Have you ever sat down, pencil in hand, ready to come up with a whole list of incredible story and article ideas, only to find yourself staring at a blank page? I have.
My best ideas never come to me while I’m waiting for them. They always come to me completely unannounced, normally when I have absolutely no way of writing them down or remembering them.
I can only hope, as I’m mid-workout, or about to fall asleep, or chopping vegetables, that I’ll remember my brilliant idea when I have a chance to scribble it down later.
Confession: I once wrote a story idea in the steam on my bathroom mirror post-shower in the hopes that I wouldn’t forget. My boyfriend tragically wiped it off without realizing.
In this age of productivity obsession, everyone demands output from their brain the same way their bosses demand output from them at work.
But brains don’t work like that. Our minds aren’t wired to pump out ideas the way we think they should. Instead, they stubbornly insist on being creative only when we least expect it: when we’re distracted.
Why is that?
The Two Ways Your Brain Works
Our brains have two ways of operating: focused and distracted.
The first is what you use at work. When you think hard about problems, you deactivate your “default mode network,” (DMN) which is responsible for clearing a path between all the different areas of your brain.
This tightens your concentration and turns you into a laser-focused problem-solving machine, which is exactly what you want when you’re under a tight deadline and need to get stuff done. The distractions are eliminated.
But it also clamps down on unconventional and creative solutions to problems as a by-product.
The second type of brain function is a more loose, distracted type. This happens when you’re unfocused — your mind wanders, you daydream, you’re relaxed.
When you’re occupied in other ways, your brain is in overdrive, creating new paths between unconnected areas of your brain and sparking creative thoughts.
As you focus on monotonous tasks (like chopping vegetables), this engages the autopilot area of your brain. The rest of your mind is free to drift.
Your DMN is fully activated and operating at high levels , making connections and encouraging creative thoughts to bounce around. This can proverbially switch on the good-idea light bulb.
That’s why when you sit down with the intention of coming up with new, creative ideas, your brain can’t give you anything.
But when you’re occupied in other ways, your brain is in actually working in overdrive, creating new paths between unconnected areas of your brain and sparking creative thoughts.
So now you know why good ideas come to you in the shower.
The downside of this is that you rarely bring a pen and notepad in with you to the shower.
How can you generate these good ideas on command, rather than waiting for inspiration to strike?
The first thing you need to is make sure you’re prepared at any time. Find out when you’re relaxed, happy and distracted — make a mental note of when that’s likely to be. Then, just find a way to record the ideas that are sure to come. For example, I have Evernote on my phone. When I’m running, and a good idea comes to me, I can jot it down without even breaking my stride. When I’m chopping vegetables, I can speak into my iPad hands-free to record the idea in notes.
This is actually the source of inspiration for this article! Thank you, carrots
If you’re not sure of what gets your creative juices flowing, try some different options. Getting drunk is proven to boost creativity for some, as is being sleepy. Maybe folding clothes is what generates all your good ideas. Maybe it’s even doing routine tasks at work. Anything that can set your mind free from that DMN can loosen you up enough to start coming up with new ideas.
But in order for you to take advantage of that, you can’t be distracted by Netflix, radio, or music. Try running with white noise on Spotify, or taking a shower in silence.
Without distractions, your mind is free to come up with its own entertainment — new and interesting ideas.