Can mindfulness boost creativity?
Picture a typical working day. It could look like this: the alarm screeches, waking you from a deep sleep. You roll over, hit snooze and try and get at least another five minutes of rest before you let the day in. But that five minutes has cost you. Big time. You launch from your duvet, jump in the shower, put some toast on (and burn it), make a coffee (and spill it) before running out of the door and joining the rush-house commute. Finally you arrive at your desk. Meetings. Emails. Meetings. Emails. Lunch, while having a meeting. More meetings. More emails. Join the rush-hour commute. Dinner. Check social media. Shower. Sleep.
And you’ll probably set your alarm to do it all over again tomorrow. Hopefully this doesn’t sound like every day, but during the working week most of us are set to autopilot - there’s no time to pause and take a breath. But studies have proven time and time again that if we can take time out to do exactly that, we’ll not only reap the benefits but our employers will too. Making time to be present and mindful can lead to improved health and wellbeing, productivity and creativity.
The concept of mindfulness and meditation has been around for hundreds of years so it’s certainly not a new thing. It was something that came quite naturally but in today’s world with growing technology and a fast-paced digital environment, mindfulness is something that many of us have to work at. It can mean so many different things, but ultimately it’s all about presence and doing things consciously. It’s about switching off autopilot and having more consideration for the things you do every day. Simply ‘living in the moment’ and being mindful of what’s around you.
This is pretty subjective so I’ll stick to the definition: ‘the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness’.
To understand the impacts of mindfulness on creativity we need to understand how the brain processes thoughts and ideas. While anatomically we have one brain, it’s actually made up of three distinctive parts. The reptilian brain is responsible for protecting us - it’s where fight or flight kicks in and it’s interested in survival. The limbic system is where we process emotion and memories. And the neocortex is the part of the brain that handles our creative thinking and problem solving. When you’re busy, all of these parts will be kicking into overdrive. But various studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce the effects of the reptilian brain and stimulate the neocortex, giving it space to think.
Research by The Mindfulness Initiative found that mindfulness can improve your ability to focus and encourages flexible thinking, increasing the capacity to adapt by disrupting habitual thought processes. So it’s no wonder big businesses have incorporated mindfulness into the workplace. Some have even created their own initiative - Google’s mindfulness emotional intelligence program has helped 50,000 people in more than 150 cities and 50 countries.
So how do you break the cycle of a busy working day and start to use mindfulness to improve your workplace performance? Here are just a few ideas:
- Use an app like Headspace - they have lots of advice on different forms of meditation (from open-monitoring and focused attention) and can help if you’re fairly new to meditation
- Try Yoga. Whether it’s before you start work or a lunchtime class, Yoga can help you focus and stay in the present moment
- Gratitude - there have been various studies that have revealed that writing down what you’re grateful for can help you shift your mindset
- Getting out in nature. Why not go for a stroll during lunch? Being in nature can fuel creativity and inspiration. And if you have regular meetings, consider introducing walking meetings at work. It can be a great way to form new ideas while increasing your step count
- Turn off the tech. It might sound impossible when you’re in the office, but try stepping away from the computer and leaving your phone on your desk when you’re in a meeting as reducing your screen time can improve concentration
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