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Columnist: H. James Harrington

Photo: Scott Paton, publisher


Relax to Create

Quiet the mind and increase productivity.



Often we find ourselves caught up in the stress and strain of our everyday activities. How can you focus on being more creative when it’s all you can do just to tread water?

If this describes your situation, it’s best to start your creativity session with what a jogger would call a stretching exercise. There are a number of these exercises that can be used; meditation is an excellent one.

A universal characteristic of meditation is the elevation to an altered state of consciousness by clearing the mind, thereby allowing concentration and the development of creative ideas. The following are four approaches to meditation:

Transcendental meditation, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and taught at Maharishi Vedic Universities throughout the United States

Clinically standardized meditation, developed by Patricia Carrington, Ph.D.,
author of Freedom in Meditation (Doubleday, 1977)

Respiratory one method, developed by Dr. Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response (Harper Paperbacks, 2000)



Another powerful reason for meditating is that it alleviates stress. Not long ago, debates over whether stress induced creativity remained unresolved. However, it is now widely accepted that the opposite is true.

Try the following exercise. Read all six steps first and then:

Step 1. Go to a quiet place in your house or close the door to your office.

Step 2. Sit upright in a chair with your hands in your lap and your feet placed flat on the floor. It is important to sit with your back perfectly straight to continue the exercise without getting tired.

Step 3. Close your eyes and relax all your muscles.

Step 4. Focus on a calming word (i.e., a mantra), phrase, or picture. For example, use the word “relax” or think of the ocean.

Step 5. Repeat the mantra and let it come and go through your mind. Do not try to force it.

Step 6. Continue meditating for 10 to 20 minutes.


If you have not meditated before, it could be difficult to stay still for so long. You may even experience an uncontrollable itch or restlessness all over your body. Keep trying.

Another method focuses on relaxing individual parts of the body until you are totally relaxed. Often, these exercises are complemented with soothing music or environmental sounds, such as the ocean or raindrops. Try 10–15-minute sessions three times a week (with additional sessions if it’s been a particularly bad day), finding a quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted and can close your eyes.

As discussed in my September and October columns, we rely more on the Felix side of our brain to respond to external and internal stimulations when stressed and tense. Pressure, tension, worry, and anxiety build a brick wall between Felix and Oscar that is often difficult to break down. Another way to remove this obstacle is by covering it with sweat. Physical exercise makes our body healthy, which includes our mind, thereby helping us to be more creative. You don’t have to lift weights or do push-ups to increase your creative abilities. There are a lot of less-strenuous physical exercises that will increase your mental capabilities, such as:

Stretching. Select exercises that affect your cerebellum, motor cortex, and limbic systems. There are a number of stretching positions that stimulate various portions of the body and brain. Selecting different sections of the brain helps relieve pent-up emotions.

Tai chi. This is a group of ancient Chinese physical exercises that can be performed by everyone. Its slow, rhythmic motions bring the body and mind into complete harmony, reducing and often eliminating stress.

Aerobics. There is a direct relationship between cardiovascular health and brain function. Physical exercises like swimming, hiking, walking, dancing, and golf are excellent ways to develop a healthy mind and a creative spirit.

Yoga. Yoga uses body positions to induce wave patterns in the brain, increasing blood flow and thereby improving mental performance.


Become familiar and experiment with each of these four types of mind expanders to determine which approach or combination of approaches produces the best results.

These mind-expanders are designed to change the way you interface with the Felix and Oscar sides of your brain. When you relax and enjoy what you’re doing, you will be more creative.

About the author
H. James Harrington is CEO of the Harrington Institute Inc. and chairman of the board of e-TQM College Advisory Board. Harrington is a past president of ASQ and IAQ. He has more than 55 years of experience as a quality professional and is the author of 28 books. Visit his Web site at www.harrington-institute.com.