Creativity through Mindfulness

Over several blog posts I have explored the relationship between mindfulness and creativity.  In this post, I want to bring these ideas together to provide a more complete picture of how to develop creativity through mindfulness.

Mindfulness creates the internal environment for creativity through the following:

Stillness and silence

We discussed previously how creative people use stillness and silence to access their inner resources including their imagination.  The busyness of life and constant thinking means we are rarely still or silent.  In the process, we cut ourselves off from creative insight.  Jon Kabat-Zinn and Reg Revans also remind us that exploring what we do not know or understand is the beginning of learning and creative solutions.   As we practice mindfulness through meditation, we engage in stillness and silence and open ourselves up to what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as “deep interior capacities” that lie within the “spaciousness” of our minds.

Turning down negative thoughts

Mindfulness can make us aware of the negative thoughts that often block creativity and constitute self-sabotage.  Creative people like David Lynch, Amanda Sinclair, Elizabeth Gilbert and Seth Godin report the importance of turning down, or turning off, thoughts about potential failure or deemed personal inadequacy.  Seth even ascribes this self-sabotage to the “Lizard Brain”.  Sam Smith, singer-songwriter, during a recent interview while performing in London, spoke of the internal demons that beset him and almost prevented him from pursuing his highly successful songwriting and singing career.

Mindfulness enables us to address negative thoughts and stories and defuse their strength to release creativity.  Boy George in a recent coaching session with a very nervous performer on the TV show, The Voice, encouraged the singer to let go of preoccupation with what others might think of their performance:

I think you are someone who really thinks about what people think about you.  We do that as performers – it’s just one of those things, it’s like a default setting in out make-up.  We worry too much about what other people think of us and that can get in the way of what we do.  Don’t think about it too much is the key.

Positive anticipation instead of disabling fear

In a previous post, I discussed the research of Anna Steinhenge and her demonstration of how positive anticipation can overcome the disabling effects of fear and enable us to access clear thinking and creativity.  In this discussion, I explored the R.A.I.N. meditation process that enables us to face the fear within and conquer it so that we free ourselves for new insights and creative endeavour.   Through mindfulness meditation we learn to name our feelings in order to tame them.

Calming the busyness of our minds

Mindfulness enables us to calm our minds and free us from mental busyness or what Haruki Murakami describes as “convoluted waterways of my consciousness” that result in a “restless aquatic organism” .   Even experienced meditation practitioners will sometimes find their mind racing and being invaded with endless thoughts.  Kabat-Zin reminds us that this is part of the human condition and we will not be able to stop the thoughts.  He suggests that instead of entertaining these thoughts, we view them as bubbles in boiling water floating to the surface and bursting on reaching the extremities of the container – our minds.

Being present and grounded

Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, co-authors of The Mind of the Leader, stress the importance of leaders being present and grounded.   They argue that being present in conversations gains respect and facilitates open sharing of ideas.  Being grounded before beginning a conversation or meeting can enhance a leader’s capacity to listen, take in ideas and access their own creative potential.   Practicising somatic meditation, which incorporates many approaches to being grounded in our body, will strengthen our capacity to be present in the moment, stay grounded in the conversation and be open to creative ideas.

Acting on creative ideas with boldness and bravery

It is one thing to have creative ideas, it is another to have the necessary  boldness and bravery to implement creative ideas.  Amanda Sinclair points out in her book, Leading Mindfully, that creativity involves breaking with tradition, taking risks, trying out something new and having the self-esteem and resilience to be able to persist in the face of opposition – especially from those who have a vested interest in maintaining things the way they are.

Mindfulness helps us to maintain focus, to remain calm, build resilience in the face of opposition and setbacks, and to become braver and less fearful of the difficulties, dangers and risks involved in implementing creative ideas.

As we grow in mindfulness, we are able to access our inner resources through stillness and silence of meditation, overcome our fears, stay present and grounded, remain calm in the face of difficulties and develop boldness, bravery and resilience as we venture beyond “the tried and true”.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

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Be Brave, Be Creative

In the previous blog post I discussed the need for boldness to take action on a creative idea – to be willing to break with tradition and act on a different way of conceiving something, e.g. Karen Quinlan’s innovations based on a new conception of an art gallery.  I also explained how mindfulness can help us to be bold enough to initiate action on a creative idea – by helping us to build calm, clarity, focus and self-belief.

To sustain creative activity, however, also requires bravery.  It takes courage to explore new terrain, persevere despite setbacks and maintain your energy and enthusiasm when the going gets rough.

Creativity and bravery

Bravery can be defined as “having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty”.   Invariably, there will be setbacks when you set out on a creative endeavour.  For instance, Karen Quinlan found that some gallery directors she approached refused to loan her artwork for her gallery.  However, she was able to persist with her creative ideas and enlist the help of others who supported her ground-breaking ideas.

While Karen was prepared to take risks, like many successful entrepreneurs, she took only calculated risks.  This required considerable research and planning.   Amanda Sinclair explained that Karen, for example, knew that women make up 80-90% of visitors to art galleries in Australia and that very few of the male-dominated, art gallery directors made any effort to satisfy the interests and needs of this demographic group.  So, she was able to draw on her own interests, training and experience to identify these needs and develop creative ways to meet them.

When you encounter a setback, you often cannot see the way forward but you are able to persevere because of your strong belief in the creative idea, its potential contribution and your capacity to see it through to completion.  Mindfulness builds the persistence and resilience required to overcome difficulties and fears along the way even when the way ahead is becoming increasingly unclear.

As you progress your creative ideas and implement your new approach, you will encounter increased resistance from those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  Reg Revans, the father of action learning, who met considerable opposition to his creative approach throughout his life, quoted the German philosopher Nietzsche to explain how new ideas are opposed:

If you think you have a new idea, see what happens.  Unless it is opposed by the stupid and ridiculed by the clever, it can have nothing new in it.

In the face of this kind of irrational and emotive opposition, you need support to sustain yourself and your energy.  Karen was able to gather a creative team to support the development and implementation of her ideas.  This collaboration helped her to maintain motivation, develop creative solutions to problems encountered and build external support.  Karen found, as often is the case, that local businesses came on board with her ideas with cross-promotions when they started to see the increase in tourist traffic and international acceptance and accolades for the Bendigo Art Gallery being developed by Karen.

Bravery and mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you to be more conscious of, and grateful for, the internal and external support you receive and to develop the relationships involved through awareness, empathetic listening and loving kindness.

Mindfulness develops calm and clarity in the face of stressors that would undermine confidence or cloud your vision.  It helps you to strengthen the courage of your convictions, overlook sustained opposition of fearful people, build resilience and develop new ways around roadblocks and impediments to the way forward.  As you grow in mindfulness, you become braver in the pursuit of creative ideas and less fearful of the risks, dangers and difficulties involved.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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Be Bold, Be Creative

In recent blog posts, I have identified how mindfulness opens the way to creative ideas through:

However, it is one thing to generate creative ideas; it is another to act on them.   Being creative requires boldness.  The very definition of creativity entails “inventiveness” and “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something” – going beyond traditional ways of conceiving things and acting on that insight.

Creativity and boldness

Creativity entails action – going beyond the creative idea to taking action to realise the potential of that idea.  As Amanda Sinclair points out in her book, Leading Mindfully, being creative requires boldness which is defined in the online Oxford Dictionary as “the willingness to take risks and act innovatively”.  Starting out on a new venture requires this boldness – a willingness to initiate action to create a new response to the micro- and macro-environment.  This requires the calmness and focus generated by mindfulness and the ability to still the inner chatter as you set forth on this new journey with an uncertain end.

Breaking with tradition

A further explanation of creativity suggests that it involves “the ability to transcend traditional ideas” to “create meaningful new ideas”.  It takes boldness to break away from established ways of conceiving and doing things.

In her chapter on “Opening to Creativity“, Amanda discusses the creativity of Karen Quinlan, Director of the Bendigo Art Gallery, and her bold and very successful endeavour to break away from tradition.  Her success was been encapsulated in the term “the Bendigo Effect” and its alternative, “the Quinlan Effect”.

Her first break with tradition was to take on the Director’s role where leadership in the area was typically male-dominated.  She also broke the mould by conceiving of high-end art as incorporating fashion – an inclusion that was a blind spot for male Directors.  In pursuit of this expanded perspective, Karen put on exhibitions such as Marilyn Munroe and Grace Kelly-Style Icon.  She also incorporated topics and art forms that fell outside the normal realm of established art galleries, e.g. Australian Women Photographers.

Karen was open to ideas from any source and this openness and awareness led to the development of an Imagining Ned exhibition based on the story of Ned  Kelly and artefacts from Ned’s life (including his armour).  Her vision of an art gallery incorporated a strong focus on education and relaxation (with the development of an art gallery cafe).

One has to be bold to make such a major departure from tradition – to take innovative action rather than be frozen by fear.  It also takes a very strong self-awareness and self-belief to ignore the naysayers who are always present to “throw cold water” on a new idea to discourage your eagerness.  Mindfulness strengthens self-esteem and builds resistance to the unwarranted assumptions of others.

With bold action comes uncertainty about outcomes – the road ahead is not always clear and can become quite cloudy and fogged in.   Mindfulness helps to maintain focus, remain calm, build self-control and achieve clarity of purpose and vision.

To reinforce her boldness and maintain her energy, Karen undertakes regular exercise (walking & running) and relaxation through gardening or a quiet restaurant lunch.  She gives priority to her family, does not work in the evenings and “loves to enter a zone of quiet contemplation”.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can be bold and creative, knowing that we are developing focus, clarity and calm; strength of conviction and self-belief; and the ability to ignore the negative comments of others who lack our vision and perspective.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Opening to Creativity through Mindfulness

Professor Amanda Sinclair, in her book Leading Mindfully, devotes a chapter to the theme, Opening to Creativity.   She argues that one of the ways that mindfulness releases creativity is through “turning down” the self-judging function of our brain which invariable acts to thwart creative activity.  This negative self-assessment is a major blockage to creativity.

Amanda writes about the negative thoughts and stories that were circulating in her head as she contemplated writing her book – “no one would be interested in reading it”, “it will be just another management/leadership book”, “academics will view it as lacking rigour because it will include anecdotal information”.  These negative messages blocking creativity delayed her writing, and even as she wrote, they took on different forms in a sub-conscious attempt to undermine her creativity.

Once Amanda started writing, she was able to quiet this internal chatter through mindfulness and give herself permission to create the book.  She was able to tap into her research, life experiences and the experiences of her friends, contacts and colleagues to craft a book that was a different contribution because of her original integration of her perspectives developed over a lifetime of insights.

For instance, Amanda was able to draw on the seemingly devastating experience of Jill Bolte Taylor, who suffered a stroke at the age 0f 37.   Jill, a brain scientist, gave a TED Talk, My Stroke of Insight, about how her brain had changed physically because of damage to parts of her brain, including the areas that controlled speech and “self-talk”.   In her presentation, she explains how the stroke and resultant physical damage to her brain gave her the freedom and permission to be creative.  She no longer had to manage the negative thoughts and stories because her brain could no longer produce them and thus they were not able to impede her mind’s creative endeavours.

Amanda’s experience in starting out on her new book writing venture, after having successfully written other books,  resonates with the experience of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love.  In her TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius, Elizabeth spoke about the fear-based, negative talk that almost immobilised her writing following the stellar and unexpected success of this earlier book.  Her internal message, reinforced continuously by others, was fundamentally a concern that she could never match the success of Eat, Pray, Love and that her life would be a failure.   Elizabeth described her succeeding book that was about to be published  “as the dangerously, frighteningly, over-anticipated follow up to my freakish success”.

Elizabeth, through developing her insight and self-awareness, found a unique strategy to quiet her negative thinking to enable her to create the follow-up book.  She ascribed her creativity to some divine genius within her that she could blame in the event of failure (as long as she did her bit of daily, disciplined writing).

Seth Godin, author and entrepreneur, considered one of the most influential thinkers in business, maintains that we each have to find a way to quiet The Lizard Brain, the amygdala, which sabotages our creative efforts through fear-based messages.  Mindfulness is one way to address these negative thoughts and to become open to creativity.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can release our creative capacity from the capriciousness and irrationality of our internal negative messages that assault us whenever we risk creative endeavours.  Mindfulness enables us to “turn down” the internal chatter and be open to creatvity.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Leading with Body Awareness

The early trait theories of leadership argued that to be an effective leader you needed to be male, charismatic and tall.  Clearly, this delineation can lead to discriminatory behaviour towards those who are female and short.

The earlier trait theories of leadership have been disproved and there is now a consensus that there is no universal list of traits that researchers can agree on as predictors of leadership ability.

Amanda Sinclair, author of Leading Mindfully,  points out that despite these emergent findings, myths still pervade about desirable traits that reinforce leadership viewed according to the male stereotype.  She suggests that women have been harshly judged against these unreal measures and have had to conform to standards of dress and behaviour that are more rigorous than those imposed on men.

Then again, as a female colleague of mine pointed out, some women dress provocatively in a work situation to draw attention to themselves.  As my colleague commented, this draws attention to their sexuality but detracts from perceptions of their competence.   So women are often confronted with a dilemma – conform to unfair standards or dress inappropriately.

Rather than accepting this dilemma, women and men can learn ways to present themselves bodily so that potential followers are not left experiencing discomfort or uncertainty about how to communicate with, or relate to, their leaders.

Increasingly, followers have been shown to prefer characteristics that are described as the soft skills – that is skills associated with emotional intelligence such as empathy, compassion, listening skills, communicating to inspire followers, congruence and creativity.

Through mindfulness, leaders can develop a presence (irrespective of physical height) that conveys a sense of balance and calm.  They can face problems with greater clarity and creativity.  Their very presence can communicate support and generate confidence in others who are faced with difficult situations.

Leaders need to be physically present to their staff so that their positive bodily influence can be experienced first-hand.  They also need to care for themselves bodily by looking after themselves so that they can withstand the stresses of their role but, at the same time, have real concern for the physical welfare of staff.

By building resilience through mindfulness practice, you can communicate non-verbally that they you are in control of yourself and the situation.  Even when you are not conscious of the impact of your demeanour, others take note and are influenced by how you present yourself – your bearing can communicate respect for others, personal confidence and self-awareness.

Somatic meditation is one way for a leader to get in touch with their bodies and their reality.  It enables them to be more conscious of how stress is stored in the body and emitted through physical actions and non-verbal activity.

Amanda also alludes to the research work of Norman Doidge and highlights the mind-body connection and the role of exercise such as yoga and walking in enhancing this connection and improving brain functioning.   In the light of this research and the foregoing discussion, Amanda exhorts leaders to be aware of the role of their bodies in the process of leadership:

Our bodies and physicality in leadership are gateways to important forms of intelligence, to wisdom and mindfulness.  They provide us with ways of noticing and revaluing the present, experiencing the full richness of the people and situations around us.  Physicality is not something to be ignored, suppressed or overcome in leadership, but a means of helping us live and lead more fully.  (p. 129)

As we grow in mindfulness, we become increasing aware of how we experience the world through our bodies and how others experience us as leaders through their perceptions of our bodily presence.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Leading Mindfully: Stop Chasing Authenticity

Amanda Sinclair, in her book Leading Mindfully, cautions against the endless chase of authenticity or of the holy grail of authentic leadership.

In the first place, Amanda notes that “authenticity” is not a personal attribute or characteristic; it is an attribution by others.  People may deem you to be an authentic leader by your words and actions and their alignment, by your readiness to “put your money where your mouth is” or your willingness to admit your mistakes.

People readily follow leaders who are authentic – leaders who possess self-awareness, whose words and actions accord with their stated values, who are able to listen empathetically and value others’ perspectives and who willingly risk the vulnerability of personal disclosure.   Followers know where they stand, they can place trust in the leader, they sense that their own ideas will be heard and treated on their merits and they are more willing to step outside their own comfort zone as a result of the risk taking and openness of the leader.

The problem arises where a leader chases the “authentic leader” model as if it is some unerring means of gaining commitment and performance from others.  The endless pursuit of “selfies” with significant people and the temptation to create their own personal brand modelled on idealised leader characteristics can lead to self-absorption, rather than the leadership of others.

If we become obsessed with how we are viewed by others, our energy and attention becomes inner-directed, moving us further away from being fully present in the moment.  We are then unable to read others’ needs or to notice the challenges confronting our organisation.  This self-referential behaviour leads to distortion of perception and perpetuation of bias and stereotyping.

Perception of a leader’s authenticity will flow naturally for a leader who practices mindfulness and, in consequence leads mindfully – fully attuned to their inner and outer worlds and demonstrating high levels of self-management.

Amanda concludes that by “setting aside the hunger for self” through mindfulness practice, we can gain real authenticity in the sight of others:

“Being me” takes up energy and attention while I seek to make sure I come across in the right way, or alternatively descend into a cycle of self-recrimination when it doesn’t all go to plan.  In contrast, mindfulness gives us ways of pausing and noticing when the need to be someone stops us from really being here and now. (p.172)

So, as we grow in mindfulness, we can stop chasing authenticity, get in touch with our self-absorption, increase our other-awareness and gain self-mastery.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

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