How Meditation Develops Killer Creativity, Focus, and Productivity

how meditation develops killer productivity, focus, and creativity

Two beers, seven YouTube videos, and an 53 balls of paper lying around my wastebasket later I finally had it. The sentence that itched where I could not scratch was about to meet its sweet delightful end. We share a love hate relationship my writing and I.

Some days we would be inseparable, emotions riding high and together we would create art. On other days she wanted nothing to do with me.

There had to be a solution.

Something to bridge the gap between creative enlightenment and creative purgatory.

In  Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s book  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, he discusses how to reach the pinnacle of creativity aka the state of flow.

He describes it as such:

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

So how do we go from shooting paper balls into the wastebasket into developing ideas and work that will blow people’s minds?

Meditation.

But first we have to understand how creativity comes about so you can get the results you want.

skywindow looking into apratment

How You Think

There are two schools of thought

One is called convergent thinking, the other is divergent thinking.

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking is the emo/goth in all of us. They look critically at the facts and determine what is right and what is wrong.

It’s not cynical thinking, it’s about being realistic.

The better you get at convergent thinking the better your inner goth/emo gets at analyzing information and making quality judgement.

Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is our free-spirited counterparts. In divergent thinking, the possibilities are endless. Ideas and questions pour out of us as we curiously explore the realm of possibilities.

It is that child-like feeling whenever we get a new toy. It’s the moments of inspiration where ideas pour out of you as if they were endless.

Psychological hacks

A study done in 1998 showed that people who were happier scored higher on divergent thinking tests.

On the flip-side, when subjects were a in a less-than-positive mood, their mood inhibited their ability to think laterally. Instead frowning has been shown to increase levels of critical thinking and reduce reliance on intuition.

It’s no wonder then why some of the best writers and artists in the past such as Hemingway and Edgar Allen Poe have been known to have bipolar disorder.

They’re able to access their inner child in spurts during their mania phase to create a vast array of ideas. They’re open to risk and have the confidence necessary to make their ideas a reality.

Then their inner goth comes out and they retreat back into themselves. They edit those ideas with a single-minded focus on quality. During this process, they refine their ideas to bring out only the best.

Creativity is the marriage of divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking to explore the possibilities, convergent thinking to bring those ideas back to reality.

How You Create

A lot of times divergent thinking gets mistaken for being a synonym for creativity. While it is a key capacity for creativity, the ability to create original ideas that have value is much more than just generating ideas.

Creativity is more than divergent thinking. In fact, creativity is the marriage of divergent and convergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is a great place to start any project. Come up with all the possibilities, what could happen, what exactly are the parameters for this question, what if I did this, what if I did that, etc. And then cut those ideas down with convergent thinking. The answer needs to do this and that, that doesn’t work because of this, and so on.

This is how great ideas are birthed. Through an expansive on-pour of ideas and then a contraction based on criteria.

Where Does Meditation Fit In?

girl meditation by the shore

 

Meditation for Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking involves locking in your blinders, blocking out unnecessary information and focusing only on what is necessary.

To conduct higher level convergent thinking concentration is absolutely vital. Meditation experience has been correlated to higher levels of concentration. Research done in the 1970’s show that Buddhist monks who have years upon years of meditation experience perform better than most of the population on concentration tests.

And improves how your brain reacts to stimuli.

The participants were all asked to watch a series of lines flash on a computer screen and click a mouse when they saw a line that was shorter than the others. It was a boring test, and that was the point: in order to concentrate on those little line changes, they had to focus intently. Those who were meditating at the retreat were significantly more likely than those in the wait-list group to see increasingly small differences in the lines. Their abilities improved as meditative training continued. As the paper puts it, their powers of “visual discrimination” had appreciably increased. – Losing Focus? Studies Say Meditation May Help

This is because as you meditate the physical form of your brain fundamentally changes. Research shows that the prefrontal cortex and the right anterior insula, areas responsible for attention, interoception, and sensory processing, are thicker in people who meditate.

More interesting is increased thickness is directly correlated to meditation experience. Older subjects had much more pronounced differences in cortical thickness suggesting meditation slows the brain-aging process as well.

Meaning meditation is a couple steps away from being the philosopher’s stone.

End of multi-tasking

Multi-tasking saps your productivity and increases stress upon your brain. Every time you switch between tasks you use up energy.

Imagine this.

You have a treadmill and an elliptical side-by-side. Every 10 mins you get off the machine you’re working on and get on the other, punch in the settings and begin to work.

10 minutes pass and you repeat the process.

If you saw somebody doing that at the gym, you would think “why are they doing that.”

But that’s exactly what happens when we switch from work to email to social media back to work. We’re moving from treadmill to the elliptical to the stationary bike and then back to the treadmill.With only a finite amount of energy, multi-tasking depletes your energy faster and you get less work done as a result.

Fortunately, meditation is a solution.

…the meditation group reported lower levels of stress and showed better memory for the tasks they had performed; they also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer. – Initial results from a study of the effects of meditation on multitasking performance

As you’re able to increase your focus on one task, your ability to exercise judgment and make quality decisions improves. You’ll feel less mentally exhausted and get better work done.

coding on a laptop

Meditation for Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking requires little to no requirements. The whole concept of divergent thinking rests upon the fact that in the divergent thinking world, there are no rules. It is the realm of possibilities after all.

The ability to openly accept ideas as they come and not judge them then is critical for divergent thinking.

Imagine being in a classroom and wanting to ask a question.

If an instructor is known to be dismissive of low quality questions, you might hesitate before asking.

However if the instructor treats all questions with respect and gives answers to even the silliest of questions you’ll be more likely to ask.

Leveling up your divergent thinking is to create a safe atmosphere for your brain to ask questions. Nothing is too silly, nothing is out of the question.

Meditation accomplishes this by dialing back the focus on the brain telescope.

You see a wider view and thus have more “stars” to take information from.

This is a different type of meditation however. Use mindful meditation to increase convergent thinking ability. To increase divergent thinking, use open-monitoring meditation.

Yin and yang, they are fundamentally different. Whereas mindful meditation focuses on bringing your focus and attention onto one object such as your breathing, open-monitoring meditation allows the person to experience thoughts and emotions as they come.

Practitioners are encouraged to adopt a non-judgmental attitude towards their thoughts and emotions. As a result, you’ll be primed to come up with new ideas.

But wait there’s more.

Memories power divergent thinking. As your brain scours for ideas it reaches upon your memories to explore the realm of possibilities. Meditation improves upon this by increasing the speed at which this happens.

This means you’ll be able to come up with new ideas faster.

Psychological hacks

A study done in 1998 showed that people who were happier scored higher on divergent thinking tests.

On the flip-side, when subjects were a in a less-than-positive mood, their mood inhibited their ability to think laterally. Instead frowning has been shown to increase levels of critical thinking and reduce reliance on intuition.

It’s no wonder then why some of the best writers and artists in the past such as Hemingway and Edgar Allen Poe have been known to have bipolar disorder.

During the mania phase their positive mood allows for them to create a vast array of ideas. They’re open to risk and have the confidence necessary to put them onto paper.

Then during their depressive phase they retreat back into themselves and are able to edit those ideas to choose only the best.

To emulate this try meditation.

Try open-monitoring meditation when you’re looking to thinking laterally and then try mindfulness meditation before you’re looking to think critically.

Wrapping It All Up

Meditation to divergent/convergent thinking is what lifting weights is to stronger muscles.

Meditation does that by:

  • increasing convergent thinking ability, which is the result of:
    • increased concentration
    • improved brain function
    • focusing on one task
  • increasing divergent thinking ability, which is the result of
    •  accepting ideas and emotions as they come
    • improved memory recall
    • happier, more positive mood

Begin with open-monitoring meditation to allow the ideas to flow out of you, then contract and try mindful meditation to bring out your inner critic.

If you missed How Meditation Is Better Than Drugs: Depression, Anxiety, and Pain Check it out. 


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