Will Burns

Unleash Creativity Blog

Scientific studies that help us unleash our most human attribute: creativity.

Science Suggests Mindfulness Meditation May Be At Odds With Creativity

Photo by  Simon Rae  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

For some reason I always assumed that mindfulness meditation was good for creativity. I do it myself from time to time and always feel refreshed and a little more grounded. How could that be bad for creativity?

Well, it turns out that the benefits of meditation are actually at odds with the act of creativity. We've talked plenty in the Unleash Creativity Blog about how situations that encourage divergent thinking will increase creativity. Like the noise of a coffee shop, doing menial and repetitive tasks, walking, dim lighting, day dreaming, creating psychological distance and many others. 

It's all about our working memory.

What these situations do is mitigate the effect of our working memory. As Sian Beilock, psychology professor at The University of Chicago, points out in her terrific book, "Choke," working memory is great for helping us to focus, but not so great for divergent thinking.

In fact, divergent thinking is the opposite of focusing.

The coffee shop, dim lighting and doing menial tasks actually mitigate the effects of our working memory so that we are less able to focus and more likely to think divergently.

Now, think about what mindfulness meditation does. Even the word "mindfulness" gives us a clue. It quiets the mind, reduces thought traffic, and makes us more aware (mindful) of what's around us right now in the present. 

Hardly sounds like divergent thinking. Thought traffic is a critical component to creativity. It's almost as if mindfulness meditation strengthens our working memory.

Art Markman, Professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, wrote a post for Inc. Magazine recently entitled, "Mindfulness and Creativity. He put it this way:

...the awareness of thoughts often decreases mind-wandering. Mind-wandering is bad for tasks that require focused attention, but can actually be good for divergent thinking. So, the awareness element of mindfulness may actually work against creativity a bit.

To me, the jury is still out.

I understand how mindfulness may tamper our creativity while we're doing the meditation. But meditation has many, many other useful health benefits that may make its dampening of creativity worthwhile.

I also believe there's something to be said for clearing our minds from time to time. Being stressed and having uncontrollable thought traffic bombarding our minds can't be great for creativity either.

As with most things in life, my guess it's a balance we need to achieve. 

I'll keep a lookout for future science around the topic of meditation and creativity. 

Sign up for my monthly newsletter below and get a new creativity tip with each issue.