Cultivating Creativity from a Zen Psychiatrist

sam's feet
sam’s feet (Photo credit: only alice)




Strive for the right frame of mind rather than the answer



There’s enough research around to entertain new notions for creatively moving forward. Feeling relaxed, happy and having a calm unfocused frame of mind encourages creative insights

A particular type of brain wave called alpha waves, are associated with states of relaxation.  These come about when a person is sitting calmly, usually with their eyes closed, but not asleep. This also occurs while taking a shower, driving long distances, walking the golf course…In a study to prove this participants were hooked up to EEGs (a machine that measures brain waves), and asked to solve creative or insight puzzles (there’s one below as an example). Interestingly, if a person had alpha waves they were able to subsequently solve the puzzles. Participants who didn’t have alpha waves weren’t able to solve the puzzles, and yes, they were given hints.


In another study, people who scored higher on measures of happiness were able to solve more puzzles.  Comedy video clips were shown to people before they were given the puzzles to solve. What a hoot!  The ones who didn’t see the clips didn’t do as well. Creativity professionals advocate the Aha! (idea insight or breakthrough) often comes from the Ha Ha (a joke or something funny).  Now there’s proof.


So how to practically apply this knowledge to increase the incidence of creativity?  Try these out at your next idea session…


  1. Before going directly to solve the challenge, relax.
  2. Create the calm state of mind that is best suited for creativity. Have a few laughs
  3. Take a warm shower, get a massage, or go for a walk.


.. Think the boss will go for it?


An Insight puzzle example


  • A man has married twenty women in a small town. All of the women are still alive and none of them is divorced. The man has broken no laws. Who is the man?


Read more: the idea for this post came from How to Cultivate Creativity: What Science Teaches Us About Freeing the Mind | Write to Done  a blog post by Elana Miller, MD. She is a psychiatry resident and founder of Zen Psychiatry, a space to talk about integrative strategies be happy, live well, and fulfill your greatest potential. Follow her on Twitter or join the discussion on Facebook.