Why You Have your Best Ideas in the Shower
How neuroplasticity and novelty help our brain thrive
I am sure you heard someone saying before: “I always happen to have my best ideas in the shower”.
Well, guess what, there is a reason for that.
How can we have a clear idea of what creativity does to our brain?
Researchers Allen Braun and Siyuan Liu had a genius idea: track the brain activity of rappers doing freestyle.
It’s easy to track, it’s a very creative process and it tends to happen very quickly (if you do not believe me, watch a few epic rap battles on YouTube).
When we are being creative, some of the brain areas we use for everyday decisions are completely deactivated, whilst others we don’t use will light up:
“Artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be ‘deactivated’ are associated with regulating other brain functions.”
For the first time, researchers have been able to analyse an activity that would be called ‘creative’ and actually measure its impact.
When it comes to the “medial prefrontal cortex” area, this is the area that is responsible to learn association, context, events and emotional responses.
Once again, I’ll let Braun explain to us what this means:
“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity”
The truth about neuroplasticity
I know what you must be thinking, dear reader:
“Fab, this still is not really telling me why I have great ideas in the shower”
Let’s be honest, showers are NOT that creative. However, they help us with a dear old friend, dopamine. Yes, an essential ingredient for us to be creative is dopamine.
The more dopamine that is released, the more creative we are.
Alice Weaver Flaherty, writer of The Midnight Disease, states: “People vary in terms of their level of creative drive according to the activity of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.”
Dopamine levels raise when we are energised, inspired or relaxed.
Let’s be honest, warm showers and hot baths can be extremely relaxing. Once again though, if that’s the case, we’d be creative even when planking or doing squats.
Another important part of learning and the creative process is novelty.
Learning something new instigates novelty: it stimulates our brain, especially when learning something new, as it builds connections between neurons, replacing some of those we lose over time.
Welcome to the world of “neuroplasticity”.
This is basically where neuron stimuli, dopamine, and neurotransmitters come together.
Neuroplasticity is sparked from a combination of all the elements that support the creative process (such as dopamine, novelty, learning), and helps our brain evolving, changing and challenging itself. However, there is one last piece of this puzzle: distraction.
Now, I can get distracted incredibly easily: a cute baby or a baby sloth crawling in the grass will always do the trick.
However, no all distractions are equal. This time is the time Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, calls ‘incubation period’.
She adds: “a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.’’
Taking ideas for a stroll
Especially when thinking about something that is deeply buried in our subconscious mind, as soon as you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind.
Just likeshowers, for me the best way to learn and be creative is to walk.
It’s no surprise that loads of leaders, such as Arianna Huffington for examples, have been employing very similar tools — such as walking meetings — and I tend to do the same.
Walking phone calls, walking podcast strolls, walking to solve problems.
As per usual, I was curious to see the reason why walking is such a creativity tool.
A study developed at Stanford University demonstrates that walking boosts creativity thanks to the clear mind-body connection.
It opens up the free flow of ideas, The effect is not simply due to the perceptual stimulation of moving through an environment, but rather it is due to walking.
The world is your classroom
“Ideas come from everything”― Alfred Hitchcock
The takeaway from this is very simple: learning should not be confined to a classroom environment.
Development and growth should be encouraged in whichever environment works for you.
Being able to create prime learning environments for yourself can both implement and increase the joy of learning in itself, and inspire creativity through learning. Being able to turn the learning experience into an investment is what can make a difference in the way you spread your very own message.
I help people grow their online audience and monetise their content and unleash their potentials as creatives.