Study: Why do our best ideas come to us in the shower?
How many times have you said: “I just had a revelation – it came to me while I was in the shower”? Archimedes himself made one of his greatest discoveries while he was taking a bath. So what is it about our bathrooms that makes us treat them as think-tanks?
Oftentimes when faced with a difficult problem or a challenging task, no matter how hard you think about it and how thoroughly you analyse it, the solution still seems to elude you. But somehow, once you take your mind off it, like when you take a shower, the answer presents itself as if from nowhere. Specialists call this phenomenon “incubation”: while your conscious mind is distracted with menial or routine tasks, your subconscious “sits on the eggs” and eventually “hatches” out good ideas which come as surprising and unexpected.
In other words, the reason why you get good ideas in the shower is because while your conscious mind takes a break and distances itself from the problem, your subconscious has more room to mull it over, and because you’re not aware of the process, it seems effortless. That is why the ideas we have in the shower are often creative and out-of-the-box.
Similarly, when you have a memory slip and can’t remember a term or a name, thinking about it only seems to make it worse. Distract yourself with something else, and the answer will come back to you spontaneously, when you least expect it.
To support this idea, in a study conducted by Dutch researchers Ap Dijksterhuis and Teun Meurs, the participants were asked to invent new names for pastas, after they had been “manipulated” with 5 examples, all of them ending in “i”.
The participants who had been given a 3 minute task to distract them proved much more capable to propose original names, which did not end in “i”, compared to those who had been asked to sit and think about pasta names actively.
The same principle derives from the old saying “night is a good advisor”, which was explored by a team of Canadian scientists: your mind is calmer at night, and while you sleep, your subconscious can work out the issues you’ve been stressing about undisturbed. Moreover, darkness makes you less emotional, thus enabling you to make better, more rational decisions.
Some researchers consider that besides relaxation and distracting attention, creative problem-solving also requires a high level of dopamine. Pleasant, familiar activities, such as taking a hot shower or bath, taking a walk or listening to music heighten the release of dopamine, contributing to the incubation process and helping you get better ideas and come up with smarter solutions.