Students walk along Sabo Plaza amidst trees covered in yellow autumn leaves and a "University of St. Thomas" sign October 13, 2014.

Want to increase your creativity? Be mindful.

Why do some of my best ideas come to mind while driving, in the shower or trying to fall asleep rather than at the office? I have wondered this for a while but never had a good answer…until today. I had the opportunity to attend a Lunch and Learn event on Mindfulness in the Workplace offered by UST Executive Education and led by the co-directors of The Project for Mindfulness & Contemplation at St. Thomas.

Creativity, innovation and thinking outside the box are all buzz words often overused in business. Yet, they are continually stressed as critical in most workplaces. During my graduate degree program, I completed a class called “The Creative Process.” Going into the course I imagined a transformation into the Don Draper character in Mad Men. I actually learned the process of being creative is really about understanding oneself along with where and how we are most creative. In essence, it is about learning to being mindful.

Wikipedia defines mindfulness as “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.” Most of us are rushing from meeting to meeting or task to task during the work day. No wonder we have trouble with creativity. We don’t allow the time to let it in.

During the mindfulness session, we had the chance to try meditation. We were asked to close our eyes, sit up straight and focus on our breathing. It’s amazing how hard it is initially to breathe normally when asked to focus on breathing. Try it! Similarly, it is crazy how quickly my mind can wander until asked to refocus on breathing again. Want to try it yourself? Check out the podcasts available through the Project for Mindfulness.

Once I had a few minutes of meditation to stop thinking about things like what I need to do for my next meeting, how am I going to solve a looming problem and what am I going to eat for dinner, I had my answer. I come up with good ideas when I’m not in the office because my mind isn’t as cluttered. When I take the time to unclutter, I open up space for the ideas to come to me.

How does this relate to the workplace? According to the speakers, General Mills has trained 290 employees in mindfulness since 2006. This has yielded an 80% improvement in decision making, an 89% improvement in listening skills and a 23% increase in productivity. An eight week study of 41 Twin Cities business leaders showed those who meditated for 45 minutes per week experience significant decreases in both anxiety and stress as well as a significant increase in creativity.

In other words, it is important to be mindful! Perhaps we wouldn’t be able to ‘buy the world a coke’ had Don Draper not taken the time to unclutter his mind.