. And by meditation I do not mean spending hours in lotus position on top of a mountain wearing pyjamas. You can try it just by closing your eyes for few minutes and concentrating to your breathing.

It’s also very important to detect if you just cannot find the solution in reasonable time. In this case you should shout out for help from your co-workers or friends. Interactions with people usually open totally new ways to see the problem and help you find a solution.

Search for the solution outside your cubicle

Taking it back to work

Overcoming the block should not be only something you do only on your free time. If a company is taking good care of its employees, it should offer some place to relax and focus on something else. For example at Elektrobit we have a room where you can throw darts and do some muscle exercises during the workday. Some companies have invested in this even more with for example gaming consoles, gyms, VR-rooms and other activities. While I worked at Nokia we even had a sleeping room for a quick naps.

Another idea (that I haven’t yet put into practice) is to have daily standups and other shorter meetings outside while walking. In cold Finnish winter it’s not the most favorable thing to do for some, but when the weather gets warmer we will at least give it a try. This might just be enough to get developers’ minds cleared after struggling with problems the past days.

Task for you

If exercising is not your cup of tea I would still suggest you try it out. You can start with some easy things like walking which doesn’t necessarily make you all sweaty and out of breath. I can promise you can see some results in weeks.

Also leave me a comment how you cope with hitting the wall besides exercising! It’s very interesting to learn how different ways people cope with the problem.

About me

I am Heikki Hellgren, Software developer and technology enthusiast working at Elektrobit Automotive. My interests are in software construction, tools, automatic testing and all the new and cool stuff like AI and autonomous driving. You can follow me on Medium and Twitter. Also you can check out my website for more information.

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