I Thought It Was Just Me...
The title of a blog I just read struck me like that tv commercial for V-8: “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity.”
I’ve been embarrassed to admit that the shower is exactly where some of my most creative ideas are born. But why is this? The blog, written by Leo Widrich on blog.bufferapp.com points out three important events that come into play:
“Alice Flaherty, renowned neuroscientist researching creativity, has an answer. ‘People vary in terms of their level of creative drive according to the activity of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.’ Typical triggers for events that make us feel great and relaxed and therefore give us an increased dopamine flow are taking a warm shower, exercising, driving home, etc. The chances of having great ideas then are a lot higher.”
Dopamine is all well and good, but there must be more. There is:
“Another crucial factor is a distraction, says Harvard researcher [Shelly H.] Carson: 'In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.' 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.”
Yes, this sounds like it’s on the right track. So, to conclude (ironically from writer Jonah Lehrer, object of The New Yorker plagiarism scandal), here's the final element:
“…a relaxed state of mind is absolutely important to be creative, says writer Jonah Lehrer: ‘When our minds are at ease–when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain–we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights… It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been there all along–we just weren’t listening.’ “
Okay, time to take a shower.