The Logistics of your Mental Load

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Paving the Way for Creative Thought

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You’ve probably heard the phrase “Work smarter, not harder”, but what about “Think better, not more”? According to a study published in Psychological Science last month, when we are consumed with a high quantity of thoughts (i.e., “high mental load”), our ability to think creatively is significantly hindered.[1]

According to the study, individuals possess a “natural tendency to explore and…favor novelty”; however when their mental loads are high, their minds will seek out the most familiar solution in an effort to conserve limited mental energy. When their minds are clear, on the other hand, they are more likely to move beyond routine responses and default to an innovative mode of thought.

There are benefits to having quick, routine responses whenever they are balanced with creative thought. Unfortunately, the latter tends to be overshadowed by mental loads that build up as a function of our daily lives, whether it’s ruminating over all of the things that we need to accomplish at work before the end of the day, memorizing the kids’ weekly schedule, or running through our “mental recipe box” to decide what to make for dinner. Then there are the more pathological forms of rumination that can lead to depression and/or anxiety. Regardless of origin, all of these “mental loads” accumulate, decreasing the capacity for creative thought while increasing the risk for stress-related diseases.

So what can we do to help clear our minds and improve our creativity? Moshe Bar, a neuroscientist and professor at Harvard Medical School, suggests that meditation is one of the most powerful tools in battling mental load. “Meditative practice helps free the mind to have richer experiences of the present,” he notes, recommending that everyone try it at least once.[1] The “mental dump” has also become a popular way of freeing up space for creativity. This buzz phrase refers to the act of writing down everything that comes to your mind, acknowledging that you will address these issues when you are able, and focusing on the task at hand (and theoretically the creative thoughts should now have plenty of room to flow!).[2] Other suggestions for clearing your mind including exercise (with music to activate the frontal lobe), taking power naps,  and talking with friends. [3]

[1]Bar, Moshe. (2016).Think Less, Think Better. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/opinion/sunday/think-less-think-better.html?_r=0

[2] Frey, Chuck. (2013). How to Clear your Mind or Distractions and Free it up for Creative Thinking. Retrieved from http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2013/05/29/how-to-clear-your-mind-of-distractions-and-free-it-up-for-creative-thinking/

[3] The Huffington Post (2014). 6 Ways To Clear Your Mind From All The Clutter. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/18/ways-to-clear-your-mind_n_4981108.html

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