Wouldn’t it be great if psychologists found a simple exercise to boost our creativity?
Did that just sound like a rhetorical pitch?
Well, it was!
In recent years, researchers have taken a close look at the effects of meditation on creativity and the results have been promising.
All three of the journal articles I’ve cited for this post agree that open-monitoring meditation primes our minds for idea generation, which is a crucial part of the creative process, according to expert Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman’s recent article for Scientific American.
So let’s all let out a collective sigh of relief, yeah? We can stop wringing our hands and waiting for the muses to fill our minds with novel and useful ideas. The science suggests that we can take an active role in inspiration and that this exercise can help!
I’m going to describe open-monitoring meditation, talk about why scientists think it works, then provide a guided audio meditation from an expert to get you going.
Let’s get started.
What Is Open-Monitoring Meditation?
Open-monitoring meditation is like a kind of attentive daydreaming, where the meditator allows his/her awareness to settle on whatever feelings, thoughts, or sensations come across the mind’s eye. She doesn’t get attached to any one idea; she lets herself flow non-judgmentally from one thought to another. She simply sits quietly and notices where her mind travels. The practice generally lasts about 20 minutes and has been linked to a host of health/mood benefits.
So, this exercise already sounds like it would help right?
The Science Behind It
The most relevant metric in these studies is the Alternate Use Task (AUT), which is a test psychologists use “to objectively measure the generation of new ideas.” Here’s how it works: First the AUT presents an everyday item, like a white handkerchief. Next, the participant attempts to generate as many alternative uses for the item as possible, like “waving it as a white flag” or “using it to play peek-a-boo.” Lastly, the responses are counted and rated for their originality. It’s like an on the spot idea generation improv and it’s commonly used by creativity psychologists.
For the (multiple) studies I’ve cited, researchers recruited several hundred participants of different ages, sexes, and levels of meditation. These people were put through surveys and tests (like the AUT) to determine their starting points. Then, the subjects were assigned either to a control group or to practice a style of meditation like focused-attention, love and kindness, or open-monitoring. Lastly, participants retook the initial surveys and tasks to record changes in mood and performance.
What Did the Studies Reveal?
I’m going to keep it pithy and fun here, but massive amounts of information was collected and there is one clear take away: Open-monitoring meditation provides a robust creativity boost and researchers found that prior meditative experience was unnecessary.
Wow: I think this ought to be overwhelmingly exciting for creative types looking to experiment with their method and improve their output.
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein
A Guided Meditation
In full honesty, I used to think meditation was a bunch of hippie-dippie, New Age poppycock. It was a dirty word for me and I never got serious about forming the habit.
But in recent years there’s been an avalanche of studies and articles published on the benefits of these ancient practices. I think it’s hard for any science-minded person to scoff at the genuine good meditation can do.
So if you’re a creative type or just someone who wants to benefit from all the health/mood benefits meditation has to offer, sit and give the following audio recording a listen. Try it at your leisure for a week or two. See if it helps you somehow.
You might find it tranquilizing, you may experience a boost in your creative output, or you may find it totally boring and silly! Whatever the case may be, you experimented and made an effort at being open to new experiences (which is a top predictor of creative success).
This piece was originally written by Taylor Kreiss for Holstee.
Originally posted on Holstee’s Mindful Matter, the best place to read stories and tips on how to live life fully.