Meditation For Creativity

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How Mindful Meditation Boosts Creativity and Innovation

Meditation has been a core part of my life for over 19 years. It’s part of my daily routine and for years I just took it for granted that it helped my work as a ‘career creative,’ but new studies have been emerging which show how and why my mindful practice actually innovated my thinking and made me more creative.

When I get handed a new project brief, one that can make a big impact, I can often get all twisted up in my mental thoughts, and I really push myself to ‘nail it’ which only ends up with lame ideas and performance pressure. As all creatives know there is a quiet thrill in the challenge of solving ‘the answer’ to the puzzle a design brief poses. But in the ‘trying’ it can become frustrating if the answer doesn’t arrive, and sometimes we can get stuck in cycling through thought patterns when there is zero creative flow and it ultimately becomes a painful way to work!

So with applying meditation to my creative process I found it is a perfect and fast way out of these creative binds, and here is an overview of the brain science behind WHY meditation activates our creative juices.

The Three Main Parts Of Our Brain

1. We Do Creative Thinking With Our Neocortex
This is the newest part of our evolving brain and essentially it is concerned with what I consider the important stuff: creative thinking, problem solving, visioning, hypothesizing, strategizing. Poetically speaking the neocortex is pretty selective about what it works on, so only if the two other main parts of the brain agree (explained below) will an idea get to the neocortex for processing.

2. Sometimes Our Emotions Get In The Way Of Our Thinking
The level below the neocortex is the limbic system, simply said this area processes our emotions, motivations, and memories. If we are feeling emotionally out of balance or distressed, this part of our brain gets activated, and our brain becomes ‘busy’ dealing with the stress and emotions at hand and won’t allocate resources to our creative thinking.

3. The Reptile Gatekeeper Is Relentless
The oldest part of our brain is the reptilian brain. This part of our brain is concerned with our survival and is primarily activated by adrenaline, it’s where our flight or fight response originates. It is a very lazy part of our brain so it only wants to process things which it deems critical to our survival. Because it is an old brain it is used to running away from wild animals, so it also has a tendency to overreact to small triggers in the modern world, but which don’t really require a massive surge of adrenaline to deal with. The reptilian brain also includes sex impulses, so if the idea is ‘mate-able’, dangerous or threatens our survival in any way it will get passed upwards, anything else essentially has a hard time getting to the neocortex.

So as you can see, what we think is a simple creative thought process is actually conditional to a lot of neuron-chemistry being aligned!

Enter Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a great technique to learn to help improve creativity. It has side effects which have been shown to reduce the reactivity of the reptilian brain, increase resilience, stimulate the neocortex, as well as improve emotional intelligence. All these assist in getting ideas flowing directly to your best creative thinking brain: the neocortex.

The Walt Disney Company was an early adopter of meditation in the workplace, as they noticed a dramatic increase in creativity after employees meditated on creative solutions. General Mills is another company which reports improved innovation as a result of sitting in stillness and has meditation rooms available to their staff. Google has an in house mindfulness program called ‘Search inside Yourself’ and has built a labyrinth for mindful walking meditations.

There have been studies done specifically to measure the cognitive rigidity of people who meditate and their ability to solve problems in novel ways. The research shows non-mediators had greater cognitive rigidity than regular mediators, and they also had a tendency to apply difficult or outdated solutions to easy problems based on their past experiences, this was not the case for people who meditated.

To me the best test is, “Does it work for me?“ So next time you find yourself stuck on a creative problem take some time out to be quiet and allow your stress to subside by focusing on your breath for a few minutes. Starting a regular meditation practice will help you learn new skills and actually train your mind and get your emotions to calm down to allow your creative genius to flow!

5 Ways to Improve Creativity Through Meditation

Despite popular belief, you don’t need angst or sadness to stimulate creativity; meditation can provide the same inspiration. Read how you can improve your creativity by focusing inward and trusting your instinct.

Artists and art lovers alike have gathered the evidence to support their belief that unless you are filled with angst like Bob Dylan, Alan is Montessori, or Ernest Hemingway, you might not be able to tap into your creativity. Even Socrates and Plato historically took “melancholic habitues” (a sulking holiday) in order to fan the flames of their creative minds. It’s understandable how in today’s analytical world you might think that this evidence proves angst and unhappiness are the fuel required to create. I’m excited to share with you that meditation actually provides the same opportunities to boost and fuel your creativity without the downside of angst, such as stress and unhappiness which often lead to poor health, both mentally and physically.

Creativity is multifaceted; we have the brain level, as well as the creative process itself. The process usually involves inspiration followed by action. Where does the inspiration come from? If I was able to look into the brain, I would not find a storage space filled with poems waiting to be written or art bursting to be put on canvas. Where do the ideas form? How do they get manifested? Creativity looks different for each individual.

Time Alone

Perhaps it isn’t the angst, the sadness, or the morose mood that inspires creativity but the things that happen when we are sad. Sadness can make us more focused and diligent; we tend to withdraw and have a little retreat. Quite often when you’re unhappy, angry, or taking a melancholic habitues what you’re really doing is finding space to be alone.

Meditation is commonly practiced in space alone. And even if you are meditating with a group, it’s the practice that takes your attention inward. Studies in neuroscience have discovered that solitary and inwardly focused reflection employs the brain differently and we use a different network then when we’re focusing outward so meditation is a tool for inward focus. In fact, our best ideas come when we are not engaged with the outside world.

Intuition arises from unconscious, or spontaneous, information-processing systems, and it plays an important role in how we think or reason. It also plays a big role in creativity. If you are constantly questioning yourself rather than trusting your instinct, it’s impossible to be spontaneous which is deeply attached to creative freedom. Experienced mediators know that they develop a heightened awareness and they begin to see a series of spontaneous right choices in their lives. This self-trust fosters the freedom to follow the creative thoughts without judging the process.

Concentration

Many of these are central to creativity. Neuroscientists who study creativity have found that creativity does not involve a single brain region or even a single side of the brain, as the “right brain” myth of creativity suggests; instead, it draws on the whole brain.

The second chakra, Svadhisthana, is known as the chakra for creativity. The mantra sound that corresponds to this chakra is the sound “VAM.” By chanting VAM, the vibrations will open and align this chakra. The color is orange and the gemstones for this chakra are amber, calcite orange, carnelian, or hematite.

5 Tips to Increase Creativity through Meditation

1.  Be playful with your meditation. Overthinking kills creativity and keeps your mind outward rather than inward.

2.  Plant seeds, but then let the universe work out the details. Maybe what you want is a great idea for your novel but you aren’t meditating with the purpose of attaining the idea. You can have the thought that your meditation is awakening creativity but after that thought is planted, like seeds in the garden, you just let it grow. No digging it up to see if it’s growing. Just trust that it will grow—that your idea is already sprouting.

3.  Try guided meditation if you usually practice silently. The “awaken your creativity” meditation here is a great choice, and one of many you can find that aims at tapping into your creative mind.

4.  Try silent meditation if you usually listen to guided meditations. Or try a group meditation in your city. The energy of group meditation is very different than individual meditation. Sometimes change is exactly what’s needed to rev the creative engines.

5.  Be mindful outside of meditation. Creativity comes in many forms. Your personal style, how you plate your food, or how you deliver reports at work all require creativity. Put your attention on creativity and watch how it blossoms. Heighten your awareness of where you are creative to train your brain to think creatively

Can 10 Minutes of Meditation Make You More Creative?

In more and more occupations, creativity is part of the job description. Whether you are trying to reconcile conflicting stakeholder priorities, finding a solution to a customer’s issue, or launching a new product line, your solution probably won’t come out of a textbook. But it’s hard to keep having great ideas day after day. What do you do when you run out of good ideas? How do you “get your mojo back”?

One increasingly popular solution is mindfulness meditation. Google, Goldman Sachs, and Medtronic are among the many leading firms that have introduced meditation and other mindfulness practices to their employees. Executives at these and other companies say meditation is not only useful as a stress-reduction tool but can also enhance creativity, opening doors where once there seemed to be only a wall.

To gain a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of short meditation sessions in boosting creativity, we looked first at the literature and then conducted our own experiments. Here’s what we found.

Mindfulness mediation works to enhance creativity and innovation. Many executives have taken up meditation because they find it helps them switch gears when stress piles up. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can have many positive effects on workplace outcomes. Regularly doing it boosts your resilience, enabling you to mitigate stress, regulate emotions, and have a more positive outlook so that you can bounce back from setbacks. It 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.

In his book Mindfulness for Creativity, Danny Penman argues that mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness practices enhance three essential skills necessary for creative problem solving. First, mindfulness switches on divergent thinking. In other words, meditation opens your mind to new ideas. Second, mindfulness practice improves attention and makes it easier to register the novelty and usefulness of ideas. And finally, mindfulness nurtures courage and resilience in the face of skepticism and setbacks, which is important because failure and setbacks are inextricably linked with any innovation process.

Ten to 12 minutes are enough to boost creativity. To further verify that creativity is among the early benefits of mindfulness meditation, and to test how earlier findings could be applied to benefit idea generation in organizations, we set up an experiment at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Unlike the objectives of earlier research, we were interested in whether a few minutes of mindfulness mediation would be enough to boost creativity. One hundred twenty-nine participants (all of them students) were divided into three groups and assigned a creative task: Generate as many business ideas as possible for using drones.

The Ultimate Guide To Creativity & Meditation

What’s The Origin Of Human Creativity?

Looking to win the great “space race” against its Cold War rival, NASA spent much of the early 1960’s hiring the world’s best and brightest rocket scientists and engineers.

With a tsunami of applicants and the need to separate the contenders from the pretenders, NASA commissioned Dr. George Land, a highly respected University of Minnesota professor and Pulitzer Prize nominated author, to design a highly specialized “divergent thinking” creativity test.

Ultimately, with the 1969 moon landing just a few years later, his test design efforts were a boon for NASA, helping them on-board some of the world’s most innovative thinkers, bringing the space race to an emphatic close.

But Dr. Land and colleagues were left with a few big questions. What’s the origin of human creativity? Are we born with it? Is it learned? Is it something else entirely?

Looking for clues, the researchers administered the same test to 1,600 five-year-olds. How’d they do? Shockingly, a whopping 98% of the children scored at the “creative genius” level!

Captivated by the results, the scientists decided to do a longitudinal study, testing the same group of kids 5 years later, and again 10 years later. What did they find? At age 10, only 30% of the children scored at the same level. At 15, that number had dwindled to 12%!

Disturbed and intrigued by the clear and present downtrend (plummeting from 98% to 12% in just 10 years!), the scientists wondered, how (un)creative are adults? To find out, they administered the same test to 280,000 adults (25+ years old). Pathetically, a mere 2% scored at the creative genius level! Their suspicions were confirmed.

Creativity 101: The act of living is an art, according to Ayurveda, and the art of life is in the practices that cultivate wellness. It just so happens that the best practices for this are linked to greater creativity, which, in itself, contributes to greater happiness.

Studies show one must be creative, generative, positive, engaged, present, and mindful to optimize overall health, good immune function and more. Doing creative things is also a proven mood enhancer, however, what this looks like can be different for each of us. What remains the same is the mindset that allows for creative impulses to flow. We all need to partake in practices that involve unrestricted observation as opposed to restrictive repetition. We need to start training our minds to notice everything from inner sensations to mood to feelings as well as smells and tastes in the present moment, keeping the attention flexible and unrestricted.

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