In a recent session for the virtual 2020 ACFE Fraud Conference Canada, mindfulness instructor Trish Tutton provided an overview of how mindfulness practices can put our brains in a state where we can be more creative and innovative, and come up with solutions to problems in our own lives, in our work and for our clients.
To kick off the session, “Innovative State of Mind,” Tutton invited attendees to “start by stopping” and led a brief meditation, allowing attendees to become more focused in the present moment. “Why would we waste a minute like this,” Tutton asked.
Tutton told attendees that most of us are on autopilot for most of our lives. Common signs of being on autopilot include:
Having a predictable routine
Not feeling excited to start the day because you know how it’s going to go
Struggling to remember things because you’re not fully present in the moment
Tutton noted that most people go about their daily actions without ever stopping to ask why or how they are doing something and whether or not something is truly serving or helping them. If you’re on autopilot, it means you most likely have a hard time coming up with new ideas, with problem solving and with being innovative.
“If we’re on autopilot, we have the same old thinking and it’s leading to the same old results,” Tutton added. This leads you down a path of resisting innovation and simply doing something because you’ve “always done it this way,” which Tutton deemed the most dangerous phrase in our language. “Once our brain sees the answer to a problem, sees a solution, it’s really hard for us to stop seeing that solution,” Tutton explained. “It’s really hard for us to see another option.”
Tutton asked attendees when they come up with their most creative ideas, and most respondents answered that these ideas come to them while in nature, while exercising, when they’re about to go to bed, while on bike rides. In other words, people tend to feel most creative and innovative when they’re relaxed.
Tutton noted that being relaxed is a crucial component of being mindful. To achieve a more innovative and creative state of mindfulness, she walked attendees through three key steps:
Practice being calm
Reducing mindlessness is a means of bringing ourselves out of autopilot. Tutton defined mindfulness as being in the present moment non-judgmentally and with curiosity. “Just like playing the piano or playing a sport,” she remarked, “mindfulness takes practice.”
Because our bodies are always in the present moment, Tutton encouraged us to do our best to keep our minds also in the present moment instead of worrying about the future or feeling anxious about the past.
Mindfulness is not about clearing your mind, but rather about refocusing and relieving oneself of feelings of worry and doubt. “Anxiety management is a huge benefit or practicing mindfulness, and now it’s really proving to be a very powerful skill that we can acquire to reduce this experience of being on autopilot and enhancing our ability to come up with new solutions to problems, to really tap into creativity,” she said.
Tutton also encouraged attendees to get into the practice of asking more questions and continuing to stay curious, as this is another key facet of mindfulness.
Practice being calm
By learning how to be calm, you can quiet the parts of your brain that produce anxiety so that other parts of your brain that stimulate curiosity can get vital resources to operate. As humans, we are wired to dwell on negative things in life because our brain is always scanning for threats in order to survive.
To calm this part of the brain, Tutton advocated for breathing deep into the belly. This deactivates the brain’s stress mode, which occurs when you breathe short and choppy breaths through your chest. Once you breathe more deeply, you are physically telling your brain that it can relax.
In her final recommendation, Tutton suggested that you embrace discomfort. When you experience failure, you can have emotional experiences that allow you to get stuck in sadness and shame. This prevents the brain from embracing curiosity and innovation. Tutton reminded attendees that very few people succeed with the first idea they have, and the key is to not get disheartened when ideas don’t always turn out well the first time. Mindfulness can help us acknowledge that failure is not actually failure but is really a stepping stone toward success.
“The more we can embrace this discomfort of failure, the more that we’ll be willing to put ourselves out there and try new innovative ideas and eventually then succeed. If we keep going long enough, we will succeed. This stage is really about trial and error. It’s about failing your way to success without becoming demotivated by those failures,” Tutton said.
The idea behind this practice is to develop resilience, to be able to experience failure and then bounce back and continue to try out new ideas. While the stress of not knowing may cause you to rush into an answer, Tutton stressed that you shouldn’t prioritize bad ideas simply because of the comfort of having a solution. “To come up with new ideas, we have to be able to sit in the discomfort of not having a solution yet,” she said.
To close, Tutton provided a couple of suggestions for how to implement mindfulness throughout our daily lives, whether this means savoring our morning coffee a bit more slowly, listening to our loved ones and team members with a renewed desire to truly understand what they’re saying, or simply checking in with our senses when we’re experiencing the beauty of nature. She advocated for even starting the next team meeting with a moment of mindfulness and a few deep breaths to allow people to refocus and stimulate their creative thinking.
Before signing off, Tutton left attendees with one of her favorite quotes: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few moments, including you.”