Boosting Creativity Through Mindfulness
Updated: Feb 23
The intersection between mindfulness and creativity provides insights and tips to enhance our creative process and help us overcome creative blocks to tap into our rich imagination. We don’t need to be an artist, writer or musician to bring more creativity into daily life. We can all contribute our creative talents to reach our full potential.
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It’s hard for me to believe, but we just broadcast our 250th episode of this podcast on Monday and we’ve surpassed 2 million downloads since we started this podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in and sharing this mindful journey with me. I’ll admit that it has taken a lot of determination and persistence to keep going and a lot of that is simply figuring out what to talk about each week, what problem I can help solve or what new examples I can use to teach mindfulness for those who really want to shift their lives. That led me to consider my level of creativity.
I feel like I used to be a lot more creative and that’s alarming considering what I do for a living. But self-compassionately, I also recognize that I’m under a lot of pressure and that’s not exactly when my creative juices flow smoothly.
I took off last Friday from work so that I could focus on my neglected home projects over a 3-day weekend. As I stared at my disastrous front yard, waiting for a brilliant idea of how to proceed to spring forth, nothing happened. I literally have 2 tons of extra dirt dumped in the front yard by a contractor who worked on the backyard almost 2 years ago and I just don’t even know where to start. Absolutely no inspiration, not a single design idea, nada. It’s just an ugly mess and it’s as if my brilliant creativity switch has been turned permanently off. Since I couldn’t come up with any ideas, I did reroute my efforts into packing up about 200 books for donation, which those of you who listen regularly know was one of my goals, to clear out the bookshelves. But that didn’t take an ounce of creativity.
I also flipped the entire studio around over the weekend because I was tired of having to adjust lighting and sound every day depending on where the sun was and how much construction work was going on at my old neighbor’s house. I tried to convince myself that this massive project was a creative one, but it was really just problem-solving. Moving heavy furniture, covering walls in foam and rewiring a room isn’t exactly the stuff of creative genius.
As I pondered this, I realized that I’m not doing anything new or different in most areas of my life. I’m eating the exact same thing for breakfast most days. I’m wearing the same 7 outfits week after week. I’m buying the same items at the same grocery store each week. I’m watching the same type of shows on TV each evening, over and over. I have to admit that I’m in a rut!
If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, don’t judge yourself. The human brain loves nothing more than mindless routine. And whether in a rut or experiencing a false belief that you’re just not the creative type, mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness has been shown to increase creativity in several ways. Mindfulness helps improve focus and attention, which is crucial for the creative process. By reducing distractions and increasing attention to the present moment, mindfulness enables us to tap into our imaginative potential and think outside the box. I don’t know about you, but I think I need that right now. How much of your time is spent on distractions? Social media, television and busy work on top of interruptions by others keep our brains hopping constantly. It’s no wonder we’re tired at the end of a day. Life lately feels exhausting and it’s no wonder that we have trouble focusing.
Mindfulness can also enhance divergent thinking, which is a type of thinking that generates multiple, unique, and original ideas. This is essential for the creative process, as it allows us to explore new perspectives and come up with innovative solutions. It can also help promote relaxation and reduce stress, which is important for creativity. High levels of stress can interfere with the creative process by limiting the flow of ideas and reducing the ability to think outside that box. Check and check.
Two areas that I highly suspect have taken a hit recently are my curiosity and openness. I’m overwhelmed with work, so not too curious about much of anything beyond that right now. But mindfulness can encourage curiosity and openness, which are key to the creative process. By promoting a sense of wonder and open-mindedness, mindfulness can help us approach problems with a fresh perspective and develop new and innovative solutions. I decided to jump in over the weekend by experimenting with ChatGPT. As you may know, I’ve expressed some concerns with where we’re heading with artificial intelligence, but having never used it, and considering I need help with work, I approached it with both openness and curiosity.
The results were exciting and horrifying. I expressed my belief in a recent episode that as a writer, I probably still had some time left before AI replaced me. After this little foray into the world of AI, however, I may have to amend that to say I’m quickly running out of time. I tested the system with everything from how to teach mindfulness to people who are neurodivergent to whether World War I and World War II were two separate wars or really one very long battle. The answers popped up almost instantaneously and although it asks what it could have said better, I had no suggestions.
Considering the amount of time I and my staff spend on research, the possibilities are pretty amazing. Of course just because AI says it’s so doesn’t mean it’s accurate, but so far, I’ve found no mistakes. At the same time, it’s learning so quickly, it's a little scary to think about how long many of us have before AI replaces us in the workforce. But fear aside, because I don’t actually know what will happen and choose not to make up scary stories, I’m going to keep experimenting because if I could relieve even some of my daily pressure, my creativity will have more room to flourish.
Mindfulness can help with my anxiety about being replaced by technology because it improves emotional regulation. That’s important for creativity because by reducing negative emotions such as anger, fear, or anxiety, our overall state of mind improves, making it easier to tap into the imaginative potential and come up with creative ideas.
I’m picturing AI like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, not sure if it is friend or foe, but I believe in facing my fears, so here goes. I just asked the wizard, “how I can improve my creativity?” and it came back with answers I don’t disagree with.
The wizard points out that different methods work for different people which is absolutely true. So if you try one thing and it doesn’t work, try another. If you’re like me and very short on time, keep in mind that even a few minutes a day can help.
It too recommended being curious and open-minded about the world around us, suggesting that we ask questions, explore new ideas, and challenge ourselves to think beyond our current knowledge and experiences. I guess I’m doing that now by interacting with a software application that is pretty mind-boggling.
Another tip that I agree with is to try new things because creativity often flourishes when we step out of our comfort zone and try something new. When is the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone and tried something new? The Wiz suggests experimenting with new hobbies, activities, or ways of thinking. Excellent tips but I don’t have time for additional activities at this point, so I’m going to suggest changing some habits instead to get started. I have lots of clothes, so no more wearing the same 7 outfits out of habit every week. Even something as simple as switching up grocery stores can help because it causes the brain to switch back on dormant circuits as it has to reroute where to find items or to park or where to get a cart. I can easily switch out what I eat for breakfast each day and in addition to boosting my creativity, it would be nice to have some variety. You get the idea. Look at daily habits that require no thought and come up with some alternatives. As your brain wakes up, so will your creativity.
Take a brief pause before making decisions and simply ask yourself if there’s a different choice. I did this when I received my renewal notice for the Hollywood Bowl this week. I typically pick a Friday night series which includes some hip-hop, classical and pop or rock music over the course of 5 concerts. Just as I was about to click my “normal” box, I paused and thought, what else could I do instead? I chose a Thursday night series that is all classical. I’m assuming that means it will be calmer than my previous series, that I might even be able to get a reservation at the restaurant on site, and the bus may not be so packed. By pausing and making a different choice, I not only tapped into my curiosity and sparked creativity, I also set myself up for some relaxation over the summer. Something I’m sure I’ll be in need of when the time arrives.
The thing behind the curtain also suggests setting aside time for creativity and even though time is scarce, I have to agree that this one is a priority. If we don’t make it so, life can become pretty boring, but I’ll have to draw or do a hobby in little mini sessions. Those still count because again, we’re lighting up neural pathways that have been on snooze for quite a while. Writing is a creative act, so that will have to be the bulk of my set-aside creative time, but as my brain realizes it’s being called back on duty, my creativity can re-emerge without it feeling so arduous. When’s the last time you enjoyed a hobby? Most of us are so busy working, we set these things aside because we feel we don’t have time. I don’t know about you, but I actually have several hobbies, neglected as they are. My crocheting basket has a half-completed blanket in it that I started two years ago. My keyboard is so dusty, I doubt I can play music on it without the keys sticking. My personal writing is collecting dust in the bottom of a drawer. The sewing machine I bought during the pandemic has yet to be used despite the fact that I really want to learn. I have lots of novels whose characters are yearning to be introduced. There are several more ignored hobbies all around, but the point is, these are all indicators of a life slipping out of balance, so it’s no wonder my creativity is flailing. This may ring a bell for you or you may be a person who has no hobbies. If so, consider why not. They are an excellent way to spark creativity and my flow experiences have always come through writing or hobbies. If you’ve never been in a state of flow, where you lose all track of time because you’ve been transported into some sort of heavenly creative realm, believe me, it’s worth pursuing.
The one saving grace I found in trying AI is that it is emotionless. While answers returned were accurate, so far, it’s more like an instantaneous encyclopedia than a writer, teacher or speaker. So while I think it might be able to save me time in researching, I’m back to thinking I have a little breathing room in my career, for now. The wizard is lacking passion, creativity. It’s more like an information provider or problem-solver. So, as with anything else, it’s not the tool but how we use it that counts. My creativity, as well as yours, is still much needed in the world, so hope prevails.
In my interview last week with Miriam Schulman on her book, Artpreneur, I felt a little prick of desire to experience that feeling of creative spark I used to have and to embrace what she calls our inner weirdness. When we’re under stress, it’s easy to fall into people-pleasing behavior to speed things along and to be truly creative, we need to be our authentic selves. If you’re in this boat, just pay attention to whether you’re reacting or responding to people. I’ve fallen into a pattern of simply reacting with a frequent yes to small requests lately because I can avoid further conversation or debate which saves time. But that’s not the best answer. A mindful response, giving myself time to think through what is in my best interest as well as the other person’s is not only more in line with my authentic self, but a much more mindful approach and may tap into my creativity to find an effective solution.
Resistance, which I also talked about last week, keeps trying to interfere with my intentions because I’m doing quite a bit of work I just don’t like. What I have found works best when I feel it rising is to take a break, even if I don’t think I have time. Our minds need time to rest and recharge, so taking a break can help us come up with new ideas and we may discover that we’re more creative when we return to the task at hand.
I discovered that rearranging the studio did help with creativity, but not because of wires and lights. I have a completely different view now that I’m facing the opposite direction and I have more room and less stuff which both feel somewhat freeing. I can feel my creativity trying to kickstart, like a car ignition that’s having trouble turning over but that’s still trying to start. It’s in there. It’s trying to come out. I just need to make some space to give it room to flourish again.
Creativity is a process, and it takes time and effort to develop. Overall, mindfulness can enhance creativity by promoting focus, divergent thinking, reducing stress, encouraging curiosity and openness, and improving emotional regulation. By integrating mindfulness into our daily routine, we can tap into our imaginative potential and increase our creative capacity.
I have my marching orders now. Onward and upward to feeling creative joy again. How about you?
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A Mindful Moment is written and hosted by Teresa McKee and/or Melissa Sims. The Spanish version is translated and hosted by Paola Theil. Intro music, Retreat, by Jason Farnham. Outro music, Morning Stroll by Josh Kirsch, Media Right Productions. Thank you for tuning in! This podcast is produced by Work2Live Productions.