Meditation, the practice of sitting in complete silence with eyes shut, palms facing upwards, focusing on your breathing and bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future, would seem like something only monks would appreciate. But, meditation is something that all of us could use, especially in our stressful modern lifestyles.
Admittedly, meditating might seem pretty uncomfortable, boring and useless to some of us. But, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Numerous studies show cultivating this one small habit of doing meditation daily brings tremendous benefits, including boosting our creativity.
The two main factors that determine levels of creativity are: divergent thinking (coming up with lots of ideas) and convergent thinking (solidifying those ideas into one brilliant concept.) Researchers at Leiden University led by Cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato studied the effects of two different types of meditation practices on divergent and convergent thinking. They found that meditation significantly improved both divergent and convergent thinking.
Interestingly, the type of meditation performed had an impact on which type of creative thinking was improved. For example, free association meditation improved divergent thinking more than focused attention meditation.
Moreover, people’s ability to focus and hold attention even on boring stimulus improve significantly with mindful meditation. The seemingly nonsensical Zen practice of “thinking about not thinking,” for instance, has been shown to boost people’s attention span by liberating the mind from distraction.
In a 2008 brain-scan study published in the journal PLoS ONE, the Zen-meditation training where a person stays alert and aware of their posture and breathing, while dismissing wondering thoughts revealed different activities in parts of the brain linked with spontaneous burst of thoughts and wondering minds.
It was observed that brains were quicker to return to the “Zen mode” even after being distracted for a considerable amount of time compared to brains that had not done any meditation training.
Even better, work-from-home professionals and writers benefit from meditation because it reduces feelings of loneliness. A recent study at Carnegie Mellon University led by J. David Creswell looked at 40 older adults and found that just 30 minutes of meditation a day for eight weeks decreased their feelings of loneliness.
That’s significant because decreased feelings of loneliness coupled with increased focus and creativity can lead to an incredibly productive and fulfilling life for writers and other creative professionals, including entrepreneurs. As we all know, one of the biggest drawbacks of solitary professions like writing and working from home is that it can leave you feeling lonely, trapped and isolated.
Working from home has many benefits but without outside stimulation you might start to think you may be going quietly mad in the home office. Even if you're introverted and thorougly enjoy being with your own company, you may not realize just how much you draw on outside stimulation until it is no longer there. Writers, for instance, can use social experiences as inspiration for plot, characters, dialogue, and many other things. You never know what opportunities you're missing out on when you shrink from social situations.
The danger here is if there is no outside stimulation and no relief from the thoughts in our own head, it can quickly become demoralizing. The trouble is that the process of isolation is an insidious one and can creep up without you noticing until suddenly you feel demotivated and out of sorts for no apparent reason.
So we've come to believe that the most important priority is to plan in your diary, every week, the contact you need with other people and the outside world. Getting out brings all kinds of benefits – new ideas, fresh perspective and a renewed passion for what we do.
In addition, Creswell reminds us, “It’s important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.” And what better way to train the mind than to do meditation every day.
To get a sense of mindfulness meditation, you can try one of the guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. They are available for free at Mindfulness-solution.com.
Image Credit: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images/Veta
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by Hugh MacLeod
Ever wonder what it really takes to make a living as a creative person in today's complicated world?
MacLeod presents some witty keys for creative success, including "ignore everybody. Why should you "ignore everybody"?
Because, he writes, nobody else can tell you whether your idea is worthwhile. People can give you advice, but at the end of the day, it's your decision. The more original an idea, the less helpful the advice is going to be.
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