Could Mindfulness Meditation Increase Creativity?

Ever struggle for hours to solve a problem – only to find that the solution was right in front of your face?

I’m not just talking about math problems – but about our work, too. Sometimes, a little clarity helps clients make the leap from struggle to growth.

This is where mindfulness can really help.

Through it, we can learn to rely on our creativity in the moment, rather than on the cognitive and emotional habits we’ve developed over time.
Mindfulness and Creativity
Jonathan Greenberg, PhD, and his colleagues at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, wanted to see if mindfulness training improved cognitive flexibility. To find out, they conducted a two-part study.

First, they gave experienced meditators and a control group of people interested in meditation a set of logic problems. The first 6 trials required complicated solutions, with many steps.

But, the next 3 trials could be solved with the same complicated solution or with a much simpler two-step solution. The last two trials could only be solved with the simple, two-step solution.

Researchers hypothesized that experienced meditators would spot the simple solution quickly, while the control group would continue using the complex method out of habit.

And they were right.

Experienced meditators switched from the complex method more often, and solved the simple problems more quickly, than the control group.

But, this experiment lacked randomization, making it difficult to draw conclusions from their findings.

It’s always possible that, rather than mindfulness fostering creativity, it’s the other way around. Maybe creative people are drawn to meditation in the first place.

Fortunately, their second experiment corrected this flaw. This time, researchers randomly assigned people with no meditation experience into two interventions. One group received a six-week mindfulness meditation program, while the other was assigned to a waitlist to serve as a control.

Participants then tried to solve the same set of problems. Again, the mindfulness meditators spotted the simple solution more often, and more quickly, than the controls.

This study suggests that even 6 weeks of mindfulness training could improve problem-solving skills, possibly by creating the state of “beginner’s mind.”

If you’d like to read the full study, it’s published in PLoS ONE.

Have you ever used “beginner’s mind” as a tool to help your clients? Please share your experience with us below.


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7 Comments

  1. Sarah Zahnstecher says:

    After hearing about the benefits of mindfulness I still have no idea how to do it for myself or my clients.

  2. Marty says:

    Mindful meditations goal is to go below the ego or conscious mind or half of the brain.  We try to connect to the right brain.

    The right side is not literal, has no right or wrong or dialogue.  Words and numbers are pixels, so yes we are more creative.  mindful meditation is an accumulative practice.  

    each time you practice the connection between the two hemispheres grows and becomes a little thicker.  Equanimity is how Zen describes it.  I describe it as intuition.

    When the ego has less impact we become more creative.

  3. One of the features of mindfulness I have found to be very helpful in psychotherapy is the enhanced focus, sustained attention and concentration ‘practice’ that one has . . . which I have found with numerous clients to be very beneficial. ADHD clients, clients who have had stroke or head injury, even some clients with mild dementia have benefited from the improvements they have found when learning mindfulness and relaxation. One client had been programmed in public school as mentally retarded but actually had a severe learning disability and was also had ADHD. Once she learned mindfulness and learned some stress management and progressive muscle relaxation skills, and gained some faith in herself, she was able to finish a college degree with just a few accommodations. I am not surprised at the benefits research is finding when people are able to get centered and use more of their cognitive abilities.

  4. phil baum says:

    I think that any discipline, mind expanding, mind flexing practice tends to override habitual, rigidly defined notions of what constitutes reality.

    The folks I have met who have, in one way or another, opened their minds would as a side effect, tend to be more cognitively flexible, more relaxed, open minded, more creative, less uptight. They’ve loosened their grip on what’s so.

    On the other side of that equation lurks rigidity, where flexibility is perceived as a threat to stability, to one’s fixed bottom line world view which tends to be rigidly held and vigorously defended. One might characterize these folks as close minded, inflexible, cognitively impaired.

    The Buddhist notion of “I-don’t-know mind” promotes open mindedness whereas
    extreme fundamentalist views and thinking by contrast, are often righteously held, impenetrable, sealed off, aggressively defended.

    Based on my experience, people with whom I am acquainted who subscribe to the aforementioned view, tend to be more uptight, anxious, and threatened by novelty and change. As a consequence, their creativity tends to be bounded, curtailed, diminished, dwarfed. In brief, close minded.

  5. As a psychiatrist who treats anxiety, depression as well as doing couples therapy I find that using mindfulness and the concept of a beginners mind has been incredibly helpful to change automatic fixed reactions to more open mindful responding. I encourage all my patients to begin a practice and find that it helps not only control the automatic reactions but opens them to new ways of looking at old problems. The research is very exciting for me because I have always thought this to be true that mindfulness meditation would help problem solving. Now someone has shown it. Thank you for the reference !
    Larry Drell, MD
    drdrell.com
    counselingandtherapy.com
    for information on how anxiety, depression and couples counseling can be helped by meditation.

  6. Jeanne Hall says:

    Do you plan to have any more on site conferences?

    • Paige Silva says:

      Hi Jeanne,

      Thanks for your question. Right now, we don’t have any plans for a face to face conference. However, we are hard at work on some new online programs that we hope you’ll enjoy.

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