You may have heard many people say they get some of their best ideas in the shower.
One study showed that 72% of respondents reported this phenomenon.
Mitch Ditkoff, author of “Awake At The Wheel” lists 20 reasons, most of which boil down to “your mind is open and relaxed”.
An article on Men’s Health reveals that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin takes six showers per day to overcome writer’s block.
The same article cites the guy who (literally) wrote the book on “aha moments” for a detailed explanation:
When you use a methodical technique to solve a problem, the frontal lobe of your brain is highly activated, says researcher John Kounios, Ph.D., coauthor of The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain.
Your frontal lobe keeps you hyper focused – which is good if you need to power through a spreadsheet, but bad if you’re stuck on a problem.
When you’re stumped, you need a fresh perspective. But that hyper-focused state gives you tunnel vision. You’re more likely to stick to an established script, and less likely to come up with new ideas.
On the other hand, when you relax and let your wind wander, the activity in your frontal lobe decreases and the activity in a part of your brain called the anterior cingulate ramps up. The anterior cingulate monitors the brain for unconscious ideas that you otherwise wouldn’t notice.
“It literally expands your scope of thought,” Kounios says.
Now, Let’s Take It A Step Further And Get Really Scientific
Leo Widrich, co-founder and COO of Buffer, gets into much deeper detail in his groundbreaking article, Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity.
The entire article is definitely worth several reads, which is why we linked to it in a way that opens in a separate browser tab in the previous sentence.
If all you need is the saved-you-a-click version, he highlights the spurring of interesting creativity in the shower as a three-step process:
1) Dopamine release – the more that’s released in our brain, the more creative we become. A warm shower, the drive home, something relaxing, triggers dopamine release.
2) Distraction – since the subconscious mind has already been hard at work solving problems and generating interesting creativity, letting your mind wander once the dopamine is released allows the subconscious mind to surface and plant its work in your conscious mind.
3) Relaxed state of mind – being away from e-mail, phone calls, and all the other distractions, with no need to work on solving a specific problem, allows the brain to relax so creative insights can come to the fore.
Could Something Other Than A Shower Prompt Interesting Creativity?
Yeah, this is totally the opposite of the whole “leveraged entrepreneur” thing, but sometimes we do our own ditch-digging work rather than hand it off to one of our amazing assistants. Even said amazing assistants yell at us for it, so there’s no need for you to.
We hold on to rote tasks that meet the following criteria:
- Require absolutely no research or analysis, other than occasionally doing a minor action like “refresh” or “sum total in Excel”
- Involve repeating the same action over and over, like copy-pasting
- Could be done by our cat, if she wasn’t so busy gabbing on the phone
- Consist of something as exciting as transposition of data, exactly as-is
Examples of this kind of ditch-digging include: routine security audits on a batch of websites, entering data from bank statements into Quickbooks, sending basically the same e-mail to a bunch of people one at a time, etc.
Or, doing rote tasks like grocery shopping, driving to the mailbox, cleaning the living room, etc.
Or, literally, digging a ditch.
Funny thing: we often have to interrupt what we’re doing to take notes, or leave a message on our own voicemail, to capture all the creative brilliance that emerges during this process.
It’s pretty rad.
So Yeah, Doing Boring Stuff Can Get Really, Really Interesting!
Digging ditches isn’t always bad.
Doing the “rote” work occasionally makes it more likely you’ll not only outsource more, but you’ll appreciate the value your team brings to the table (making you an awesome client).
It also keeps you sharp on the details that you need to know, just not every single day.
Oh, and if you’re actually digging a ditch, it’s GREAT exercise!