The truly innovative see the big picture and can connect the dots between disparate problems. They see a void where others don’t and understand how to fill it, creating solutions to problems we didn’t know we had. But how do you make the leap to seeing the world in a new way?
Creativity is an outgrowth of mindfulness, says Murray Hidary, a tech entrepreneur, composer, concert pianist and visual artist whose life is grounded in Eastern philosophy and practice. Hidary and his brother, Jack, co-founded EarthWeb, an internet consulting company-turned-web portal, in the mid-1990s and took it public. Hidary has since started several other internet-based companies, but his focus is on spreading mindfulness. In his latest venture, MindTravel, he creates experiences that encourage a flow state using visual presentations and improvised meditative music.
Music is a running theme in Hidary’s life and, he says, a key to his business creativity. “Music really allows us to have a very expanded internal experience,” he explains. “It’s a language that opens the heart and trains us how to listen. Passive listening captures attention and helps in developing the musculature of deep listening”—and listening mindfully unlocks creativity.
Hidary sometimes plays piano as part of his mindfulness practices, but though keeping a baby grand in the office as Hidary once did may not be possible, it is also not necessary. Simpler methods for unlocking creativity are entirely feasible in an office setting and in daily life.
Benefits of Mindfulness
What’s the point of carving out time to just listen to music during a busy workday? On a personal level, meditative music and other mindfulness activities calm the nervous system and develop attention.
When you carry those benefits into your professional life, mindfulness leads to more creative ideas and a greater ability to build on the ideas of others and think about the big picture, according to the Harvard Business Review.
“Our internal state is directly tied to our external experience. In the business world, it’s easy to think the world is happening to you, the market is happening to you,” Hidary says.
To be an innovative entrepreneur, you need to become an active force, rather than a passive or reactive one; this requires you to be fully present.
Clearing your mind, exhaling anxiety and reaching a state of calm deepens listening and concentration, which in turn heightens your brain’s ability to make truly creative connections and envision solutions, especially in potentially stressful situations, Hidary says.
So how do you develop this skill? Discover a mindfulness practice. It takes only desire, consistency and the ability to forgive yourself if you forget or struggle to stay focused. As with any other habit or skill, it takes practice.
Your practice has to work for you. Here are a few different exercises. Choose one or more to begin to realize the benefits of mindfulness:
- Attend to your breath. Count your inhalation, then exhale for a longer count; for example, inhale for four counts and exhale for six. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s ability to relax. “From a pragmatic standpoint, I know I can use something as simple as one breath to change my state—and that literally takes 10 seconds,” Hidary says.
- Take a walk. Not a power walk, but a meander—preferably in nature. Notice the beauty around you. Hidary offers guided walks with meditative music, but you can also do this on your own, especially once your practice has matured.
- Listen to meditative music. Although your favorite songs may cheer you up or make you want to dance, meditative music has its own impact. When Hidary composes, he uses science to create tones, repetition and rhythm that help facilitate mindfulness.
- Focus on an object. It doesn’t matter what the object is, as long as it can hold your focus and ground you. When you first begin your practice, you may find it easier to attend to a flower or a picture of a beloved person rather than, for instance, your computer mouse or anything that reminds you of the stress you’re trying to alleviate.
- Try a combination of methods. Take a walk while listening to music. Breathe deeply as you focus on a piece of art. Work with music in the background.
Beginning Your Mindfulness Practice
Although these exercises may not be inherently difficult, the hardest part of practicing mindfulness will be actually taking the time to practice—and valuing its importance to your business success. Here are a few tricks to make this adjustment easier:
- Take charge of your calendar. Block off a stretch of time each day to practice mindfulness and to leave space for creative thinking.
- Prioritize quality over quantity. If you’re struggling to maintain your practice or can’t imagine taking the time to do “nothing,” remember that a little can go a long way—and feel free to pace yourself. A five-minute mindful walk trumps a 25-minute hunched-shoulder walk.
- Shake yourself out of binary all-or-nothing thinking. Mindfulness practice does not have to take an hour of your day. Small, repeated actions throughout the day will serve.
- Practice wherever, whenever. A sacred space is not necessary. Stuck at a light in your car? Take a few breaths. Waiting for an appointment? Go for a short walk.
- Apply it to professional challenges. If you have an important meeting or negotiating session, use a mindfulness strategy to prepare for more active listening. Try asking the other meeting attendees to join you, especially if the stakes are high or the problem is thorny. “If I’m listening to a bigger message, I have the opportunity to elevate the entire meeting, and most likely there will be a solution,” Hidary says. Listening to that message becomes even more difficult in a video meeting or remote interaction; those settings make deep attention even more vital. Seeing the results of mindfulness will help you prioritize finding the time for it.
Discovering mindfulness through any or all of these practices will intensify your business thinking. “We have to get ourselves out of our own way,” Hidary says. “That is the art of being an entrepreneur. You have to see the bigger picture.”
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos by