The mental states that make meditation help or hinder creative thinking

I’ve always said that when it comes to improving your creativity, it’s not enough to simply read advice columns or books on the subject, but rather: you must find what works for you, personally.

One such creative method I’ve found to be personally powerful for me is meditation, or meditative-like walks. But, as research has shown, mindful meditation might actually produce the oppositeeffect in a small percentage of individuals who try it.

In a 2014 study, researchers Yi-Yuan Tang, Rongxiang Tang, and Michael Posner, conducted research to determine whether or not particular mental states or circumstances make meditation a benefit versus hinderance to creative ability.

First the researchers note that overall creative performance is typically reported as positive in meditation studies. Meditation equals mindfulness and rumination, so this should come as no surprise.

But what the research also shows is that those of us who are naturally introverted and positive tend to reap the most benefits from meditative states. The researchers write:

“People with more positive emotion had more flexible and original responses… Moreover, creative people in general are more autonomous, introverted, mood stable, and energized. Similarly, both mental state and temperament are related to individual differences in meditation. For example, anxiety and neuroticism are negatively related to the ability to achieve an appropriate meditative state.”

If you’re inclined to ruminate often and are open to experiences more than others, you’re likely to get a bigger creative benefit out of meditation (or setting aside time to ruminate) than those who tend to be more pessimistic and close-minded.

Research indicates that 57% of what makes something like mindful meditation beneficial to our ability to think creatively – to have new and valuable ideas and to solve complex problems – is accounted for in our mental state and personal disposition.

So while meditation might be beneficial for some, it really comes down to what mood we’re in before we sit down to concentrate.

When it comes to being more creative, you must take the time to find what works for you. Maybe that’s meditation, maybe it’s not.

What’s your experience been with common creative advice like this? Have you found that some popular advice doesn’t work for you despite how well it’s received?

Photo by Moyan Brenn.