Once thought of as only necessary for artistic careers, the “creativity” requirement is now standard on most job applications.
Everyone from lawyers and accountants to engineers are expected to exhibit creative thinking and innovative problem-solving. Simply thinking outside the box isn’t good enough any longer.
“Every single one of us has the capacity to be an artist,” revealed celebrated dance choreographer Alonzo King on an episode of the Untangle podcast. “If you think of yourself in a certain way, that’s what you will become.”
Many people believe they are not creative or artistic, that creativity is a gene that you’re either born with or not. We’ve all experienced a creative block, and some of us have taken that to mean that we’re not cut out for creative thinking at all.
Neurologically, there is no such thing as “left-brained” or “right-brained” people. The brain is all one, broken into many complex structures, and a recently-discovered portion of the brain may hold the key to unlocking the creative potential in all of us.
What is the brain’s default network?
Neurologist Marcus E. Raichle defined the default network in 2001, building on Hans Berger’s 1929 assertion that the brain was always ‘busy’. The default mode of the brain is active when not engaged in any particular task.
The default mode network (DMN) activates when individuals are thinking about their own memories, planning for the future, or trying to perceive the perspectives of other people.
The benefits of creative thinking
In a piece written for Harvard University, Anne Manning relates this anecdote about the thermostat company Nest:
“…The Nest founders were clear their business wasn’t about thermostats. It was about looking at familiar objects, seeing them in a new light, and inventing products that will change people’s lives. In other words, it was about imagination and creativity.”
Manning goes on to mention that Nest has recently sold their company to Google for $3.2 billion. Pretty powerful evidence of the effectiveness of creativity and innovation.
Our recent article about workplace burn-out discusses how feeling ‘stuck’ in a job can lead to apathy, a lack of interest in your performance, and even an inability to celebrate workplace successes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the ability to take a different perspective on something and not feel stuck in a certain mental model can be liberating.
Using meditation or mindfulness to unlock your creativity
“We have the subconscious, the conscious ordinary waking state,” King asserts, “and the superconscious, which is the realm of discovery, invention, and creativity that is inherent in every living being… and that’s why everyone is some kind of an artist.”
We’ve discussed that creativity is not ephemeral or inherent. If your brain reacts in a specific way when it ‘wanders’, if that unfocused thinking is measurable, then the theory is that so too is creative thinking.
If ‘being creative’ is just another way of looking at a problem, then mindfulness meditation can be as effective at unlocking creativity as analyzing your emotions and feelings. The Guided Meditations in the Muse app, particularly On a Hiking Trail and Waterfall, can help slow down your thinking and allow for play with a problem.
Meditation and mindfulness tips for creativity
- Take The Time: While it’s true that the creative spark can arrive at any time, creativity isn’t a wild animal you have to coax out of hiding. Focus and attention are as beneficial to creativity as anything else. Giving yourself time to focus on being creative will do wonders for your output.
- Meditate With a Goal in Mind: Whether you’re writing a novel or approaching a work problem in a creative way, try meditating on the problem. Begin your practice as usual, then summon the problem or character or plot point and give it your full attention. Incorporate it into your practice along with your breath and allow it to unwind and transform in your mind. You’ll be surprised where your mind takes you when you focus on a single topic.
- Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: If you reach a stalemate with an idea and have exhausted all possible avenues, take the idea out of your head and share it with others. If meditation and mindfulness serve to give you another perspective, two or three other minds will provide even further perspectives. You don’t have to take anyone’s advice, but their thoughts may take you in exciting new directions.
- Open Up: At its heart, creativity is about being open to possibility. Mindfulness meditation allows us to observe more possibilities than staring at a blank page or blinking cursor will allow. While meditating on a problem, indulge in some blue sky thinking. Don’t limit yourself to what’s practical, let the possibilities soar.
- Stress Less: It’s very easy not to start, especially when we convince ourselves that whatever we start will go wrong or not work out. Mindfulness helps to ground our thinking and strip away the negativity that can kill creativity. Almost all of the worst things we can think of will never happen.
- Meditation Microdosing: Similar to taking a nap, small doses of meditation can be refreshing. It’s important to give your brain intermittent downtime to move into free form thought or to just change gears from a continuous task. Next time you’re sitting down to a project, set a timer for a short 3-5 min meditation break. You’ll come back to work refreshed and potentially have the ability to prime more creative thought.
Creativity is a choice
There is no secret key to unlocking creativity. We are not born artists, as Alonzo King asserts, all of us have the capacity to be artists.
Creativity takes courage & focus, and taking the time to decide to be creative is the first step. Creativity exists in the brain. When Alonzo King is creating a new piece of choreography, he doesn’t call it a dance; he calls it a thought structure.