Wouldn’t it be wonderful if creative ideas flowed effortlessly any time we needed them? Unfortunately, for most of us this is not the reality. We often feel stuck, replaying the same situations in our minds again and again with the same results (or lack of results). Can mindfulness help us find new solutions?
Elements of Creativity
First, let’s explore how new ideas come about. According to Arie Ruttenberg and Shlomo Maital, the authors of Cracking the Creativity Code, the creative process has three distinctive stages.
- Zoom In: Here, we learn everything there is to know about our question. If something is worrying you, it is likely that you’ve already completed this stage. You have thought about your situation, talked it over with your family and friends, searched for information online and approached professionals, if it’s a serious matter.
- Zoom Out: This is the stage where we use divergent thinking to come up with as many possible ideas as you can, even if they seem unrealistic.
- Zoom In: Finally, we use convergent thinking to evaluate the ideas, combine them, modify them to bring them close to reality and choose the best answer for our unique situation.
Divergent and convergent thinking engage different processes in our brain and are most effective when they are done separately. This is what often trips many of us up. We try to come up with ideas and evaluate them at the same time, often discarding them on the spot because they seem too crazy. Yet, if we allow them to remain in our space, they may become a part of the solution later!
How mindfulness can help
Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment, without judgement. Non-judgement is a vital for the zoom-out part of the creativity process. We allow and observe all sensations, input, thoughts and ideas. We don’t judge any of them as useless or unrealistic, but simply allow them to be.
On the other hand, convergent thinking (zooming in) requires focus on the specific task at hand. Research confirms that mindfulness is an invaluable tool in helping to improve focus and mental performance.
In an experiment by Leiden University, participants were asked to practice a mediation where they opened to every thought and sensation in their body. Later they also did a focusing meditation, which placed them into a sphere of convergent thinking. The creative skills of the participants were significantly enhanced by these practices, even if they had never mediated before. Pretty cool right?
Let your ideas flow
If you’re looking for new creative solutions, try one (or al!) of these mindfulness practices.
- Yoga. Within the practice of yoga, you’re constantly encouraged to be aware of all the sensations in your body and to respond to them in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Thus, yoga improves your ability to notice and allow every thought and feeling.
- Awareness art. Create art while maintaining your awareness on your body. What does it feel in your fingers to hold a pencil or a brush? Is it hot or cold? What does it feel like to move your chosen art tool across the paper or canvas? Do you feel the resistance of the surface? You don’t need to be a genius artist for this practice. It’s not about creating a masterpiece, but about becoming aware of your body and the way it interacts with the environment. You can even try doing this with your eyes closed.
- Single focus mediation. Most commonly, you would choose your breath as your focus, because it is ever present. You can also choose an object, a mantra, a sound, a smell… anything. Keep your attention focused and every time you notice your mind drifting away, gently let the thoughts go and return to your focus point.
Allow your thoughts to naturally flow through the spaciousness these practices create… and you might just surprise yourself. Happy creating!
*Editor’s note: this article was originally published in July 2018, but we’ve added to it!
Tatiana is a freelance writer and a mum of three living in Sydney. After a 10-years’ break, she has just returned to full-time work. She is still finding time for yoga, meditation and mindfulness, which is making a huge difference to her sanity and her enjoyment of life.