Stop Trying to Be 'Mindful.' It Might Be Killing Your Creativity.
I have several mindfulness apps on my phone that are all lying dormant. My longest streak was with Headspace, where I achieved 30 days but stopped after seeing no positive benefits. After ending my relationship with Headspace, I then proceeded to feel guilty for being a mindfulness dropout, especially because every single high-achieving person I hear interviewed on podcasts and in articles talks about their meditation or mindfulness habit.
However, the good news for fellow mindfulness failures is that recent research suggests that mindfulness might not be all its cracked up to be. In a review of 124 trials involving mindfulness as an intervention, positive findings were occurring 60 percent more often that was statistically likely. In addition, out of another 21 trials that were registered to be conducted, 62 percent remain unreported almost three years later, suggesting that negative results may actually be going unpublished.
And given my many failed attempts to try to be mindful, I was very excited to read some research suggesting that people who have brains that wander off easily may actually be smarter and more creative than those who remain mindful. Apparently, my inaptitude for mindfulness may be indicating talents in other areas.
The research, led by a group of researchers from the psychology department at Georgia Tech, brought 100 people into the lab and hooked them up to an fMRI machine. Participants were asked to focus on a stationary spot for five minutes. The amount of mind wandering was tracked, and at the end of the task, everyone completed an intelligence test and a creativity test.
The researchers found that lots of mind wandering was strongly related not only to higher intelligence, but also to higher levels of creativity. Associate psychology professor Eric Schumacher, one of the study's authors, said in a news release about the study that people whose brains process information more efficiently may be more likely to have wandering minds.
"Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor -- someone who's brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings," Schumacher said. "Or school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take five minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming."
After reading this study, my takeaway was that I am obviously above average in intelligence and creativity. Jokes aside, if you are someone who has tried and failed at being mindful, this study may help to explain why this is so.
For me, when I have a project I am trying to apply some creative thought to, my go-to strategy is to set my mind to solving the problem and then create space for mind wandering. For example, I had a 10-minute walk from my hotel to the Inventium Sydney office today, and my goal was to use that time to let my mind float around as to potential solutions for a challenge that I am working on this week.
If you find yourself struggling with a tricky problem, deliberately set aside time to daydream about it -- or even better, to not think about it at all. The benefits of doing so will be that your unconscious mind will get on the job and produce creative solutions without you having to do very much at all.
If your work involves problem solving with teams of people, consider how you can build in time for daydreaming. For example, if you are involved in a "brainstorming" workshop, present people with the challenge to solve a few days prior, which will give their mind ample wandering time. Likewise, you might think about building in five minutes of daydreaming time in your regular team meetings.
So, if you happen to be a mindfulness failure like me, I hope this article gives you some evidence to celebrate mind wandering.
Related Video: 5 Ways to Carve Out More Creative Time for Yourself