Meditation has been a core part of my life for over 19 years. It's part of my daily routine and for years I just took it for granted that it helped my work as a 'career creative,' but new studies have been emerging which show how and why my mindful practice actually innovated my thinking and made me more creative.
When I get handed a new project brief, one that can make a big impact, I can often get all twisted up in my mental thoughts, and I really push myself to 'nail it' which only ends up with lame ideas and performance pressure. As all creatives know there is a quiet thrill in the challenge of solving 'the answer' to the puzzle a design brief poses. But in the 'trying' it can become frustrating if the answer doesn't arrive, and sometimes we can get stuck in cycling through thought patterns when there is zero creative flow and it ultimately becomes a painful way to work!
So with applying meditation to my creative process I found it is a perfect and fast way out of these creative binds, and here is an overview of the brain science behind WHY meditation activates our creative juices.
The Three Main Parts Of Our Brain
1. We Do Creative Thinking With Our Neocortex
This is the newest part of our evolving brain and essentially it is concerned with what I consider the important stuff: creative thinking, problem solving, visioning, hypothesizing, strategizing. Poetically speaking the neocortex is pretty selective about what it works on, so only if the two other main parts of the brain agree (explained below) will an idea get to the neocortex for processing.
2. Sometimes Our Emotions Get In The Way Of Our Thinking
The level below the neocortex is the limbic system, simply said this area processes our emotions, motivations, and memories. If we are feeling emotionally out of balance or distressed, this part of our brain gets activated, and our brain becomes 'busy' dealing with the stress and emotions at hand and won't allocate resources to our creative thinking.
3. The Reptile Gatekeeper Is Relentless
The oldest part of our brain is the reptilian brain. This part of our brain is concerned with our survival and is primarily activated by adrenaline, it's where our flight or fight response originates. It is a very lazy part of our brain so it only wants to process things which it deems critical to our survival. Because it is an old brain it is used to running away from wild animals, so it also has a tendency to overreact to small triggers in the modern world, but which don't really require a massive surge of adrenaline to deal with. The reptilian brain also includes sex impulses, so if the idea is 'mate-able', dangerous or threatens our survival in any way it will get passed upwards, anything else essentially has a hard time getting to the neocortex.
So as you can see, what we think is a simple creative thought process is actually conditional to a lot of neuro-chemistry being aligned!
Mindfulness meditation is a great technique to learn to help improve creativity. It has side effects which have been shown to reduce the reactivity of the reptilian brain, increase resilience, stimulate the neocortex, as well as improve emotional intelligence. All these assist in getting ideas flowing directly to your best creative thinking brain: the neocortex.
The Walt Disney Company was an early adopter of meditation in the workplace, as they noticed a dramatic increase in creativity after employees meditated on creative solutions. General Mills is another company which reports improved innovation as a result of sitting in stillness and has meditation rooms available to their staff. Google has an in house mindfulness program called 'Search inside Yourself' and has built a labyrinth for mindful walking meditations.
There have been studies done specifically to measure the cognitive rigidity of people who meditate and their ability to solve problems in novel ways. The research shows non-meditators had greater cognitive rigidity than regular meditators, and they also had a tendency to apply difficult or outdated solutions to easy problems based on their past experiences, this was not the case for people who meditated.
To me the best test is, "Does it work for me?" So next time you find yourself stuck on a creative problem take some time out to be quiet and allow your stress to subside by focussing on your breath for a few minutes. Starting a regular meditation practice will help you learn new skills and actually train your mind and get your emotions to calm down to allow your creative genius to flow!
For a mindful experience right now listen to this Creativity Booster -- 12 Minute Power Meditation to get your juices going.
To your success! Be inspired and bliss out!