Creativity and innovation are qualities that have become increasingly important at every level of an enterprise, from the CEO to the interns. There’s no telling where the next breakthrough idea that reduces costs, solves a difficult problem, or otherwise transforms your business might come from.
Creativity is also important in daily activities. Creative thought helps alleviate a feeling of stress arising from repetitive tasks and helps give them more meaning. It increases employee engagement and allows for improved problem-solving skills.
When most people think about companies known for positive work environments that are conducive to creativity and innovation, they invariably bring up Google or Apple. It’s no coincidence that these companies have chosen to invest in mindfulness programs for their employees.
What is Mindfulness Meditation and How Does It Improve Creativity?
Business leaders have increasingly been adding mindfulness meditation to their daily routines because they find it provides them with the ability to manage competing priorities better, reduce their levels of stress, regulate their emotional responses to difficult situations, and improve their ability to remain focused for prolonged periods.
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that helps clear the mind and increase focus by intentionally being present in the now. It is achieved by paying attention to one’s breathing while being fully aware of the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that come up. It is done without assigning the thoughts or feelings a value of good or bad.
Being completely immersed in the present moment makes the suffering of the past and worries about the future melt away. Removing judgments helps one accept what is with grace. This is when you can look at what is in front of you with fresh eyes, giving you an opportunity to seeing the big picture, gaining new perspective, connecting the dots and more.
Further Evidence of the Effect of Mindful Meditation on Creativity
In a report from August 2017, the Harvard Business Review states that meditation “helps you develop the ability to switch off reactive fight-or-flight responses and engage in a more thoughtful mode that’s crucial for making balanced decisions.” The report goes on to explain that, according to Danny Penman’s book entitled Mindfulness for Creativity, mindfulness opens your mind to enable divergent thinking, it makes it easier to spot the novelty and usefulness of ideas by increasing attention, and it boosts courage and resilience when experiencing setbacks or resistance.
Researchers suggest the default mode network of the brain is important in creativity, providing neurostructural support for the idea that unconscious forms of information processing are important in creativity. Default mode network also plays an important role in processes such as mind-wandering, self-referential thinking, and rumination, but researches also suggest that mindfulness helps monitor and manage mind-wandering and self-referential thinking, enabling us to sort through the ideas that emerge from the default mode network.
Creativity is complex and the study of neuroscience in this field is still in early stage, but multiple sources of research provide similar evidence: mindfulness practice leading to calm down our mind-chattering and helps to bring out creativity.
The Creative Process
To truly heighten creativity, the brain passes through four different stages. They are preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Let’s look at each one and investigate how mindful meditation supports each one.
This process is one that might be called brainstorming. It is the ability to generate a wide range of different ideas related to the matter at hand. This form of divergent thinking requires less involvement from the cognitive control network (the network that works to evaluate ideas) so that the default mode network can explore without limitations.
By practicing mindfulness meditation before a brainstorming session, you can focus on the present moment and find yourself more open to new ideas and possibilities.
After the ideas have been generated, the brain needs to take a step back. It’s time to turn your attention to other things, to rest and to recharge your batteries so your mind can be ready for the next stage.
Many people find it difficult to shut off their thinking about the ideas they generated and to relax. In fact, challenge may not be about focusing, but more about focusing too much. Mindfulness meditation enables you to let things go, and choose what to focus on at the moment.
Almost unexpectedly, the light comes on—there’s a flash of inspiration. It’s the moment of creative insight when subconscious ideas come together and are brought to the forefront.
The challenge is in noticing and accepting such a flash of inspiration, especially when you have hundred things to do every day. Mindfulness practices build awareness and clarity, in what may arise inside of us, which allows us to recognize a creative insight through the fog of competing thoughts and stimuli.
The last step is verification, to refine your idea so that it can be useful and practical. The analysis and evaluation of the idea require convergent thinking to refine it into something that will be useful.
This phase is where your great idea may face setbacks and resistance. Non-judgmental attitude and self-compassion are important in this stage in order to remain in a positive and focused state of mind to stave off feelings of defeat.
Hopefully, now you see how mindful meditation can lead to a more creative and innovative work environment. Would you like to find out more about mindfulness and mindful leadership? Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.
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