Mindfulness can calm down our anxious lives, but can it make us more creative too?
If you want to be more productive and more creative, a path to start looking down is mindfulness. As mindfulness practice rises in popularity, it occasionally crosses streams with every productivity and creativity blogger, podcaster and YouTuber I follow.
While seeing mindfulness reach into each of these different genres is fantastic, the result could end up being a bit of a contorted definition. The best place to start is simply asking “What is mindfulness?”
What Is Mindfulness?
Understanding an official, or practical definition of mindfulness is helpful – and I’ll certainly get to that – but exploring your personal definition of mindfulness might be even more helpful. The textbook definitions can point us in a perfect starting direction, opening us up to exploration of our own definition.
In order to develop a personal understanding of mindfulness, you must begin to form a relationship with your mind, your thoughts, and your emotions.
Over the past year, I began exposing myself to more mindfulness content. Things like The Ten Percent Happier Podcast, apps like Headspace, and more YouTube videos than I could count exposed me to this different way of thinking. I was fascinated with Mindfulness, but I wasn’t loyal to the term. I could see the term draw negative reactions from some people. However, I could also see that there were common themes among my other research on Buddhism, Minimalism, and Creative philosophies in general.
The recurring theme of paying attention to your thoughts, but not being bound to them was a magnetic concept to me. I have worked hard to cultivate a mindset closer to this understanding, and a mindfulness meditation practice has made it easier.
I have been struck by this term-going on-trend of Mindfulness, and the spectrum of perspectives that it can open up. Of course, there are snake oils amongst the potions when you start taking in mindfulness content. Those perspectives are all valuable, but many are to be taken with a grain of salt.
It should be noted, that there are so many connotations of mindfulness, that the term itself may turn a lot of people away. The beginning point then, should be a textbook definition.
The Definition of Mindfulness
Here’s the definition from Miriam Webster:
Definition of mindfulness
: the quality or state of being mindful
Definition 2 is a little bit more helpful.
: the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis
That’s a little clearer, but doesn’t leave any room for real life. There is no hint for how to begin to implement mindfulness in your life. Other than just trying not to judge myself – which I already know would be a good idea, yet I still judge harshly.
A definition from an article on mindful.org helped bring it a little closer to real life for me.
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” – mindful.org
It’s clearer. I feel directly attacked – but it’s clearer.
A Personal Definition of Mindfulness
Developing a personal definition of mindfulness is key to actually internalizing the textbook definitions above. So, what does mindfulness mean to you and me, respectively?
To me, mindfulness means simply being more aware of the way my brain works. Under certain circumstances, I can expect emotional reactions. Other times, I can be almost unresponsive, distracted by a parade of thoughts in my head. Knowing this, and knowing that it will interfere with my thoughts is important in gaining a crumb of control.
I’ll still wander into situations where my emotions are guiding me, however being mindful – aware that my thinking dictates my understanding and actions – gives me an opportunity to take the reigns back from my emotions.
A personal definition of mindfulness is great. It gets us to start enacting mindfulness, instead of just practicing it. What I mean by this, is we start injecting mindful practices into our day instead of separating time for it on its own, and expecting that to carry over. A combination of both is where the power begins to take flight.
Now that you have mindfulness in your quiver, we can ready our bow and take aim at creativity.
Can Mindfulness Make Us More Creative?
If you are a creative person, you have probably experienced periods where you were hard at work. Trying desperately to conjure up a new idea, or embark in a new creative direction. For me, there have been countless nights throwing draft after draft out and starting from scratch.
The highest highs of the creative life, however, usually doesn’t happen in those moments of intense focused work. The moment every creative lives for is the creative breakthrough. Those moments where the cliche light bulb illuminates an entirely new idea in your mind’s eye.
These creative breakthroughs rarely happen during intense work. They happen during intense rest.
Mindfulness Induced Breakthroughs
Two weeks ago, I was beginning to suffer from the creeping sense of creative frustration. Other people may call it writer’s block, but I have stubbornly taken the stance that it doesn’t exist. I was frustrated with my creativity, and felt bored with the project I was trying to work on.
So I went for a walk. 45 minutes of chill, nighttime air that would wrap around me with each breath out. With Adam Grant’s book, “Think Again” (affiliate link) playing in my headphones, I took a break from my writing – not planning on going back to it that night.
20 minutes into the walk, I paused Adam mid-sentence and stopped walking. I took a deep breath in, and soaked in the absolute silence. The moon shone bright above me, once again illuminating the steam scarf that I adorned after each breath out.
I was grateful for the opportunity to be standing there. Slowly, and then all at once, I was swarmed with appreciation for everything in my life. I even felt brief appreciation for traumatic events for helping shape me and my creativity.
Gratefulness as the Backbone of Inspiration
Along with this gratefulness, came a raging swarm of creative inspiration. Ideas for new topics rushed past me, and many furthered the topic I had just been stuck on. Thankfully, I was able to step back from these thoughts to capture some that would be useful to me.
One idea I plucked from the swarm was this very article. However, the best insight I gathered from those thoughts was the wisdom to set an idea aside. The article I was stuck on deserved room to breathe. There was a kind of dissonance between myself and the idea, and some time to dive deeper into the topic would benefit the piece (and my sanity).
Mindfulness is to thank for all of these insights, and the ability to capture any of them. I knew how beneficial a few moments in the silence would be for. My breathing was so used to being accompanied by gratitude, that it naturally followed when I set up the runway for it.
Mindfulness is a Tactical Skill
Most importantly, mindfulness was the skill it took to take a step back from the rush of thoughts and ideas. While there were a lot of golden ideas within that rush, much of it was traumatic replays and beasts better left un-poked. Being able to step back and put a mental distance between the thought and my actual being is key to maintaining my momentum every day.
Mindfulness can make us more creative by teaching us over time to build in time for nothing. Creative genius happens at a stand-still, not full speed. While it doesn’t guarantee greatness, mindfulness does help our creative work get better as well. By remaining critical, yet non-judgemental of our thoughts, we can translate that practice onto our creative output.
Mindfulness is attached to a lot of intimidating textbook definitions. Those are important to learn, and then translate into an actionable plan in your life and your creative practice. After understanding mindfulness on both of these levels, we are setting up our creativity to explore and flourish.
The answer to the question “can mindfulness make us more creative” is really dependent on your definition of mindfulness, and your relationship to creativity.
I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about creativity. Every month, I am going to start sending out an email collection of the things I am working on – right beside the inspiration for them.
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