Not everyone knows how to liberate their mind and enjoy living in the moment. This doesn’t only apply to vacation and rest time. Our minds are so preoccupied with thoughts, that we spend almost 50% of our days on autopilot. And sometimes that can be good.
Why would you be focused on every single task you need to complete throughout the day, it would be too tiring and demanding. For example, you can think about other things while you cook a meal or vacuum clean, and there are routes you can walk with your mind daydreaming because you’ve been there so many times.
And while there are various situations when we can operate on autopilot, no one wants to disappear from their own life. The food we eat that we don’t fully experience with all our senses, sceneries we pass we don’t notice and appreciate, conversations we should be an active part of––but we’re somewhere else.
A Cluttered Mind Overlooks Important Things
We often talk about the necessity of decluttering your place following minimalism rule less is more in order to create your very own powerful space. Besides being challenging for the mind, cluttered spaces often operate as object-eating black holes. How many times did you lose your phone, notes, or car keys to your disorganized room?
The same goes for a cluttered mind. There are so many attention-worthy moments and experiences we might pass on autopilot and feel sorry later. Instead of enjoying our day off with the loved ones, we let it all pass and keep worrying about past or upcoming events.
The outside world is not the only thing we overlook when we let our minds clutter. Our inner world suffers just as much. The more inessential, attention-grabbing information is blocking our mind, the more we fail to truly be connected to our inner self, recognize and manage our emotions, focus on our physical sensations, and take care of our overall well-being.
Mind Clutter Is Counter Creative
Have you ever noticed that when your mind is overburdened with other thoughts, it’s difficult for you to produce new and creative solutions? Maybe you’ve never thought about the sources of your creative blocks, especially if creativity is not mandatory in your work, yet creative solutions are welcome in all sorts of day-to-day activities, even the smallest ones.
We use creativity in our relationships, too. The ability to be creative is the basis of our humor, experiences, and creating connections with people. All of these require our full presence and quick, sharp thinking.
High And Low Mental Loads
In a recently conducted study, researcher and Israeli university professor Moshe Bar and his student Shira Baror tested several hypotheses about creativity and mental load.
Mental load stands for the number of items we juggle in our mind’s working memory. For example, the mental load is much greater if our mind is pressured with an awaiting mental to-do list, ongoing emotional burden, and/or hard-to-solve work task, compared to taking a shower.
Moshe Bar and Shira Baror decided to check what happens with a person’s creativity when their mental load is enhanced. So, they gave their participants a free association task to measure their creativity. In this task, the participants are being given a word, and then asked to respond to it with the first word coming to their mind as an association. The creativity was measured based on the innovation and novelty versus conventionality in their answers, while the mental load was manipulated in three ways in three different experiments:
- The participants were required to keep two or seven digits in their mind;
- They were required to alphabetically align the first two or three letters in a word;
- They were required to attend to the color of letters in a particular word.
This was supposed to be kept in memory during the association task.
Those participants with the highest mental loads had the most conventional associations. They would associate black with the word white, or the word sock with the word shoe. Those with the two-digit mental load were able to get more creative, and they would associate the word cloud to the word white, revealing a larger capacity for innovation.
Exploration vs Exploitation
According to professor Bar, we are able to activate our mind’s exploratory nature only when there are enough resources for that. This means that a loaded mind will turn to exploitation or the most familiar and automatic response in a certain situation, while the less burdened one will have the capacity in its working memory for exploration or to produce a creative answer.
This research proves that when it comes to thinking, contrary to common belief, less is more, and the more space you give to your brain, the better ideas you will produce.
Exploration versus exploitation is applicable in all spheres of our lives: people who type on their phones engage way less in a conversation, just like it’s difficult to get things done when you have to multitask between five other tasks and plans.
Creativity is a Gap that Can Be Opened and Closed
Furthermore, this research sheds light on another important topic: creativity as an inborn and fixed virtue.
Being a child of creative parents certainly does help your creativity, but what seems to be more important is the mind’s capacity for creativity. If you’re overloaded, the inherited talent doesn’t work. This proves that acquiring a growth mindset and practicing your creativity really does work, compared to the idea of unchangeable creativity levels posed by the fixed mindset.
Creativity and originality are a gap that can be opened and closed, depending on the mental load levels and current circumstances. But is it possible to get rid of your thoughts, shush your inner critic and adjust the volume of your inner dialogue? If there are things bothering you, can you simply decide to eliminate what distracts you from creative flow and enjoy the talents of your mind? It doesn’t work that way. This study simply suggests that a quiet mind is able to produce more creative ideas.
But how does one quiet their mind?
How To Unload Your Mind?
The solution is––intentional solitude, being present in the now, and mindfulness. Activities such as meditation, spending time in nature, making a digital and social media detox, exercise, dancing, or keeping a journal. Engaging in such activities can make your thoughts clear, calm, and refreshing. When you switch your attention from what occupies, exhausts and blocks your thoughts, your mind is capable of doing its best thinking.
That’s the solution to the shower paradox: problems and ideas that you’ve been unable to resolve suddenly become clear when you decide to go and take a shower.
When our mind is overloaded with demanding tasks and thoughts, it’s impossible to keep a clear head, come up with fresh, creative solutions, and to live consciously.
Thinking outside of the box requires free working memory space. Creativity and originality are not just inborn traits that we inherit, but an ever-changing capacity we have control of. A calm and quiet mind is a free and open mind, so make sure to practice mind-calming and creativity-boosting activities.