Proving what many creatives have known intuitively for years, studies show that mindfulness and meditation both have a positive effect on our creativity. Whether you want to discover, improve or maintain that creative flow, there are a number of meditation and mindfulness practices that you can use.
Creativity on Demand
Many people think of creative as being that moment when “inspiration strikes.” Being put on the spot and told to “be creative” seems an impossibility. But professional writers, artists and musicians often need to be able to create on demand, facing tight deadlines and working within narrow parameters dictated by their client. While it can feel thrilling when the ideas flow and the work gets done on time, it’s incredibly frustrating when you get stuck in a loop of unworkable thoughts. So how do you get one result and not the other?
Different parts of the brain perform different functions, and are activated in different ways. The neocortex in particular is active in creative thinking, problem solving, visioning, hypothesizing, and strategizing. But getting the neocortex activated isn’t necessarily straight forward, as lower levels of function within your brain are brought to bear to solve a problem before they reach it reaches the neocortex.
In Buddhist writings, these other parts of your brain are sometimes referred to as the “monkey mind.” The endless chatter and self-talk that in many ways defines our inner reality can get in the way of being creative. This is where meditation comes in.
The effect of meditation
Meditation quiets our monkey mind, and in a physiological sense, stimulates and engages our neocortex. When meditating, we enter that “flow state” that many people see as a defining characteristic of having mastered a skill.
Regular meditation has positive effects on our thinking beyond just the momentary ones we feel when doing it. Research has shown that non-meditators have greater cognitive rigidity than meditators, and can also habitually apply known solutions to new problems, rather than finding the solution that best fits.
Meditation and mindfulness create the mental space for you to access the processing going on within your sub-conscious, as well as creating a positive mental environment for that sub-conscious work to occur. Creativity is not something you turn on or off, it’s something that you need to tap into by being ready to receive. But those moments where new ideas seem to drop from nowhere into our waking minds don’t happen at random. We can cultivate them through the steps below.
Exercise your mind
Just as we train our muscles to improve performance in physical activities, we need to exercise our minds to improve our performance in mental activities. There are many different forms of meditation, but they all have a positive effect on creativity. You can mix it up between silent, guided and walking mediation. Walking itself has been shown to have a positive impact on creativity, even apart from the meditative aspects. And if you don’t know how to meditate, there are a number of great apps, such as Calm or Headspace, that can help you get started.
Give your mind room to work
What we think of as intuition or inspiration actually arises from the unconscious information processing systems in our mind that are easily drowned out by the noise generated by our waking mind. To sustain a creative practice, you need to create “white space” in your mind so that it can work. So rather than filling every waking moment with music or podcasts or other sources of information broadcast, carve out time during the day where you simply sit with your thoughts. This could be on a walk, during a commute, or in the bath. You are creating moments where your mind is optimally attuned to produce new ideas.
Show up and do the work
This is the “secret” used by almost any professional creative. Whether it’s the writer who produces a set number of words a day, or a musician who practices a set number of hours a day, or a painter who creates even when they don’t feel like it – they all show up and do the work. Discipline your mind to do the creative work you want to do, even when you don’t feel like it. Let the words flow, and worry about editing them later. Over time, you’ll become so accustomed to your routine, and to doing the work whether you feel like it or not, that you will produce creative works seemingly on demand.
And only you will know all the hard work that you’ve done to make it look that easy.