Our best ideas can come to us at anytime — hiking in the woods, playing with our pets, talking with our best friend or just seconds before falling asleep or waking up. We don’t always know where (or why) they come from, but no matter the exact reasons, simply getting an awesome idea is always a welcome feeling. Recently, Mental Floss set out to uncover why many of our best moments for ideas and thinking come while we’re in the shower.
Whether it’s large or small, it makes sense that many aha! moments happen while you’re getting clean. The shower is the perfect place to cook up big ideas. Research shows that we most often hit creative epiphany while doing super monotonous tasks like exercising or showering. Because these sorts of everyday ritual tasks don’t take up much brain space as you’re doing them (unlike working or investing in a good book), your mind is freed up to wander.
This daydreaming or free association of your life and thoughts “relaxes the prefrontal cortexóthe brainís command center for decisions, goals, and behavior. It also switches on the rest of your brainís ‘default mode network’ (DMN) clearing the pathways that connect different regions of your noggin. With your cortex loosened up and your DMN switched on, you can make new, creative connections that your conscious mind would have dismissed.”
When you’re doing more tough thinking – like on an important project at work – your default network is deactivated and your prefrontal cortexís control gets a boost. While this is totally normal and not at all a bad thing, it forces your mind to focus on one task and leaves it bound to a central problem and unable to stumble upon new and different solutions or thoughts.
Research shows your brain is most active when you are in the shower or on your morning run. Shelley Carson at Harvard found that “highly creative people share one amazing traitótheyíre easily distracted. And thatís 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.” And unlike just being bored at work and not thinking about anything in particular, a shower is relaxing and rarely asks you to even play along with paying attention. Plus, you’re alone!
While getting clean in the shower, your body triggers that happy-go-lucky neurotransmitter, dopamine, which can really boost your creative juices. Alpha waves head through your brain and accompany your default setting. Because we often shower when we’re most tired (in the morning or at night), we’re also doing our best thinking in there because, according to the journal Thinking and Reasoning, thatís our creative peak.
Now that you know why your best ideas come in the shower, maybe you’ll consider keeping a pen and paper close by!