Close-up view of a young African American man making a street art drawing on a wall.

Mindfulness practice can enhance creative thinking.

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From Jane Austen to Albert Einstein, from Zaha Hadid to Ivy, it’s easy to name people who have advanced human thought – but it’s harder to tell who these people are among us. Why think more creatively than others? Are their brains just built that way, or can one learn to do it? The mystery of creativity has long puzzled scientists. Now, researchers are finally making some progress in pulling back the curtain. Better yet, their insights can help us all use a little more original thinking.

Some of the most Interesting insight comes from the “dual process theory”. Creativity, which distinguishes between idea generation and idea evaluation. Idea generation involves digging deep into our existing knowledge for seeds of inspiration – perhaps by drawing analogies from an entirely different domain. Free association is key at this stage, as one thought leads to another, more original insight. In the second step, idea evaluation, we must look more critically to select ideas that fit our goals. A novelist must decide whether a strange, supernatural plot twist will shock or alienate readers. An engineer must consider whether their fish-inspired aircraft will be practical and efficient. Any major project requires multiple iterations of these two steps in its long and winding journey from concept to completion.

Brain scans of people engaged in creative problem solving show that idea generation and evaluation rely on…