Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Mindfulness and creativity

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Mindfulness and creativity:
How can mindfulness improve quality of life and enhance creativity?
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Overview[edit | edit source]

"Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think." - Buddha

Mindfulness, the current psychological buzzword, has taken the world by storm; mindfulness meditation, mindful leadership and exclusive mindfulness workshops are commonplace in most western societies and give an opportunity for individuals to develop a general understanding of mindfulness in peoples everyday lives. While being under the microscope of psychology, mindfulness can prove itself to be an effective and powerful tool, being found to help reduce stress (Carmody, et al, 2006), increase self awareness and acceptance, as well as improving quality of life in people suffering from chronic illness (Grossman, 2004). But the benefits of mindfulness extend beyond the realm of physical and mental well-being, as mindfulness can even been used to improve and develop creativity.

Creativity shares a similar plasticity to the brain, and levels of creativity vary greatly between individuals because of this; problem solving, lateral thinking, art and music are distinct areas of creativity found within individuals. Creativity has been an essential factor in the development of humanity, and thus is one of the most highly researched aspects of individuality and mental health, and while mindfulness is a relatively new and emerging aspect of mental health, the two concepts, while fundamentally different, share certain similarities; both changing the way individuals perceive the world around them, and by incorporating aspects of mindfulness individuals can potentially heighten and cultivate their creativity.

Mindfulness is often marketed as a psychological superpower, dormant in all of us, and though this is an over exaggeration it does hold some truth, by engaging in mindful practice, individuals can enhance their creativity, becoming more imaginative, and changing existing perceptions of our world (Henriksen, 2020). Creativity and mindfulness are both cultivated through commitment and practice and in a number of ways go hand in hand; by working on your mindfulness you can enhance your creativity, and while practicing your creativity you can enhance your mindfulness and through the development of ones mindfulness and creativity, so too can their overall quality of life and life experience improve as well.

Figure 1. Mindfulness is often defined as uninterrupted presence in a moment.

Focus questions:

  • What is Mindfulness?
  • How does Mindfulness work?
  • How can Mindfulness improve creativity?

Mindfulness[edit | edit source]

Mindfulness is a dynamic construct, and is often defined as presence and awareness of ones self and environment in any given moment. While it is a seemingly new psychological construct, mindfulness has existed in Eastern traditions and Buddhist practices for far longer, only being referred to as 'Mindfulness' in recent history (Kang & Whittingham, 2010). The foundational idea of mindfulness has changed as well, at first mindfulness existed as 'sati'; the Pali word meaning 'to remember'.

Mindfulness, for all intents and purposes, is just a specific form of awareness, achieved by paying close attention to the self and ones surroundings. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation, individuals may improve their attention skills, nonjudgmental acceptance, as well as improve their quality of life. Mindfulness has exited outside the mainstream for some time, and only recently has it become a highly researched area of psychology. In a study by Kuyken and Warren, the efficacy of mindfulness-based therapy was examined and found that through mindfulness practice individuals who suffer from recurring depression can greatly reduce risk of depressive relapse (Kuyken & Warren, 2016).

Mindfulness can be cultivated in various ways depending on the desired outcome. Incorporating mindfulness meditation into ones daily life can prove to be very effective in developing mindful thinking, by focusing attention and acceptance on ones immediate self and circumstances. By being more mindful and aware of your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental, accepting way, you can teach yourself to live in the moment and enjoy life moment to moment as it happens.

Table 1

Attributes of Mindfulness Practice

Focus By paying close attention to ones feelings, thoughts and behaviours, individuals can improve their attention as well as mental agility.
Patience Not rushing to any conclusions or objectives. Through patience, mindfulness teaches that change takes time, and can not always be forced.
Openness Being open to new ideas, feelings and experiences, gives individuals the opportunity to learn and generate new ideas as well as improve interpersonal relationships.
Understanding Not only the self, but others as well. By understanding ones self as well as their surroundings, a greater appreciation for difference can be gained, and openness can be cultivated.
Acceptance Being able to accept and appreciate yourself and others for all their flaws and strengths, as well as accepting and appreciating life as it is.

QUICK! Practice Mindfulness!

Mindfulness is a very broad construct, and can be difficult to grasp, the best way to start understanding how mindfulness works is to try it!

- Try sitting with your back straight while you read the rest of this chapter.

Creativity[edit | edit source]

Creativity is one of the most unique defining features of being human and is defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Our self-awareness and drive to understand things makes us very innovative, imaginative creatures. Being creative, being able to problem solve has led to the continued and thriving existence of humanity, and it could be argued that without our great capacity for creativity and imagination humans would have gone extinct long ago. Under a scientific microscope however, creativity is a vexing and paradoxical concept, that has been frustrating to find the mechanical basis for. Emphasis has been placed on the idea of connection networks and associations, as Heilman found that higher levels of creativity and imagination are associated with vastly distributed connective networks. Furthermore in a study by Beaty et al, that creative processes involve large, varied areas of the brain engaged at different points throughout the process (Beaty, et al, 2016) (see figure 2).

Creativity and artistic expression have been associated with each other for a significant amount of time. Musical creativity, architectural creativity, and creative writing are just some of the many facets of creativity and imagination, and have had a particularly profound cultural effect on the world around them becoming an essential aspect of human nature. This intriguing, essential feature of all humans becomes even more interesting when explored in a global community sense, finding sustainable solutions to energy problems such as hydro-power or electric vehicles or even developing medical techniques to save lives, like vaccines or radiotherapy. As creativity is dynamic and variable, no two people are as creative as each other, and not in the same ways. Creativity is inherently linked with humanity, and without our desire to innovate, problem solve, and change the world around us, it is fair to say that society and the human experience would be unrecognizably different.

Figure 2. Areas of brain activity during creative processes.

QUICK! Practice Mindfulness!

Practicing Mindfulness doesn't need to be confusing, in fact, even applying focus to an act as small as breathing can reduce stress and heighten mood!

- Focus on your breath for a few minutes, try inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7, and exhaling for 8.

Mechanisms of mindfulness[edit | edit source]

While mindfulness is a relatively dynamic concept, a number of theoretical models have been created exploring the mechanisms involved in mindfulness based interventions and meditation. The most notable of which is the IAA model or Intention, Attention and Attitude model of mindfulness developed by Shapiro and associates. The researchers posited that mindfulness has three distinct elements or axioms that play essential roles in the success of mindfulness based practices (Shapiro, et al, 2006).

Intention[edit | edit source]

Over its long and complex history mindfulness has become altered from the foundational Buddhist ideas with which it started. The main feature that became muddied by western translation is Intention. In traditional Buddhist practices, the Intention axiom was focused on "enlightenment and compassion for all beings" (Shapiro, 2006), this fundamental idea is understood as having set objectives and goals during mindful meditation and practice, it will be far more likely that objective will be met. Furthermore, these intentions are fluid and can change over the course of mindful practice, earlier studies by Shapiro and associates support this fluidity, finding that practitioners intentions move from Self-Regulation, to Self-Exploration, finally moving on to Self-Liberation.

Attention[edit | edit source]

Similarly to Gestalt therapy, the Attention axiom of mindfulness asks its practitioners to be completely present and aware of the moment. By focusing attention on both internal and external stimuli from moment to moment, practitioners are able to be conscious of themselves as well as their surroundings. This use of Attention leads to improvement in attention based skills; being able to hold attention for an extended period of time, suppression of peripheral thought process and focus shifting. As well as these attention-based life skills and qualities, through mindfulness practice, individuals can improve how they focus on themselves and others, this is achieved through active listening and moment to moment presence encouraged by mindful practice.

Attitude[edit | edit source]

Arguably the most important component of mindfulness, the attitude one brings when practicing mindfulness can be very influential in determining the efficacy of said practice. Having a cold, cynical attitude throughout mindful practice can alter the outcomes, regardless of intention, as well as enforce self and outward judgment. Conversely actively trying to maintain a positive, patient and accepting attitude can greatly increase positive results during mindful practice, one can improve their mood, acceptance and general experience of the practice. In relation to Attitude, mindfulness is like a microcosm of our life, by practicing patience and openness individuals can heighten their mood, and improve the way they see the world and how they move and function within that world. By focusing on awareness of ones self and feelings, and accepting them whether right or wrong, individuals can greatly improve their quality of life.

Figure 3. The IAA (Intention, Attention, Attitude) model of mindfulness.

1 Throughout the practice of mindfulness, ones intentions move from Self-Regulation, to Self-Exploration to Self-Liberation.


2 Attitude is the only axiom with a focus on the self.


QUICK! Practice Mindfulness!

By focusing your awareness on the world around you, you can improve your attention span and focus shifting!

- Focus your awareness on; five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Theoretical framework of mindfulness[edit | edit source]

In order to understand the framework of mindfulness, an understanding of implicit motivation and autonomy is essential. Implicit motivations are the unconscious needs that determine and drive our motivation and behaviour. These implicit motivations vary between individuals, creating differences in need and behaviour, for example, one student may be motivated to simply pass a university unit, while another individual may be motivated to receive top marks for that unit. Yet both will seek to fulfill this need automatically so long as it aligns with their self-determined interests. This automatic completion of behaviour is due to autonomy, the unconscious need to self-direct and self-regulate. While autonomy and mindfulness are vastly different concepts, the steps taken in order to support autonomy, are very similar to the steps required to improve mindfulness; reflection, active listening and patience, support and cultivate both autonomy and mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an incredible tool for personal change, improving individuals disposition, as well as a number of other important skills. The way mindfulness achieves these improvements is by helping in the process of moderating implicit behaviour and self-regulation. In a study by Levesque and Brown based on Self Determination Theory, dispositional mindfulness was examined in relation to explicit and implicit motivations. Their findings suggest that implicit motivation for day to day behaviours is affected by the awareness brought from dispositional mindfulness, through this study it can be inferred that mindfulness affects behaviour through an individual’s autonomy and their implicit motivations. Similarly in a study by Donald and associates, higher levels of mindfulness predicted higher levels on autonomy and lower levels of controlled motivation, it was found that mindfulness has positive effects on autonomy by supporting and cultivating implicit motivation.

1 Mindfulness improves quality of life and other skills by helping behaviour moderation and regulation.


2 Autonomy is the process in which the brain turns on auto-pilot mode.


QUICK! Practice Mindfulness!

Remember, being mindful means being aware of ones internal self as well! - Take a moment to really focus on your thoughts and on how you are feeling.

How mindfulness improves creativity[edit | edit source]

Mindfulness has been shown to have highly beneficial effects in various areas of life, improving stress-based resilience and working memory, reducing discomfort within sufferers of chronic illness and even improving creativity. Creativity is a fluid construct, changing from individual to individual, and so too is the way in which mindfulness effects creativity, the ways in which mindfulness can be practiced vary depending on the individual. Studies by researchers at the university of Jakarta found that even a leader who practices mindful leadership can heighten the overall creativity of their team. in the two year study, researchers found that by having a leader who makes mindfulness an important feature of their leadership style, the attitude of their co-workers is directly affected, improving latency, goal clarity and improving problem solving skills (Burmansah, et al, 2014).

Figure 4. Creativity is often understood as the generation of new ideas and concepts by an individual.

Mindfulness has been shown to have significant positive effects in various areas of life, reducing stress response, improving attention skills, and even enhancing natural creativity. While creativity is an abstract concept, subject to change and variation between individuals, so too is mindfulness. Creative thinking requires the ability to see things from multiple perspectives and a willingness to be open to new concepts, through the continued practice of mindfulness, individuals looking to increase their capacity for creativity can learn helpful techniques through repeated use of mindfulness. By being in a mindful state, you are more aware and accepting of the moment and therefore can thing abstractly and without judgment about if your approach is right or wrong.

In a 2020 study by Hensley, the relationship between mindfulness and creativity was explored in an educational context, arguing that with the use of mindful curriculum students can be encouraged to be more innovative, and to solve problems in unique and creative ways, bolstering imagination (Hensley, 2020). By teaching mindfulness and incorporating mindful teaching strategies, teachers can foster learning environments where students can be present and receptive, through mindful teachings it can also encourage students to be more reflective, both on the content and themselves. Creativity requires one to be focused, tenacious, accepting and imaginative and through practicing mindfulness can create an environment where an individual can learn, nurture and demonstrate all these features.

1 In educational contexts, mindfulness cultivates creativity through improving reflective skills.


2 Schools should not employ mindfulness in teaching, as it encourages disobedience.


QUICK! Practice Mindfulness!

Mindfulness is not just found within the mind, but the body as well!

- Spend a minute focusing on your body, be mindful of how your body feels, move from the head, to the shoulders, arms, body, legs, right down to your toes.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

By elevating moment to moment acceptance and encouraging open-mindedness, mindfulness allows its practitioners to have a different perspective on life, similar to the different perspectives needed for artistic expression. Though mindfulness is the current psychological buzzword and is plastered all over the mainstream, the aspects of ones self that can be developed are essential in improving an individuals quality of life. By encouraging and cultivating introspection, patience, and open-mindedness, individuals who engage in mindful practice can improve their reflective skills as well as their imagination. This open-mindedness and acceptance can prove to be highly valuable skills within an individuals life, helping home-life, workplace relations and self-acceptance, as well as improve general quality of life.

Mindfulness and creativity are both incredibly abstract concepts, varying between individuals, but both can be cultivated and nurtured to improve areas of daily life; patience, focus, and acceptance. While the concepts of both mindfulness and creativity may seem esoteric or redundant to certain people, for others mindfulness may be the perfect tool for improving their life and creativity. Through the repeated use of mindfulness meditation, and commitment to a desire to improve creativity, individuals can become more open to new ideas as their perspectives change. Research has shown that through repeated and committed mindful practice, an individuals creativity can be greatly enhanced, as well as their overall quality of life, and sense of self.

QUICK! Practice Mindfulness!

Finally, for your last mindfulness bolstering activity. Mindfulness is by no means an easy concept to grasp, but through committed practice Mindfulness can become an essential part of your daily life, and improve it in areas you didn't even know you needed to improve!

- Stand up, stretch, go for a quick 5 minute walk and wash your hands.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behavioural Research and Therapy, 44, 1849-1858,

Baas, M., Nevicka, B., & Ten Velden, F. S. (2014). Specific Mindfulness Skills Differentially Predict Creative Performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40,

Beaty, R. E., Benedek. M. et al. (2015). Creative Cognition and Brain Network Dynamics. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20, doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.10.004.

Burmansah, B., Rugaiyah, R., Mukhtar, M. (2019). A Case Study of Mindful Leadership in an Ability to Develop Focus, Clarity, and Creativity of the Buddhist Higher Education Institute Leader. International Journal of Higher Education, 8, 57-69, doi:10.5430/ijhe.v8n6p57

Carmody, J., et al. (2009), An empirical study of the mechanisms of mindfulness in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65, 613-626,

Carsley, D., Khoury, B., & Heath, N. L., (2018). Effectiveness of Mindfulness Interventions for Mental Health in Schools: a Comprehensive Meta-analysis', Mindfulness, 9, 693-707,

Donald. J. N., et al. (2019). Mindfulness and Its Association With Varied Types of Motivation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Using Self-Determination Theory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46,

Grabovac, A. D., Lau, M. A., & Willettm, B. R. (2011). Mechanisms of Mindfulness: A Buddhist Psychological Model. Mindfulness, 2, 154-166,

Grossman, P., & Niemann, L. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35-43,

Heilman, K. M. (2016). Possible Brain Mechanisms of Creativity. Clinical Neuropsychology, 31,

Henriksen, D., Richardson, C., & Shack, K. (2020). Mindfulness and creativity: Implications for thinking and learning. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 37,

Hensley, N. (2020). Educating for sustainable development: Cultivating creativity through mindfulness. Journal of Cleaner Production, 243,

Kang, C., & Whittingham. K. (2010). Mindfulness: A Dialogue between Buddhism and Clinical Psychology. Mindfulness, 1, 161-173,

Kuyken, W., Warren, F. C., et al. (2016). Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in Prevention of Depressive Relapse. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(6), 565–574, doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0076

Lebuda, I., Zabelina, D. L., & Karwowski, M. (2016). Mind full of ideas: A meta-analysis of the mindfulness–creativity link. Personality and Individual Differences, 93,

Levasque, C., & Warren-Brown, K. (2007). Mindfulness as a moderator of the effect of implicit motivational self-concept on day-to-day behavioral motivation. Motivation and Emotion, 31, 284-299,

Lueke, A., & Gibson, B. (2014). Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Implicit Age and Race Bias: The Role of Reduced Automaticity of Responding. Social Psychology and Personality Science, 6,

Ryan, R. M., Donald, J. N., & Bradshaw, E. L. (2021). Mindfulness and Motivation: A Process View Using Self-Determination Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 30,

Schultz. P. P., Ryan. R. M., (2015). The “Why,” “What,” and “How” of Healthy Self-Regulation: Mindfulness and Well-Being from a Self-Determination Theory Perspective. Handbook of Mindfulness, 81-94, DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2263-5_7

Shapiro. S., Carson L. E., et al, (2005). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of clinical psychology, 62, 373-386,

Sharf. R. H., (2014). Is mindfulness Buddhist? (and why it matters). Transcultural Psychiatry, 52, 470-484,

Zabat-Kinn. J., (2016). Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 1481-1483,

External links[edit | edit source]