How Can Mindfulness Help Us Solve Problems?

How Can Mindfulness Help Us Solve Problems_

Kindness is an aspect of self-compassion and helps protect us against harsh self-criticisms by inspiring people to take a risk and explore new mental territory that can lead us to innovative solutions. Being self-aware and mindful support this mental exploration. We at Unified Caring Association (UCA) read and research a ton of articles. We scour the news for new information about self-care, caring acts, and innovative ways to bring caring to the world. Recently we discovered an article on Harvard Business Review that remarks about how self-care techniques such as mindfulness help promote self-awareness and creative problem solving. Check out our discovery on how mindfulness can help us with problem solving!

Research often shows that mindfulness activities, like meditation, can help people strengthen their ability to generate new ideas and better solutions. More often than not, people identify a problem, find different possible solutions, evaluate them, and then propose a solution.  So, let’s take a quick peek at the thinking behind problem solving. Then we can get on to how mindfulness makes you more kind and successful.

Problem Solving Processes

This process of problem solving uses convergent and divergent thinking. “Convergent thinking is linear, involving going through a list of steps to get to a single correct answer … divergent thinking is exploring different directions from an initial problem statement to generate many possible ideas.” For example, engineers often use these during the design process. They use divergent thinking to generate ideas which allow them to identify a range of possible solutions. When using convergent thinking, they evaluate ideas to determine which are the most optimal solution. Both types of thinking are important to finding the optimal final solution. Divergent thinking is particularly important for developing innovative solutions. 

However, divergent thinking skills are often left by the wayside in favor of the development of expertise in single focused applications of “…formulas and rules to structured problems with a “right” answer.”

Fortunately, there are techniques like mindfulness activities, brainstorming, or other introspection activities that flex intuitive muscles and help strengthen divergent thinking. “During brainstorming, for example, people are asked to defer judgment and to be curious.  The Stanford promotes navigating ambiguity by being present in the moment and suggests to relax and reach a mode of acceptance while prototyping.” In short, if we spend time on mental self-care we become more mindful and self-aware. This mindfulness allows for elements of presence and curiosity that can lead us to become better problem solvers.

How mindfulness promotes divergent thinking

Mindfulness can be defined as intentionally paying attention with openness, kindness, and curiosity.  According to psychologists, there is substantial evidence that there is a causal link between engaging in divergent thinking and being mindful. Previous research studies have focused on general populations. New research seeks to explore the links between divergent thinking, mindfulness, and the innovation that can result. After participants completed a questionnaire to measure their baseline mindfulness and correlation with amount of original ideas they were separated into two groups: a treatment group and a control group. “The groups were then asked to complete two divergent thinking tasks: a generic idea generation task, where they were told to list as many alternative uses for a brick as possible; and an engineering design task, where they were asked to list all the factors they would consider in designing a retaining wall for a river flood scenario.”

The treatment group participants underwent a 15-minute meditation prior to completing the tasks. The control group participants watched a 15-minute video on stress-reduction. The participants who had higher baseline mindfulness performed better on the divergent thinking tasks. “Results demonstrated a clear relationship between mindfulness and enhanced divergent thinking… meditation did improve the originality of ideas in the idea generation task, but it did not impact the number of ideas students came up with in the idea generation task or the engineering design task with statistical significance.”

These results suggest that short periods of time spent on mindfulness techniques and self-care practices may improve the originality of ideas even if there are fewer of them. “We found that baseline mindfulness predicted innovation self-efficacy across our engineering sample. Interestingly, a particular component of mindfulness, called a mindful attitude, was the strongest predictor of innovation self-efficacy.”

Even if some other studies focus on aspects of attention in relation to mindfulness, this work suggests that the more important piece to the puzzle is the attitude with which you pay attention. Do you have an open, curious, and kind attitude?

An Open, Curious, and Kind Attitude

Often referred to as “beginner’s mind,” having an open and curious attitude allows us to have the capacity to bring fresh, new eyes to a problem. Beginner’s mind also opens the capacity to engage in new perspectives for how to solve problems. When we remain open to new experiences, we are more likely to make connections between unrelated concepts. These connections are a key to generating original ideas. 

Kindness is an aspect of self-compassion and helps protect us against harsh self-criticism or a fear of failure. This protection helps by inspiring people to take a risk and explore new mental territory that can lead us to innovative solutions. Being self-aware and mindful support this mental exploration.

Getting Better at Being Self-Aware to Promote Self-Care and Success

If you are not a metitation pro, fear not because there is ample research demonstrating that mindfulness can be improved over time through practice. Try meditating for short intervals throughout the week. Start with 5 minutes a few days a week. Then you can begin adding more time whether through frequency or length of time spent on self-awareness activities. Eventually you will have a self-care routine that will promote your self-awareness, and your ability to solve problems in unique ways! 

Would you like to read more about gratitude, mindfulness, how to promote better health, and Unified Caring Association? Read our other blogs and visit us at our UCA website to learn more about caring and caring acts. We are happy you are here, and to share our experiences with you. Thank you from the Unified Caring Association Team!

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