Why You Do Your Best Thinking in the Shower

You can spark creativity by allowing your mind to wander.

Come up with new ideas in the shower.

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There’s nothing like taking a hot shower. Between the steam and the sudsy soap, showers can help relax your body. But did you know that it can also relax your mind? That’s because of the “shower effect” that can unleash clarity and creativity, reported The Washington Post. Many people do their best thinking in the shower.

In a 2019 study conducted by the Association for Psychological Science, 87 physicists and 98 writers recorded their most creative ideas each day and what they were doing at the time. While most occurred at work, as to be expected, 20 percent of the ideas came while doing something like taking a shower or washing dishes. These are eureka moments.

Reap the benefits of letting your mind wander
So rather than just going over a problem again and again, do something on autopilot like taking a shower and the answer is likely to come to you, according to National Geographic. That’s because you are likely to retrieve memories and come up with new ideas when you allow your mind to wander.

“People always get surprised when they realize they get interesting, novel ideas at unexpected times because our cultural narrative tells us we should do it through hard work,” Kalina Christoff, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver told National Geographic. “It’s a pretty universal human experience.”

Scientists are just beginning to understand why this occurs, said Christoff. It’s due to a pattern of brain activity called the default mode network (DMN), that engages when you are relaxing or doing a task like showering that doesn’t require much thought.

“When you’re not actively working on a problem, the brain keeps spinning and you can get restructuring of elements of the problem, pieces get reshuffled and something clicks,” Randy L. Buckner, a neuroscientist at Harvard University said. “The DMN helps you combine information in different ways and simulate possibilities.” 

Sparking creativity
There is a direct link between DMN and creativity. A 2022 study published in Molecular Psychiatry studied 13 patients who were undergoing brain mapping for cancer treatment. When parts of the brain within the DMN were inhibited for a short time by the electrical stimulation, creative thought was not possible.  

“At baseline, one patient came up with many creative uses for a tire — a cushion, a garden fountain or cut into pieces for jewelry, Ben Shofty, functional neurosurgeon and assistant professor at the University of Utah said in the study. “But when the researchers electrically inhibited parts of her DMN, she struggled to think of new ways to use a pencil — “you can draw with it, you can draw cartoons, hmm, mostly draw.”

Using the shower effect to be more creative
So if you are perplexed, use the shower effect to your advantage by doing a mindless action like taking a shower, doing dishes, or even just taking a walk outside, according to The Washington Post. Changing your environment could lead to a different way of thinking. Just the act of taking off your clothing, going into the bathroom, and getting wet in the shower could spark creativity.

Start thinking about what your mind is doing when you are engaged in various activities so that you understand which ones put you in a creative mode. That way you can seek out similar experiences and let those creative juices flow.

You also have to give yourself the time to unplug and daydream, Christoff told National  Geographic. In this busy world, people don’t leave enough time for themselves but allowing your mind to wander and your creativity to soar, will reap benefits in unexpected ways.

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