If the majority of your working day is spent in front of a computer screen, on endless calls and with a never-ending task list, you are probably finding it difficult to find the space to come up with more creative solutions to your problems.
Even if you haven’t personally tried contemplative practices such as meditation, mindfulness and mind-body exercises such as yoga, you will probably have heard fans of these practices raving about the positive benefits to mind and body. As well as reducing our stress levels – on both a physiological and a psychological level – contemplative practices have been shown to enhance executive functioning and working memory, and even help against age-related decline.
A focus on breathing is normally a core component of any of these practices. When we focus on our breath, making a conscious effort to slow it down and exhale for longer than inhaling, this activates our parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of our sympathetic nervous system which is involved in the fight/flight stress response).
As well as reducing stress, these practices can also enhance creative thinking. However, if you find the prospect of sitting in one place and focusing on your breathing unappealing, you could try an exercise which combines mindfulness with a creative task.
Mindful photography embeds the principles of mindfulness with photography for enhanced wellbeing. I was introduced to mindful photography during a coaching psychology masterclass around using coaching psychology and creativity to unlock people’s potential. I normally don’t think of myself as a particularly ‘creative’ person, and so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the experience. After just a few minutes of trying this out, I felt calmer, more ‘in the moment’, and I found myself noticing so many things in my surroundings which normally would have completely passed me by.
We were given 15 minutes for this experiment. At this time of year, I would normally have looked out of the window, seen the falling leaves and dying plants and decided not to venture out into the garden. I was sceptical about what I would be able to find to photograph in this environment.
We were instructed to first walk around without any specific purpose, before taking the time to start noticing our environment. Taking the time to mindfully walk around, I started noticing so many things that I hadn’t noticed before – the sun shining through bright yellow leaves of a tree, a bumblebee darting in and out of the last of the surviving roses, countless spider webs…I found myself becoming interested in my surroundings instead of the constant chatter in my head, and started taking some photos.
Once I started taking photos, I began to notice more and more things around me. I found myself snapping away, only focused on what was in front of me, and the time quickly flew by. I am consciously trying to focus on experiencing more positive than negative emotions throughout the day as a way of building my resilience. Being mindful of my surroundings triggered a number of thoughts and positive emotions – the yellow leaves of that tree triggered fond memories of a trip to Japan a few autumns ago, an experience for which I am eternally grateful. As for the dead flowers and the few that were still holding on – instead of feeling down at the prospect of them not blooming again until next Summer, I found myself instead appreciating their beauty and feeling hopeful about their return. I also felt amused when I leant in to take a photo of a spider’s web which I thought was empty, only to come face-to-face with its owner!
Those of you who regularly read my articles will know that I am a big promoter of the need to take regular breaks. This is something I have to keep on reminding myself of too, so I think it is great to have different ideas for spending this time. Even just giving yourself a few 5-minute breaks throughout the day, engaging in something like what I’ve described above and connecting with nature, or simply closing your eyes, focusing on slowing down your breath and trying to be in the moment, can help to restore you, balance your stress levels and help you to think more creatively – all of which will benefit you at work and in your personal life.
I hope that this reflection of my personal experience of trying something new will inspire you to try out some new techniques to help keep you balanced!
Acknowledgements: A big thank you to Dr Gisele Dias and Dr Paula Alves from the University of Greenwich for their masterclass at the International Congress of Coaching Psychology 2020 – I was introduced to mindful photography during their session on using coaching psychology and creativity to unlock people’s potential.
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Coaching Psychologist, Accredited Coach and Consultant