- What name should I choose for a project I'm developing?
- What should I write about for this week's THINKERS Roundup?
I'd spent time this week actively considering both -- researching, brainstorming, discussing, etc. But I had yet to arrive at sufficient answers.
By mid-morning I had reached the point of mild frustration.
Then I took a shower.
I thought about turning a podcast on, as I often do. But I decided against it. A little time to turn my brain off seemed like a good idea.
It turns out that when one part of my brain switched off, others switched on.
Because somewhere between lathering my hair with shampoo and toweling off I had figured out the answers to both questions.
Ironically, neither answer came from actively considering the questions. The answers just sort of POOF! popped into my thinking.
This is not the first time such a phenomenon has occurred. I've had many important revelations while showering ... or walking ... or cleaning the pool ... or doing dishes ... or exercising ... or, well, you get the idea.
Sometimes it feels like my mind has to intentionally be led away from a problem before it can actually arrive at an answer about said problem.
The answer is the default mode network (DMN) of our brains, which gets activated when we're engaged in physical tasks that aren't mentally stimulating. The DMN facilitates creative connections that our conscious minds would have dismissed.
That’s why the ideas you have in the shower are so different from the ideas you have at work—you’re a pinch more close-minded at the office. Thinking hard about a problem deactivates your default network. It boosts your prefrontal cortex’s control. This isn’t a bad thing—it tightens your focus and gives you the power to stop gawking at cat pictures and hit that deadline. But it can also dig you into a creative rut. Because when you’re deeply focused on a task, your brain is more likely to censor unconventional—and creative—solutions.
Strange as it sounds, your brain is not most active when you’re focused on a task. Rather, research shows it’s more active when you let go of the leash and allow it to wander. Shelley Carson at Harvard found that highly creative people share one amazing trait—they’re easily distracted. And that’s the beauty of a warm shower. It distracts you. It makes you defocus. It lets your brain roam. It activates your DMN and encourages wacky ideas to bounce around. So when the lather rinses off, your light bulb switches on.
That is the cognitive power of a shower: your brain experiences some freedom from focus that allows associations to coalesce. Most of them have little meaning or utility; other times, they provide answers to burning questions.
The next key, of course, is to not lose the brilliant idea once it presents itself.
Shower markers are one option. An even better option is a trusty notebook and app that is always at the ready to capture a valuable handwritten, spoken, or tapped-out note.
Hmm, now where could you get something like that? ;-)
In this week's THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three more articles that describe this somewhat amusing but incredibly powerful phenomenon of our fickle brains -- which sometimes seem to have a mind of their own.
The benefits of an incubation period
"Especially if you have thought long and hard all day about a problem, jumping into the shower can turn into what scientist call the “incubation period” for your ideas. The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face and now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind."
Read: Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity (Buffer)
Relaxation + dopamine + no distractions
"Showering is one of the few moments in our day where we are free from technology and people. One of the few times where we are forced to be present and allow our minds to wander. With this freedom, our brains can start to tackle all of those thoughts and ideas we’ve placed on the back burner."
Read: This is why we do our best thinking in the shower (Considerable)
Don't sell your shower thoughts short
"Write down everything that pops into your head. Even if it’s already been done, if you don’t know all the details yet, if you’re afraid it’s never going to turn into anything. Even if you’re not sure if an idea is worth pursuing, you have nothing to lose by transferring it from your head to a physical place.
"Only then can you really look at it from all angles and judge whether or not it’s something you want to spend weeks, months, even years working on. Don’t shoot an idea down before it even gets the chance to thrive."
Read: Why You Should Always Write Down Your ‘Shower Thoughts (Meg Dowell)
Quote of the week
"“In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you’ve left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you.”
-- Woody Allen