Support Creativity with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“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.” – Danny Penman
Creative solutions are unusual but appropriate and useful solutions to a problem. Problem solving most frequently involves logic and reasoning, sometimes along with mathematics. If logic and reason fail, then fanciful and out-of-the box thinking may be needed. In this case mind wandering, taking the thought process away from the failed logical strategy, is superior, often producing a solution in a flash, an “aha” moment. In this case focused attention prevents the individual from seeing an unusual or creative solution. While the mind wandering off topic increases the discursive thinking that is required for obtaining the insightful solution.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less spontaneous mind wandering. This would predict that mindfulness, which increases focused attention, would interfere with creativity. It is possible, however, that mindful attention might promote a purposeful, intentional, deliberate mind wandering that may actually increase creativity.
Additionally, creative solutions often occur after an incubation period where the individual gets away from the problem for a while. This tends to break up repetitive and routine thinking that may interfere with finding a creative solution. Mindfulness practices may provide incubation periods that help to spur creative thought. Indeed, mindfulness has been found to increase creativity.
The research has been accumulating and it makes sense to pause and take a look at what has been learned. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and Creativity: Implications for Thinking and Learning.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7395604/) Henriksen and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a thematic analysis of the published research studies on the effects of mindfulness on creativity.
They report that the published research found that the practice of mindfulness meditation increases creativity and that the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of creativity. They also report that open monitoring meditation appears to be better at promoting divergent thinking (creativity) while focused meditation appears to be better at promoting convergent (logical) thinking. Both divergent and convergent thinking can lead to creative solutions to problems although divergent thinking produces more unusual solutions.
The research also found that mind wandering and mindfulness were not necessarily in opposition in promoting creativity. Deliberate purposeful mind wandering is supported by mindfulness and promotes creativity, whereas spontaneous mind wandering is suppressed by mindfulness and it interferes with creativity. Hence, the literature supports the conclusion that mindfulness promotes creativity.
So, support creativity with mindfulness.
“The kind of mindfulness that brings us into the default mode is the bridge between incubation and illumination. It can be the silence that allows us to find our true voice.” – Michael Formica
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Henriksen, D., Richardson, C., & Shack, K. (2020). Mindfulness and Creativity: Implications for Thinking and Learning. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 100689. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2020.100689
Mindfulness and creativity have both come to the forefront of interest in educational settings—but a better understanding of their relationship and the implications for education is needed. This article reviews the literature on the intersection of these topics in order to understand where and how these two related but distinctive areas of research connect, and how this pertains to the complexity of educational settings. Our goal is to understand findings from the literature and consider what the implications are for educational practice and research, with an eye to how mindfulness can be supportive to learners’ creativity. This thematic review and qualitative analysis of extant literature identifies four themes that speak to the connection between mindfulness and creativity and its complexity. There is solid evidence to show a generally beneficial and supportive relationship, in that practicing mindfulness can support creativity—but many factors affect this and there are a range of considerations for practice. This article reflects on the key findings of scholarly work on the mindfulness-creativity relationship with interpretative discussion and implications for educational research and practice.