Simply taking it all in through a form of meditation can help you with creative conflict resolution.
Much of the focus on mindfulness and meditation has been on stress management. Few things help one deal better with the stressors of everyday life. Meditation each day may reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, and mitigate the severity of episodes and symptoms of bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses.
But there is more. Meditation quiets the mind, and a quieter mind is more likely to have room for new and better ideas about the challenges one faces in life, business, and art.
Researchers at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition of Leiden University in the Netherlands found a tremendous impact of open-monitoring (or open source) meditation in developing varied approaches to challenging problems.
Open monitoring meditation is different from the more well-known mindfulness meditation.
In mindfulness meditation a person focuses their attention on a specific point like the breath. When the attention wanders from this point of focus the meditator brings it back to the breath (or other point of focus). Over and over again.
In open monitoring meditation the person sits in complete awareness of what is going on within and around them. They take in sounds, thoughts, feelings in the body, room temperature, whatever most engages their attention at the present moment.
This is different from just sitting and letting one’s mind wander, because the meditator holds their attention on the stimulus that engages them. Then they hold their attention there without judgment and without beginning an internal conversation about the sound or feeling they encounter.
When the mind pulls away from this point of focus, one can either bring the attention back to it or choose a new point of attention. The task is to scan your environment with intense focus, not distraction, especially distraction by irrelevant thoughts that constantly interrupt you.
It’s very difficult to do, but worth it, for it helps one develop multiple points of view.
As the researchers state: “First, open monitoring meditation induces a control state that promotes divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated. Second, this type of meditation does not sustain convergent thinking, the process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem.” Meditation may equal more ideas.
Another study published by Greenberg, Reiner, and Meiran in PLoS One determined that open monitoring practice reduces cognitive rigidity. In the experiment, subjects were given six tasks. The first three required complex solutions, and the last three progressively easier ones.
Non-meditators continued to apply the difficult solution methods to the easy problems and were more likely to become frustrated. Meditators were more likely to quickly figure out that the latter problems could be solved using fewer and easier steps.
The authors conclude that open monitoring meditation reduces cognitive rigidity via the tendency to be “blinded” by experience. Results are discussed in light of the benefits of this practice regarding a reduced tendency to overlook novel and adaptive ways of responding to problems.
The meditators were less rigid in their thinking, and they ruminated less.
An immediate benefit of divergent thinking is conflict resolution. An ability to see more than one solution to a problem may make us less rigid as we approach disagreements with partners, children, bosses or co-workers.
Seeing various points of view, and learning to approach thoughts, even competing thoughts, without judgment, enables us to engage in conflict with a more open mind and more understanding of competing points of view.
Divergent thinking generated by open monitoring meditation can also help us generate more creative solutions that are not so dependent on emotions and that may not stand up to reason.
In a world that sees things more and more as one side or the other with little room for compromise, the diversity of ideas prompted by this type of meditation can help us all come together in considerate, unemotional ways and achieve workable, mutually beneficial solutions to conflict.
Find instructions for open monitoring meditation here.
Front. Psychol., 18 April 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00116
Greenberg J, Reiner K, Meiran N (2012) “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36206. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036206