How mindfulness boosts creativity – Tim Cools


"We cannot solve our problems with the same mindset that created them."

– Albert Einstein

What is mindfulness

Before we get into the relationship between mindfulness and creativity, let's first define what mindfulness is.

A simple definition

Mindfulness refers to the ability to be fully present and aware without interpretation or judgment.

Cultivating a state of mindfulness is usually done by focusing your awareness on the present moment while calmly and without judgment, acknowledging and accepting any feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations that may arise. Although it is a fundamental and innate human ability that we all share, reaching this mental state requires some effort first.

Mindfulness and Meditation: Are They One and the Same?

The terms “mindfulness” and “meditation” are often used in a similar context so that confusion is understandable. While they share many similarities and have incredibly intertwined practical uses, the terms are not exactly interchangeable.

You might see them as mirror-like reflections of each other, with the most obvious difference being that mindfulness is a state of mind that can be applied to any situation throughout the day, whereas meditation is usually only practiced for a certain period of time.

Focused attention and open monitoring: the two general categories of meditation

Focused attention (FA)

Focused attention meditation involves focusing on an object or thought, such as the flame of a candle or repeating a mantra.

This type of meditation promotes a state of stillness and is therefore also known as clear mind meditation. FA mediation is especially helpful for beginners because of its effectiveness in preventing distraction.

Open Monitoring (OM)

Open surveillance meditation, on the other hand, requires unfocused thinking and means opening the mind and being receptive to any feelings, thoughts, or sensations that are present in one's body.

Although the meditator is not thinking deliberately, thoughts will inevitably arise anyway. Whenever this happens, the thoughts are not stopped in a forceful manner, but merely observed with a non-judgmental attitude until they disappear. This practice can help practitioners understand that they are not their mind as they can see that the mind sometimes has a will of its own.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a unique blend that includes techniques of focused attention meditation and open surveillance meditation. The goal is to remain aware and not judge what is being experienced.

Typically, an attention anchor is used that meditators focus their attention on, such as breathing. At the same time, they remain aware of their surroundings and have both a peripheral and an inner awareness of all the different sensations, thoughts and feelings that are present in the body. All of this is done in a non-reactive manner, and practitioners forego judgment and simply accept everything that happens around and in them.

Mindfulness meditation helps people accept and not react and enables them to gain perspectives on irrational and self-destructive thoughts. For this reason, it is often used in combination with psychotherapy.

What is creativity

A simple definition

Creativity is a complex and multifaceted concept that is difficult to find a full definition of, but we can describe it as “a phenomenon in which something new (ie original and unexpected) and appropriate (ie valuable and adaptable in terms of tasks) is restrictions) is created. " (Source)

The connection between mindfulness and creativity

Numerous studies have shown that mindfulness has a significant impact on our body and mind and can therefore severely impair our physical, mental and emotional well-being. From better sleep, reduced stress levels and a strengthened immune system on a physical level to improved mood and reduced anxiety, rumination and burnout on a psychological level, to name a few.

Another aspect of mindfulness that is attracting increasing interest is its effect on and its connection to creativity. Since we don't currently have a clear and straightforward explanation of what exactly creativity is, it is no easy task to examine this relationship. Because of this lack of conceptual clarity, researchers avoid addressing creativity as a whole and tend to focus on its respective sub-components and the various and dissociable processes that underlie it.

One of the most famous studies is the 2012 study by Lorenza Colzato and Dominique Lippelt, in which they examined the influence of meditation with focused attention and meditation with open surveillance (both related to mindfulness) on creativity tasks that unlock convergent and divergent thinking . Another defining study is that of Baas, in which he examined the importance of specific mindfulness skills in the creative process.

Convergent and divergent thinking

The terms convergent and divergent thinking were first used in 1956 by the psychologist J.P. Guilford coined.

Divergent thinking is the process of researching and creating multiple possible and unique ideas. It fits best with open problems and requires a context in which more than one solution is correct. In contrast, convergent thinking is a style of thinking in which a correct solution is found to a well-defined problem. It emphasizes speed and high accuracy and relies heavily on logic rather than creativity.

Although divergent thinking is definitely the more creative of the two, true creativity requires both thought processes because they actually complement each other: divergent thinking helps us generate new ideas, while convergent thinking evaluates them and selects the most useful. In other words, a creative and effective problem-solving process consists of a divergent synthesis followed by a convergent analysis.

What impact does mindfulness have on convergent and divergent thinking?

As mentioned earlier, mindfulness meditation combines techniques of both targeted attention meditation and open surveillance meditation.

Through their study, Colzato and Lippelt discovered that open surveillance meditation is very effective at stimulating divergent thinking. This wasn't a surprise. More unexpectedly, however, was the discovery that directed attention meditation did not maintain convergent thinking. The researchers suspect that this could be because the practice of meditation affects convergent thinking in two opposite ways due to the combination of its focused character and its relaxing aspect. In addition, both types of meditation techniques tend to improve mood in comparable ways, facilitating divergent thinking but not convergent thinking.

The importance of specific mindfulness skills in the creative process

A few years later, the psychologist Matthijs Baas expanded the work of Colzato and Lippelt and showed that of the many different key elements and skills of mindfulness, only one is a clear predictor of creativity (source).

The mindfulness-related skills he assessed were:

  • Observation (i.e. the ability to observe internal phenomena and external stimuli);
  • act consciously (i.e., carry out activities with undivided attention);
  • Description (i.e. the ability to describe phenomena without analyzing conceptually);
  • and accepting without judgment (i.e., not being judgmental).

What Baas discovered was that the ability to observe and observe various stimuli was the only consistently reliable predictor of creativity. This observational ability, enhanced through open surveillance meditation, improves working memory, increases cognitive flexibility, and decreases cognitive rigidity. According to Baas, it is closely related to openness to experience, one of the five personality traits of the Big Five personality theory, which is considered to be one of the most robust indicators of creative success. (Source).

This shows that instead of a simple and all-encompassing positive correlation, there are indeed certain mindfulness traits that stimulate creative output. Therefore, if you want to improve your creativity, it is best to focus on honing those specific skills.

Three ways to encourage creativity

Aside from improving your observation skills, there are many other ways that you can encourage creativity.

Take your time for the aha! Moments

Nowadays we do something all the time. Be it checking email and social media or worrying about what we're going to eat later tonight. This has a detrimental effect on our creative flow as we find ourselves daydreaming where we are most receptive to new ideas.

Aha! Moment (also known as the Eureka Effect) is a moment of sudden insight or discovery that usually occurs when your thinking brain is turned off.

Eurekas are created by new neural connections that are formed in your brain. They take time to incubate and usually occur at a subconscious level when your brain is given the opportunity to idly incorporate new information into existing knowledge. That way, it can recognize patterns and make new connections that weren't obvious to your conscious mind.


Try to take your time so your mind can move freely. This can happen, for example, while showering or running.
Make sure these moments are not used to force creative insights, as this will most likely have the opposite effect. Eurekas are usually not discovered on purpose, and attempting to do so can inadvertently choke the entire process.

Raise your mood

The biggest benefit of mood enhancement is that it improves your general well-being and health, but it also affects many other aspects of your daily life, such as your creativity.

While feeling good may not encourage convergent thinking, other aspects of the creative process such as: B. divergent thinking, strong of it.

Our mood influences our perception to a great extent. When we are in a relaxed state of mind, we tend to see things in a different light and are often able to find new and unique ways to approach a problem.


There are numerous ways you can improve your mood, and mindfulness is just one of many. However, thanks to the innate relaxing nature of mindfulness and its ability to become more aware of our constant wandering, it is by far the best tool at our disposal as awareness is the first step in change.
Intentional free roaming of our minds can be beneficial, but inadvertent wandering, on the other hand, quickly turns into rumination or worry. Our ability to think about what has happened, will and could happen is a cognitive achievement shared only by us humans. Unfortunately, this accomplishment comes with an emotional cost and makes many of us unhappy, worried, and anxious.
The conscious decision whether we are completely present or absent can therefore have a very positive effect on our well-being.

Practice later thinking techniques

Lateral thinking, also known as thinking outside the box, refers to the mental process of solving a problem or generating new ideas and solutions by looking at something from a new and unique perspective. It tends to be creative, illogical, and unconventional, and is the opposite of vertical or logical thinking.

The term was coined in 1967 by Edward De Bono in his book The Use of Lateral Thinking.


The PMI strategy (plus, minus, interesting)
PMI is a useful brainstorming, decision-making, and critical thinking tool that encourages participants to look at things from more than one angle by listing the positive, negative and interesting.
The six thinking hats
The Six Thinking Hats model is a metaphorical representation of different thinking styles.
The ability to change the way you think about problems can lead to great discoveries and more informed, resilient decisions. This is why "putting on another hat" (i.e. examining things from different angles) can be so beneficial.


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