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Take a shower

Why do we get our best ideas when we're in the shower?

Photo by Skyler King on Unsplash

According to a 2016 study, 72% of us get our best ideas in the shower.

Aaron Sorkin - Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Social Network and The West Wing - is among them. Sorkin reportedly takes up to eight showers a day to keep his creative ideas flowing.

"I find them incredibly refreshing and when writing isn’t going well, it’s a do over… I will shower, change into new clothes and start again.”

Sorkin also says that the showers replaced a slightly more unhealthy habit he previously had. Here's Aaron talking about it.

And let's not forget Archimedes had his 'Eureka!' moment while bathing. (Yes, we're including baths in this. Some of them have shower attachments after all).

Whether you just hop in for 5 mins, or you're a bit of a lingerer, most of us can attest to moments in the shower (or bath) where out of nowhere something occurs to us while we're washing our various bits.

So why does this happen?

US neuroscientist Alice Flattery reckons it's down to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is released in greater amounts the more we relax. The more dopamine in our system, the more creative we become. And a warm shower is obviously very relaxing. Dopamine also kicks in when we do things like walking, meditation or listen to music - all relaxation-inducing states that increase our ability to be more creative.

The simple action of washing ourselves also means we're distracted - a state that psychologist Shelley H. Carson of Harvard University says can be helpful to switch us from a fixed mode of thought to a new way of looking at something. This time we spend - often called the 'incubation period' - is when your brain is processing everything you've put into it up to this point, even if (or particularly when) you're not directly thinking about it. This is why a new idea can suddenly pop up out of the blue.

The distraction of showering is 'switching off' a part of our brain that makes decisions and 'turning on' the part that performs mundane tasks. The medial prefrontal cortex (which is associated with memories and emotions) is also activated, allowing us to make connections with other parts of our subconscious brain.

Pre-pandemic, virtually all of us working a full-time job would have struggled to get up and leave the room to have a shower. Particularly if there were no workplace showers. But even with showers available, time constraints might only allow a quick hand wash or splashing some water on your face.

But since many of us are now working from home, even for some of the week, there are more opportunities for a quick rinse when you're stuck for an idea. It may be exactly the refresh your brain and body need. Though if you get into Aaron Sorkin territory, I'd keep some skin moisturiser handy.


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