The high pressures of a demanding work environment force you to run on autopilot, simply going through the motions and achieving half-hearted outcomes so you can move on to the next item on your ever-growing to-do list. However, at a time when creativity and innovation are more important to business success than ever, this method of “succeeding by force” can leave you feeling drained, burned out, and disconnected – not exactly a fertile breeding ground for fresh ideas.
You see, when we encounter challenges, our brains are naturally wired to search through our past experiences to find solutions. When we’re pressed for time, we think “What worked before? Great, let’s do that!” There’s no room for “What if…” in this mode of thinking. As a result, the solutions we come up with are often more about being “good enough” rather than being truly inventive. In order to contribute at a higher level and reach your full career potential (and let’s be honest, preserve your sanity along the way), it’s important to cultivate habits and environments that support creative thinking and innovation.
So how do you go about doing this? A growing body of research tells us that the key to unlocking creativity isn’t speeding up and pushing harder, but rather slowing down and practicing mindfulness. You may be thinking, “Oh, well that sounds nice and all, but I don’t have time to sit around the campfire and sing Kumbayah all day – I’ve got real work to do.” But hear us out – you can supercharge your creativity (and begin reaping the many other benefits of mindfulness) by practicing for only 10 minutes per day.
Mindfulness meditation increases cognitive flexibility and switches on divergent thinking, allowing for new ideas to be generated. Those who practice mindfulness are better able to cultivate a “beginner’s mind” and are less blinded by past experiences, habitual thinking, and cognitive biases as a result. We begin each session of our HNS Accelerate program with a mindfulness practice, which helps participants to be open to new ways of leading themselves and others.
Practicing mindfulness reduces activity in an area of your brain called the amygdala which is responsible for stress regulation. Practicing mindfulness takes you out of the frantic energy of “doing” mode, which centers around pushing yourself to work harder and faster to “fix” things, and into the calming energy of “being”, which focuses on openness and connection to the present moment.
Mindfulness supports you in being more present and focused on what others have to say, as well as considering their ideas with a more open mind. In a study that compared two groups’ ability to generate ideas (one group meditated prior to the exercise and the other did not), the meditating group was 121% more able to build on the ideas of others, compounding the powerful positive effects of mindfulness on creating inventive solutions.
When you innovate, you’re pushing boundaries and doing something in a way that it’s never been done before. This inevitably comes with challenges and set-backs. When you’re already drained and in a frazzled state of mind, these set-backs can lead to over-reactions that cause you to prematurely throw in the towel. Conversely, mindfulness increases your awareness of your thoughts and emotions, allowing you to take a step back to put them into perspective and respond calmly under pressure. As a result, when unexpected obstacles arise, it’s easier to go into “problem-solving mode” and find creative ways to overcome challenges.
The development of mindful workplaces is on the rise, with companies such as Apple and Google offering corporate-based mindfulness programs that feature perks like free or subsidized mindfulness resources and designated spaces for employees to unplug, recharge and meditate. Be sure to look into what mindfulness benefits your company offers, and if none exist, encourage them to reconsider. However, even if your company doesn’t offer these resources, there are still simple steps that you can take to infuse your day with mindfulness and begin reaping its many benefits. Here are a few things you can do to get started:
To truly maximize the benefits of this practice, you need to do just that – practice. We recommend downloading an app like Headspace or Calm. Both of these resources cater to meditators of all experience levels and offer guided meditations starting at only 3-5 minutes. This practice should feel rejuvenating, not like another stress-inducing item on your to-do list, so remember – it’s okay to start small with just a few minutes per day. Setting aside a few minutes to be mindful in the morning can have a transformative impact on your entire day.
You may begin your day feeling calm and centered, but one look at your inbox can be enough to send you spiraling back into a frantic mode of “doing” on autopilot. To combat this, look for opportunities to insert mindful moments throughout your day where you can slow down and re-center when you begin to feel stressed or emotionally reactive. One easy way to do this is with a body scan.
How to do a body scan
1. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet resting on the floor; Sit very still for the duration of the exercise, and move with awareness if it becomes necessary to adjust your position.
2. Begin by bringing awareness to your breath, taking note of each in-breath and out-breath. There’s no need to try and change the way you are breathing. Just hold gentle awareness on the breath.
3. When you’re ready, direct your attention to the soles of your feet, opening your mind to whatever sensations are there to be noticed.
Notice the pressure on the soles of your feet as the weight of your legs rests on them.
Just notice. No need to judge. If your mind is pulled away or wanders, redirect your attention, firmly and gently.
4. Move your attention next to the tops of your feet, ankles, then your lower legs, knees, and so forth, gradually scanning through your body all the way up to the top of your head, noticing any sensations or discomfort. No need to search for sensations; just keep scanning through your body, taking your time and being open to what is there.
5. When you’ve finished scanning your body, begin to bring your awareness back to the room. Whenever you’re ready, you can open your eyes.
Pick an everyday object such as a paperclip or stapler, and brainstorm as many uses for it as possible. Don’t filter yourself – let any and all ideas come through, no matter how outlandish or unrealistic they may seem. You may find brainstorming with a colleague even more effective, as you build off of each other’s ideas. Repeating this exercise regularly with different objects will help you train your brain to see familiar items beyond their traditional use and cultivate a beginner’s mind. Honing these skills in a low-stakes environment will serve you well when you’re presented with a challenge at work and need to generate a creative solution.
In today’s workplace, there’s a common notion that if you’re not “always on” or tackling an overwhelming amount of responsibilities, then you’re not working hard enough. However, research tells us that this style of living and working is wreaking havoc on our productivity, creative output, mental health, bodies, and relationships. Stress and burnout are not badges of honor – they’re lethal to the creativity required for both personal and business success. Mindfulness provides us with an opportunity to end this toxic work culture, restore our health, and reclaim our creativity, ultimately driving innovation. We highly suggest you give it a try, and once you begin reaping the many benefits, we’re sure you’ll never look back!