My hands are poised on my keyboard, the little cursor blinking intermittently on the page in front of me, and I am staring out the window in a stupor, wondering what happened to all my creative thinking. I’ve hit what will be at least the third obstacle to productivity in my day: writer’s block.
It doesn’t matter how many words, sentences, or articles I’ve written in my life—writer’s block still throws me off on a regular basis. The worst part is that as my frustration grows, the block thickens. The more I try to force my way through, the more entrenched I become and the more time I lose as a result. I am constantly trying to figure out how to be more creative in shorter periods of time.
And it turns out, I’m not the only one.
As workplaces become increasingly fast-paced production environments, the need to be creative on demand has become a very real one for the millions of people whose jobs rely on a robust pipeline of creative thinking and output. This is the case now more than ever with the rise of new concepts such as brand storytelling—one of the only successful routes to connect with a fiercely cynical audience of consumers who are sick of being subjected to advertisements day in and day out. Authenticity is paramount, and it’s hard earned. Organizations are demanding ever-greater levels of creativity and more sophisticated storytelling techniques to even make a dent. The pressure is enormous. Marketing managers are tasked with finding and hiring those special creative unicorns who seem to skate effortlessly above the chaos with innovative ideas coming out their ears. How do you build and shepherd an agile creative team through fields of stress, a cacophony of oversaturated communication channels, and looming deadlines, without getting totally derailed and burnt out?
Many Fortune 500 companies (like Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Comcast, and Google) have launched or are launching employee meditation programs to combat the stress that’s mounting within their organizations. According to science, those same programs may actually be great ways for marketing and communications teams to spur creativity—all while ensuring employees’ long-term health and success.
I think, therefore I create.
A great deal has been made of the benefits of meditation, and so far the science behind this practice seems to bear out these claims.
In a study published in Mindfulness, researchers found that certain meditation techniques can foster creative thinking, even if you have never tried meditating before. The best results came after a meditation practice known as open monitoring, which emphasizes being open and nonjudgmental toward any and all thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation, as opposed to trying to block them out or clear your mind.
In another study published in Learning and Individual Differences, researchers found differences in the level of creative improvement after meditation depending on certain individual personality traits. The study used a similar form of meditation technique known as integrated mind–body training (IBMT), which emphasizes not trying to control your thoughts but just letting them happen; a state of restful alertness. Previous studies have found that this technique, which was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s, improves attention and self-regulation. In the recent study researchers discovered that the effect of short-term IBMT training on creativity was greater for those with lower depression and fatigue. Those with more emotional stability and higher levels of vigor also saw the most benefit.
In light of other studies that suggest sustained meditation practices can lessen emotional exhaustion and increase job satisfaction, it may be the case that the long-term effects of a sustained IBMT practice may lead to improvements in negative emotions, which could in turn improve the benefits for creativity, even for those who have become completely bogged down by the stresses of work.
These studies point to a potentially transformative avenue for marketing managers and creative professionals to take in fostering greater creativity in the workplace. Encouraging the integration of meditation practices such as IBMT and sustaining them over time may enable employees to continue producing creative work through the most stressful periods in an organization and learn how to be more creative when the going gets tough. Such practices could help teams inject fresh insight into problems and projects and enable individuals to tap into new ideas that keep everyone’s creative juices flowing.
1. Start by understanding and communicating the importance of meditation to your team. For some, the idea of meditating can feel a bit daunting or uncomfortable—especially if they don’t understand the reasons behind it. And it can be unimaginably difficult to convince stressed-out marketers (for whom every working second counts) to stop for a minute and do literally nothing. So, once you have a firm grasp on what meditation means to you, and the benefits of doing it on a regular basis, talk with your team members about the success you’re having. Your best bet here might be to share the scientific findings that point to meditation’s benefits on a more quantitative level.
2. Keep it short and manageable. There’s no question that time is an issue for your team. Fortunately, meditation doesn’t have to be a complicated or time-consuming process. Even just 15 minutes every other day can begin to make a noticeable difference. And if your colleagues prefer not to break during the work day, they can choose to meditate anywhere at any time—the train ride home, for example, or for a few minutes in the shower each morning.
3. Make it as much a priority as any other business meeting. During especially stressful days, some people forget to do even the most basic of things—eating lunch, for example. Just like there are apps reminding busy professionals to stand up or breathe, sometimes all it takes to integrate meditation into your workday is a reminder. Try adding a brief meditation suggestion to your teammates’ calendars. Whether you meditate as a group or individually in your workspaces, this can be an easy way to get everyone on the same page. Consider it like a Monday morning check-in session that gets everyone on track for the week ahead.
4. Consider bringing in a meditation coach to help people maximize the benefits of the practice. If your team seems receptive to the idea of meditation but feels uninformed, a quick talk with a meditation coach can be a great motivator. This can be a lunch and learn held during a regular work day, or part of a team bonding activity or retreat. Hearing tips for different ways to meditate can help people figure out what works for them.
5. Have fun with it! If a teammate finds it difficult to hold herself accountable to 10 minutes of meditation a day, suggest that she pair up with a friend and meditate together. If the act feels purposeless, try making a game out of it, challenging yourself to a longer (or more deeply relaxed) session each time. There’s no wrong way to meditate. Everyone can establish an approach they find most enjoyable and that works best for them.
As marketers, the constant pressure to be original—and energetic and authentic and compassionate and funny and create more content and reach more audiences and track analytics continuously to make next month even better—adds up. Couple that with the million distractions we’re faced with on a daily basis—all those text notifications and Facebook messages—and the seemingly endless pool of ideas that you dredge up late at night when you’re trying to fall asleep, and it’s no wonder we’re all so burned out. Meditation is a great way to remind yourself of the passion and creativity that brought you here in the first place.
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