This post is also available in Dutch.
I am writing a blog but nothing comes to my mind. I stare at the blank page. Desperately, I search Google on how to deal with writer’s block. Search results say that I need to boost my creativity. One suggestion to do so is meditation.
We need to be creative to solve all sorts of problems, but not every problem or task is identical; therefore, we need to make use of different types of creativity. One type of creativity is called divergent thinking, which requires an open mind. For instance, this type of creativity is employed when asked to name possible uses for an object, say a book. Your response could be to read the book, but other options could be to use the book as a doorstop or a chair. Another type of creativity is called convergent thinking. This type of thinking is used when you need to solve tasks that have only one right answer. An example is to find a common word (or: association) that fits with a set of words (for example: blue, cake, cottage = cheese).
How to improve your creativity with meditation?
To start with, you need to know that there are different kinds of meditation which have different impacts on your creativity. For instance, we can distinguish between open monitoring meditation and focused attention meditation. In open monitoring meditation, one allows for all kinds of thought or sensation, whereas focused attention meditation requires focus on a specific object or thought. Hence, these two meditation techniques differ in how you engage your attention which in turn has consequences for your creativity.
Research shows that open monitoring meditation, but not focused attention meditation, boosts your divergent thinking. In one study, meditation practitioners completed divergent and convergent thinking tasks on three separate days. On each day, the tasks were preceded by one of the following meditation options: open monitoring meditation, focused attention meditation, and no meditation. Performance on the divergent thinking task was best after open monitoring meditation. Performance on the convergent thinking task did not differ between different test days.
How does it work?
Authors of the study suggest that open monitoring meditation might bias people towards a more flexible state of mind, leading to a better performance on the divergent thinking task. On the other hand, practicing focused attention meditation should bias people toward stronger cognitive control. If this would be the case, why did performance not improve on the convergent thinking task after focused attention meditation? Authors of this study explained that aside from influencing the practioner’s state of mind, both types of meditation could also improve the practitioner’s mood. In other words, performance on the convergent thinking task and mood reports were related such that a better mood led to poorer task performance. Therefore it was possible that focused attention meditation biased practitioners towards stronger cognitive control, but that this effect was lowered by an improvement in mood.
Can you do this?
Do you need to be a long term practitioner to benefit from meditation? The answer is no. It seems that effects of open monitoring meditation on the divergent thinking task can be already seen in the people who meditated for the first time. Need a more flexible mind? Relax and meditate.