Use mindfulness to manage your response to pressure and help create a culture for creativity says Palma Michel

The creative process is a play between different states of mind. At times, it requires complete openness to all sorts of stimuli and allowing the mind to wander, and at other times it needs concentrated focus. In addition, neuroscience shows us that just before a creative insight, the brain rests in a relaxed alpha wave state.

Our in-built response to pressure and uncertainty is an obstacle to creativity.

Our very own nervous system trips us up! The brains of our hunter-gatherer ancestors were continuously looking out for danger and at the slightest sound, their instincts would throw them into a fight or flight mode. We can easily get triggered like this today.

Contemplative neuroscience suggests that mindfulness has the power to alter our brain structure for the better. Professor Richard Davidson from the University of Wisconsin Madison, suggests that mindfulness training can change our in-built response to pressure, demands and uncertainty. We get triggered less often, and when we do, we gain the ability to step back, become aware of what is happening and, make choices to respond differently this time (Begley and Davidson, 2012).

Research also suggests that the default mode network where creative insight happens, stays more quiet in meditators as it is less consumed by worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. This supports us as individuals and organisations in being more comfortable with the space of not knowing, navigating the creative rollercoaster and creating space in our minds for insight to emerge.

So, as an Assistant how can you use mindfulness to manage your response to pressure and help create a culture for creativity?

1. Questioning

Asking questions is an easy way to bring curiosity to any situation. Don´t assume you know the answer or something is a given, but continuously ask questions and challenge your assumptions. Mindfulness practice encourages openness and curiosity to what is arising in the present moment.

2. Open Listening

When Google looked at the best-performing teams they found success hinged on “psychological safety”.  This meant everyone having an equal turn in the conversation, no one shutting other people down and different opinions being appreciated (Duhigg, 2016).

The next time you’re in a meeting, try to give your full attention to the speaker and listen to them with compassion and openness. If your mind wanders off or you catch yourself thinking about your to-do list, bring your attention back to the speaker. Try to be open and interested in what they are saying. When they stop talking, ask them an open question such as “Tell me more about it” or “What do you think?” Resist the urge to immediately jump in with your opinion.

3. Valuing Process

Instead of just being focused on the end goal, get interested in the process and see what you can learn from it. Continue asking questions throughout the process and not just afterwards. Practicing mindfulness naturally instills a process rather than an outcome orientation as the focus is on our experience in the present moment without being fixed on a particular outcome.

4. Managing Your Inner Caveman

When we’re dealing with the unknown or there are setbacks, people to get triggered into fight or flight mode, the “caveman” response. If you notice this happening, take a few conscious breaths through your nostrils, inhaling deeply all the way into your abdomen. Exhale through your mouth with pursed lips. Count to two on your inhale and elongate your exhale by counting to four. The key is to make your exhale slightly longer than your inhale.

5. Loosening Control

The combined skills of a team are always better than individuals’ qualities added together. Notice if you have a tendency to want to control everything and everyone around you. Mindfulness practice encourages letting go, by observing what arises in the present moment, without being attached to it.

By following these steps to mindfulness, you can remain flexible and able to innovate when needed. You’ll also be able to influence your colleagues to do the same.

Palma Michel is an executive coach and author of ‘The Authority Guide to Mindful Leadership; Simple techniques and exercises to manage yourself, manage others and effect change’ published by SRABooks.

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