Why Do Our Best Moments of Brilliance Come in the Shower?
I was in the shower one night mindlessly scrubbing away as a rush of apocalyptic and prophetic thoughts swirled around in my head. I had saved humanity (a few times), discovered time travel, and learnt the true meaning of Stonehenge, and finally figured out how to start this paragraph. Although as I’m typing this, I am watching reruns of QI (sorry!)
But those lightbulb moments of genius weren’t locked inside my bottle of vanilla milk and papaya scented shampoo- nor do I have a genie in a bottle! But the shower did create the perfect conditions to coax a flash of brilliance from my undoubtedly inner genius. Oh, and I guess I smelt nice after?
But why do we have these moments of brilliance in the shower?
Research from Washington University psychologist R. Keith Sawyer and author of “Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation” found you’re more likely to experience the “aha!” moment when you’re doing something monotonous, like exercising, catching the bus, and you guessed it, showering!
Since these routines have become repetitive, your mind switches over to “autopilot” because not much thought is required, leaving your brain to aimlessly wander around your head in a no-holds-barred game of chicken.
So where in the brain are we experiencing these moments?
Professor of Psychology at Drexel University and co-author of “The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain” John Kounios lead a study with his collaborator Mark Beeman from Northwestern University. They wanted to see what exactly happens in the brain when we have a creative breakthrough.
During the experiment, they found participants who solved problems through insight experienced a burst of creative activity in the right temporal lobe of the brain. Essentially, it’s the area associated with understanding jokes and metaphors that sometimes requires a mental leap to understand the joke.
On the other hand, participants who solved problems analytically experienced activity in the frontal lobe of the brain where organisation, focus, and attention are associated with.
That’s why the ingenious ideas you come up within the gym or shower are so much better or different from the ideas you would have at work. That’s not to say thinking hard is a bad thing! It keeps you focused and attentive on deadlines instead of watching reruns of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown (Yes, I’m very easy to distract). Still, it does mean your brain will likely shut out any creative or unconventional solutions.
Speaking of distractions, Shelley Carson from Harvard found that creative people all share the same trait- they’re easily distracted. Your brain is not the most active when focused on a task. Instead, it’s more productive when you allow your mind to wander.
And that’s the incredible thing about having a shower! It distracts you, and you’re able to defocus, enabling your brain to roam free. So, when you hit the water, your wackiest ideas come to life and maybe giving you a fresh perspective on whatever task was bothering you!
Speaking of keeping fresh! In the journal Thinking and Reasoning, psychologist Mareike Wieth says our most creative peak occurs during the morning or at night- when most of us are tired and require a shower to awaken!
Kounios says “the water acts like white noise, the warmth of the water makes no difference between the air and your skin, and the mild sensory restriction means you can’t see very much.”
So the magical concoction seems to be this: If you are in a relaxed state of mind whether it’s walking, running or in the shower, your easy to distract, and full of dopamine, your brain is likely to give you your best, wackiest and unconventional ideas.
3 ways to capture your creative spirit
From all the research I’ve combed through, if you were to take only one thing from this, it’s this: Creativity is not limited to those who think creatively. Creativity is for everyone. The trick is not how to spark your creative spirit, but how to capture it, whenever and wherever it happens.
Here are three ways to capture the best ideas:
- Always keep a notebook with you, even in the shower
Keeping a notebook or pad on you is by far the best way to capture your creative ideas every day. What is difficult, though, is always keeping it on you. Even Bill Gates would forget his thoughts as quickly as they enter his head!
For that reason, writing everything down, even if it doesn’t seem significant is essential. Here are some areas where you could leave a notepad where we typically wouldn’t keep it:
- Whilst walking/running
- In your car
- In the shower
- While shopping
These are some of the activities where our most creative moments could happen. If you’re wondering how you could possibly capture your ideas in the shower, I recently discovered Aqua Notes, a waterproof way to write down my thoughts.
- Start an inspiration file
Collect good ideas, collect as many as you humanely can so that you can use it to influence you when you’re stuck. Your inspirational file could come in the form of a Pinterest board, a Notion’s list, or a physical collection of ideas.
Whichever way you choose, collect thoughts and ideas that influence you now and watch it grow.
- Do nothing
Yup, that’s right, do nothing. Nothing at all. Take time to take a break away from your tasks, no matter how small or big it is. Relax, take a shower, go for a run and come back to it later. Time away to allow your brain to be free may be the exact remedy you need to come back inspired.
There you have it! The next time you feel like you’re in a rut, try taking a break and letting your mind wander. Or better yet, take a shower. You never know, a shower could be the perfect storm for an epiphany waiting to happen.
What do you do to work creatively? I’d love your thoughts in the comments.