How mindfulness can make you more creative.

Unleashing the creative genie.

The elusive muse. Creativity. How to unlock it, nurture it and keep it generating innovative ideas time after time. It’s the holy grail of the creative process. Mindfulness may be the answer to developing and sustaining your inner creative genius. Let’s take a look at how to apply it.

Four stages of the creative process

The creative process has 4 clear, distinct steps and mindfulness can be used to enhance each of these stages.

Preparation: Generating those creative ideas. This involves the use of divergent thinking. It requires stepping outside the parameters of the tried and tested. Cognitive freestyle in approach it is non linear, exploring the possible rather than the known. Devised by J P Guildford in 1956 divergent thinking is thinking outside of the box, moving away from the parameters that we see around us everyday, reaching for the stars. We’re culturally conditioned for convergent thinking, or the ‘how to’ but not so good at divergent. There is a way to change this.

How can mindfulness help?

Divergent thinking requires silencing the cognitive control network (CCN). This is the constant chatter that goes on in our minds, the voice that judges ideas and throws them away as useless before they’ve had time to gestate. It tells us “That’s dumb” or “It’ll never work” as new ideas are formed, rendering creativity stone dead. Quietening the CCN lets the creative default mode network (DMN) loose. Try meditating before pop corning to increase your focus, fluency and quality of your ideas during brainstorm sessions.

Incubation: At some point during preparation you’ll have had enough of generating ideas. The muse has left and you’re ideas have dried up. Time to go and do something else instead. This the the stage where your subconscious brain says hi-ho hi-ho it’s off to work we go. But the key to this is leaving those ideas alone to percolate and cogitate all on their own. Go for a walk, a run, watch tv, take a bath anything but obsess about those ideas. Don’t be tempted to wear yourself out on the ideas phase, therein lies the road to stagnation. Just let go and leave your brain in charge.

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How can mindfulness help?

Already feeling twitchy about the incubation stage? This is the part we typically find hard. Do you know that letting it go for a while will drive you up the wall causing additional anxiety and stress? Here’s where mindfulness comes in. Employ mindful breathing to relax you and bring the anxiety down a notch or try mindful walking, mindful painting or a mindful run to manage the very necessary stage of incubation which requires you taking a step back.

Illumination: The moment where the light has dawned upon your idea and it presents itself in all of it’s glory. Your unconscious has done the work and hey, what do you know? it’s an Aha! moment. This is the work of the salience network (SN), first identified by Greicius and Seeley in 2007. The SN has prepped your brain for action by analysing and sifting through everything you produced in the preparation stage. It joins the dots even when you’re resting to produce the birth of an idea, a moment of realisation. Or as Seeley described it’s role “To try to detect and respond to salient challenges.”

How can mindfulness help?

The practice of mindfulness develops awareness. If you miss out the second stage or your mind is cluttered and noisy you may miss the Aha! stage. Practising mindfulness on a regular basis will allow you to slow down and quieten the chaos, to slice through the mental clutter, allowing you to bring awareness to illumination and spot that nugget when it surfaces.

Verification: The stage requiring convergent thinking. This thinking is all about finding the most appropriate solution using strategy and logic. Creativity requires the presence of divergent and creative thinking. We can’t have one without the other to innovate. Convergent thinking culminates in one answer. This is the part where you begin to standardise your idea into something that can be utilised. It requires cognitive control and the use of attentional networks (the dorsal and ventral attention systems identified as two distinct systems by Corbetta & schulman, 2002).

How can mindfulness help?

This is the crucible of your creativity, finding a solution to make it real. Will you succeed first time with each idea? probably not. It’s trial and error. Try not to get disheartened when ideas don’t work out first time. This stage is about trial and error, failing your way to success without becoming demotivated. Mediate regularly during this stage, focusing your attention and aiding convergent thinking. It’s important not to beat yourself up and compassion meditation can help to hush your inner critic, minimise self critical distractions and move you into a state of flow for optimum performance.

Originally published at on January 28, 2017.

Originally published at