Just One Week of Meditation Can Boost Creative Problem Solving

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From deciding what to eat for breakfast to handling a complex dilemma at the office, there is always more than one solution to any problem

The paths linking a problem to any number of resolutions can become twisted with doubt, uncertainty, or fear. Choosing one solution means giving up other opportunities. How do we select the best course of action?

Divergent thinking is a style of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated. It offers personal space and an outlet for creativity, making room to think up as many uses as possible for a given topic or solutions to a problem. Or better, discovering solutions that provide unexpected gains, or minimize compromise.

“Creative breakthroughs are often reported to emerge spontaneously, when the mind is distracted and not focusing on the problem at hand,” says cognitive psychologist Mark A. Smith, Ph.D.

How can we get started with divergent thinking and produce multiple creative solutions to problems in a short time? The answer is as simple as breathing.

Doron Libshtein is regarded as a world-leading self-development mentor, having worked closely with top spirituality authors, including Deepak Chopra, Byron Katie, Robin Sharma, Tim Kelley, Marcia Weider and Karen Berg.

As chairman and founder of Mentors Channel, Libshtein spearheads the holistic wellness program at The Hall Center in Santa Monica, California, a mindful medical practice connecting people to joy and their life’s true purpose.

Libshtein says, “Meditation can help women gain ‫the inspiration and focus offered by divergent thinking. Creative ideas can come from meditation and connection to the source of your inner voice and thoughts.”

How can meditation improve Divergent Thinking?

Certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking, even if it’s your first time meditating. Open Monitoring meditation, which allows us to open to perceive and observe any sensation, promotes divergent thinking. In other words, maintaining a mindful and alert state during meditation results in more insight. Libshtein says, “One myth is that meditation is ‘no thought.’ This actually ends up blocking the practice of meditation.” Researcher Yi-Yuan Tang explains why Open Monitoring meditation isn’t about controlling your thoughts: “Instead we invite meditators to open to their inside ideas. They can observe and be aware of their thoughts.”

Give it a week

In a Leiden University study, researchers confirmed the belief that meditation can have a long-lasting influence on human cognition, including how we conceive new ideas. Participants performed better in divergent thinking (thinking up as many possible solutions for a given problem) after Open Monitoring meditation (being receptive to every thought and sensation). The best part? Long-term improvements in creativity performance were made after participants meditated only 30 minutes a day, for just 7 days. Consider whether you’d rather wrestle with a problem at work for a week, or gather multiple solutions in a day.

Is meditation beneficial in the workplace?

Executive Management Associates CEO Nancy Slomowitz introduced meditation to her employees. “Meditation produced tangible, practical benefits in both their professional and personal lives. And surprisingly, the company’s cost of healthcare insurance actually went down due to a reduction in sick claims.”

Cynthia McFadden, senior legal correspondent for NBC News, agrees. “My friends are all really busy playing multiple roles as wives, mothers, business executives, raising money for charity–there’s a whole range of things,” she says. “For me, meditation has helped me be more effective in the things I most care about. I don’t know how it works, but I know it does.”

I’m busy. Can’t I just free-write some ideas? Why bother with this meditation stuff?

“The qualities that meditation brings forth can have profound effects on the creative process,” says Libshtein. “For example, you may find that your patience, clarity, insight and perspective are markedly improved, and that can help better your divergent thinking.”

Meditating helps the cerebral cortex to relax in order to access divergent thinking in the right hemisphere to provide the insight. Dr. Smith explains why relaxation is essential: “It isn’t until we’re soothed that we’re able to turn the spotlight of attention inward, eavesdropping on all those random associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain’s right hemisphere. When we need an insight, those associations are often the source of the answer.” Dr. Smith says relaxation promotes a positive mood, which tends to “enhance divergent thinking and creative problem solving.”

How can I get started?

Simple steps to start Open Monitoring meditation

1. Set aside 30 minutes daily, for one week.

You can sit with your back straight or lie down – whichever feels the most comfortable. “It’s best to meditate in the morning or just before you go to bed at night,” says Libshtein. “But the timing isn’t as important as just doing it regularly.”

2. Be Open.

According to Dr. Judith Kravitz’s Transformational Breath method, use your breath as a vehicle to “set the mind free” and allow any thoughts, sensations and emotions that arise. The first goal is to open the breath, then open the mind to any occurring thought, sensation or emotion. During a session, as a thought occurs, most often accompanied by an emotion or a sensation in the body, simply observe and acknowledge the experience without any judgment. Accept all feelings and forms of emotions from moment to moment.

3. Affirm Yourself.

Once you’re maintaining a calm, connected breathing pattern, you can add an affirmation. It may sound New Age-y, but affirmations should be statements of fundamental truths. Continue to breathe without pausing, and try an affirmation such as, “I am open,” “I accept myself as I am,” or, “I let go.” Notice and simply accept what comes up.

It’s common for busy women to say the one thing standing between them and meditation is time. “The busier we are, the more we need that centering time,” says Ariana Huffington, Huffington Post editor-in-chief, “time to actually be able to connect with our inner wisdom.”

Rebecca Lacko is an author and journalist with a passion for healthy living. Get acquainted at The Written Word.

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