This Type of Meditation Leads to Insight and Breakthroughs

By on April 22, 2022

Imagine being a genius. What would you do with your newfound cognitive skills?

For many, the answer might be to try and change the world with an app maybe, a business idea, or perhaps a great work of literature. Maybe you’d crack the secrets of the universe and gain a deeper understanding of the world around you.

Big Idea Meditation

Maybe you’d just work to perfect your own life and happiness.

Whatever the case, traditional forms of meditation and brain training won’t get you there. These will typically focus on building focus, working memory, and other such skills. While those things are useful, being more focused doesn’t suddenly change your life.

See also: Why Image Streaming Might be an Invaluable Tool for Improving Visualization and Creativity

For that, you need ideas. And ideas come from creative thinking. Which is kind of the exact opposite of focus

So, what can you do to gain that sort of insight?

Big Idea Meditation

The simple answer: practice that kind of thinking!

You want to be great at creative problem solving? Then solve some creative problems!

You want to crack the secrets of the universe? Start thinking about it now!

Think like a genius

This is what I call “big idea meditation.” Essentially, you treat this kind of thinking as its own form of meditation. Block off some time, pose yourself a challenging question (“what would I do if I were prime minister/president?”) and then just THINK about that for 10, 20, or 30 minutes.

See also: The Neuroscience of Genius And Increasing Intelligence

You might have some fascinating insights there and then. But more likely, you’ll be practicing and rehearsing the ability to think in this way. Thus, you’ll become more creative, more insightful, and maybe just a little more genius…

The problem is that this kind of meditation, or “mind wandering” in general, has been very much demonized. We tell people off for having their head in the clouds, we encourage people to be mindful, and we suggest that we shouldn’t live in the past or future.

Often, it is implied that mind wandering will inevitably lead to dark thoughts and anxiety.

I disagree. There is a time and place for everything. And there is mounting research to back this up.

Other Forms of Non-Directive Meditation

This kind of meditation that allows for mind wandering is known as “non-directive” meditation. I’m not the first to suggest it has virtue.

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, for example, recommends what he calls “Productive Meditation.” Here, you ruminate on a particular problem you might be facing. Often this will be related to business or creative work, but it can certainly be applied outside of that context.

I, for one, will often use productive meditation to work on projects prior to physically being able to start. For example, I might plan the script and some shots for a video before I actually start filming. This lets me work very efficiently when it actually comes down to it. It’s also how I come up with the ideas in the first place…

nondirective meditation

The likes of Carl Jung and Nicolai Tesla were known to go on “inspiration walks” when working through their ideas.

And meditation practices such as “Acem” encourage us to simply let our mind wander wherever it chooses – with no attempt at control.

All I’m doing differently, is beginning my sessions with an inherently abstract and creative question, to practice those skills, specifically.

See also: Different Types of Meditation for Focus, Control, and Creativity

Yet the resistance to this type of thinking remains.

The Evidence

There’s actually a LOT of evidence to suggest that, far from being bad for you, non-directive meditation and mind wander actually works wonders for cognitive performance and mental health.

A study I was excited to find showed a correlation between mind-wandering practice, activity in the default mode network, creativity, and fluid intelligence. This is pertinent, because the default mode network is the part of the brain that lights up when we engage in free-thinking (task-negative thinking). It appears that people who regularly practice mind-wandering (according to self-reports) also demonstrate more creativity and more fluid intelligence (study).

See also: A Journey Into the Human Brain – Everything You Need to Know

This is a correlation, so we can’t definitively say that one causes the other. But, knowing what we do about brain plasticity, it’s likely that spending time in deep thought could make you better at thinking deeply, and creatively. The same study also found greater connectivity between the default mode network and the frontoparietal control network. This may suggest that regular deep thinking can also lead to more action being taken – as we turn those abstract ideas into concrete intentions.

Deep thinking

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is evidence that spending time imagining future, goal-directed behavior can result in greater action toward those goals (reference).

Another similar study found a correlation between mind wandering and creativity, as measured by the “unusual uses” test (study).

In her Ted talk, Sandra Bond explained that any kind of deep thinking could result to increased total blood flow to the brain (around 8-12%). Her team also witnessed a 30% increase in the speed of neural connections in the central executive network.

To put it a lot more simply, we know that mind-wandering must be valuable because the average brain spends about 50% of its time in that state.

Similarities With Dreaming

Undirected thought even shares some similarities with dreaming – similar brain areas are implicated, and it appears that the practice may aid with the consolidation of memories and ideas (according . It could even help to reduce sleep need – though that is entirely speculation… don’t quote me on it!

See also: Rethinking Sleep – How to Need Less of It

Mind wandering has even been shown to improve performance on a version of the marshmallow test (study). That is to say, that those people who regularly mind wander, are better at ignoring short-term rewards in favor of larger, long-term ones. One explanation is that mind-wandering provides a kind of “escape” from discomfort. However, it’s also possible that mind-wandering might give the individual a superior ability to anticipate future reward.

How to Start

With all that said, how do you get started with big idea meditation?

Another researcher who is very interested in this topic, is Erin Westgate. She found that, when given the opportunity, the average participant was not very effective at deep thinking and mind wandering. Rather than having meaningful, enjoyable experiences, they would instead list tasks in their heads or, worse, ruminate on negative thoughts.

Wandering

The latter is one of the reasons that we are told to avoid deep thinking: many feel it will inevitably lead to negative ruminations. This does not have to be the case! In fact, practicing positive deep thought may even help us to better avoid those negative tendencies.

Fortunately, we can avoid this negative thinking and ensure we get something from our practice by creating prompts and guidelines to the way we think. Erin found that by providing her participants with starter questions, she could help them to actually enjoy their time “thinking for pleasure.” (Study)

Note that Erin does make a distinction between mind-wandering and daydreaming, but for our purposes there is enough overlap, here!

So, set yourself some deep and inherently creativity-inducing questions. How did the universe start? How would you go about earning a million dollars?

(If you want more prompts, I just added a whole bunch as a new lesson in the SuperFunctional Training 2.0, get it here.)

I recommend treating this like any other form of training or meditation. Do this for 10-30 minutes at a time.

And I also recommend that you still practice more conventional, directive, forms of meditation. Just as the body needs cardio, strength training, and mobility work; I also believe we should train the distinct functions of the brain.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.