These days meditation and mindfulness more generally are often touted as the cure for all that ails the modern, stressed-out entrepreneur. Besides a host of health benefits, learning to keep your mind tethered to the present moment has been shown to reduce stress, improve decision making, and even, in one study, increase profits. Here's new research that claims meditating can increase creativity as well.
With all this chatter around the idea of mindfulness, it would be natural for busy business owners to conclude that they should be aspiring to discipline their brains to stay in the present moment nearly all the time. But according to a fascinating interview with cognitive scientists Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener by Melissa Dahl of New York magazine's Science of Us column, many would-be meditators are taking this obsession with mindfulness too far.
So far, in fact, that they're missing out on a complementary truth. Sure, a meditation practice is great for you. But so are periods of utter mindlessness interspersed throughout your day. Zoning out and daydreaming, it turns out, are essential too.
A Balance of Mindfulness and Mindlessness
"One of the biggest misconceptions people have about mindfulness is that you can train yourself to stay in this mindful state all of the time," Kashdan explains. "You cannot sustain a state of mindfulness over a long period of time." Nor would you want to. At least not if you're at all interested in generating creative ideas. Spacing out is an essential part of innovation.
"When we're zoning out, really what this is, is the incubation period of creativity," Kashdan says. "With mindfulness, on the other hand, you are so in the present moment with your consciousness that there's no room for ideas to collide."
He's not the only scientist making this point. Neuroscientists have developed a four-stage model of the generation of creative work. Before you can have a eureka moment or power through the details of executing your idea, you need to feed your brain the raw materials for creativity and give it time to marinate. In practice that means zoning out. (Hence, the widely experienced phenomenon of getting good ideas while shampooing in the shower.)
What's the bottom-line takeaway for business owners? Heed the wisdom of the mindfulness moment, but don't go overboard and don't beat yourself up if you find yourself daydreaming for significant portions of your day. (What else is commuting good for, after all?) "Every time your mind wanders, usually, it's wandering away to ... future goals. The mindfulness movement is all about inhibiting, or ignoring, that, and I think it's in fact really important to pay attention to it," Kashdan concludes.