03 Eureka! The Science Behind Flash Creativity

Vanessa talks about “emptying her mind” before a round of rapid-fire improv comedy. Here, we explore how you can harness proven methods for your own creative process.

If you were to peek inside the mind of a creative person, what would you see? Would it be a loud, tumultuous space, with many quick thoughts randomly bouncing off the walls? Or, is it a wide-open, quiet space, where thoughts are active, yet controlled?

Most of us associate creativity with the former: the chaotic, the scattered and the spontaneous (it’s called a brainSTORM for a reason, right?). However, more and more research is beginning to support an idea that a peace-talking former prince —the Buddha— claimed more than 2500 years ago: a quiet mind fosters brighter and more creative thinking. Through mindfulness, the ability to generate divergent thoughts is directly linked to one’s ability to focus attention and be present.

Now, before you dismiss this as mystic Eastern mumbo-jumbo, consider the scientific evidence

Untitled-1-05A recent study at the University of California, Santa Barbara, cited in The New York Times, found that respondents who spent time on a mentally undemanding task that increased mind-wandering performed better at creativity tests afterward. [Source]

Untitled-1-06Researchers at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, discovered a strong link between a meditation habit and creativity. “Open-minded meditation induces a controlled state that promotes divergent thinking, a style that allows many new ideas to be generated,” the researchers asserted, as reported by PsychCentral.com. [Source]

Untitled-1-07A 2007 study showed that meditation significantly improved attention and fluid intelligence, which is “the ability to solve novel problems and identify patterns,” according to Dan Hurley, writing for Discover. [Source]

Clarity of mind leads to clarity of thought. It is now increasingly evident that human minds work like spotlights, where our thoughts follow the direction in which our attention is focused. Where the spotlight shines, the attention is drawn, and the mind follows. Mindfulness and meditation help us think more like lanterns, casting a “broader light,” so to speak, to access the far-flung neurons in our brains that lead to more fluid and divergent thinking.

However, today’s society is quickly devolving in the opposite direction. Brevity is the currency of the 21st century, with the ubiquity of 140-character writings and the rise of 6-second videos representing the dwindling of our collective attention span. Between all the tweets, posts, texts, snapchats, re-pins and tumbles, it’s no wonder that there has been a 50% increase in the prescription of ADHD medications among adults between 2008 and 2012.

But this doesn’t mean it’s irreversible. Anyone can take up a simple mindfulness practice and boost their creativity chops. So how can you engage mindfulness and jumpstart your creativity? As a starting point, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, and listen to this simple guided meditation by Robert Guard, our resident shaman.