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KEY POINTS:

1. Practising mindfulness and meditation has been shown to improve attentional control, problem solving, concentration, and creativity.

2. Imaging techniques that show brain activation and neural networks have demonstrated that mindfulness and meditation can improve brain function - like strength training for the brain! 

By Dr. Greg Wells

I recently participated in a thought leadership exercise at a school in Toronto. The school was interested in developing a strategic plan for how the leaders and faculty could help students prepare for the future, which is more uncertain than ever.

I was asked to provide my thoughts on what skills and characteristics the graduates of the future would need to be successful. Repeatedly, others also participating in this exercise highlighted the need for graduates to be agile in their thinking and to be creative—these were considered the skills that would enable them to overcome the challenges they inevitably would face in their careers.

Practising mindfulness and meditation has been shown both in applied practice and in the research to improve attentional control, problem solving, concentration, and creativity. New imaging techniques—including functional magnetic resonance imaging, which shows brain activation, and diffusion tensor imaging, which shows the neural networks in the brain—are demonstrating that mindfulness and meditation can improve brain function and meditation as strength training for the brain.

Just as you would lift weights to build and strengthen your muscles, you can use meditation to build and strengthen your brain, and then to control and sharpen your mind, ultimately making you more creative. Which is essential in today's competitive world in all disciplines.

Today's Power Up: The 3 meditations for creativity

Mindfulness practices enable individuals to think more independently from their prior experiences and assumptions. Existing research has also found that mindfulness supports cognitive flexibility, or the ability to engage in alternative thinking strategies in response to new and unexpected conditions. While a short meditation is unlikely to transform a person into a brilliant creative genius that can see the world anew, studies have found that people who participate in a short 3-minute mindfulness exercise produce more creative responses compared to those that do not undergo the exercise.

The next time you need to get yourself into an innovative state of mind, try the following three things:

Get in the now. Connect with the present moment by taking three deep breaths. Become aware of any pressure you feel to produce a “great” idea, simple acknowledge that it’s there, and come back fully to your breath. If you need to, take another 3 breaths.

Get curious. Pick up an object you are familiar with like a paper clip or a single staple. Spend a moment holding this object as if you are from another planet and have never seen it before. Feel it, bend it, smell it, stare at it up close and from afar. Bring it up to your ear and bend it to see if you can hear any sounds.

Get practical. Creativity requires both novelty and utility. Write down 10 things that you could do with this object that are different from its originally intended use. For example, a staple could be a toothpick or a thumbtack.