It could be the solution to a difficult problem that’s plagued our minds all day or a great idea for the next big motion picture or even a good rebuttal against an argument someone else made earlier in the week. But these creative and deep thoughts happen somewhere we would least expect. It happens while we are showering. Why do our best ideas come from the shower?
Let’s say that you thought long and hard about a puzzling problem all day. When you jump in the shower, something interesting happens. Psychologists call this the incubation period- a time where we allow our subconscious to do work. By relaxing our minds with a monotonous task, we free up our conscious mind such that our subconscious mind may be able to “incubate” about problem. When the solution is transferred to the conscious mind, we experience this “aha!” moment. This is not only exclusive to when we’re in the shower. Other examples include jogging, doing the dishes, exercising or riding the bus.
It is still a mystery to psychologists as to how incubation leads to creativity, but there are a few theories. Some psychologists believe that it is from the effect of resting itself. A break allows us to refresh our minds. Other psychologists believe it is from giving your subconscious time to work on the solution. A study found that making breakthrough requires more than just a break, but also motivation to continue.
Creativity also has a lot to do with brain chemistry. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is known for controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure center, is highly important for a creative drive. Neuroscientists believe that the more it is released, the more creative we tend to be. Dopamine is triggered by events that are relaxing, which includes showering.
Recently, a team of researchers conducted a study that stopped the activity of the brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) in participants. The PFC is the place in our brain where we stay in control, being able to filter irrelevant information. Stopping the PFC in the left hemisphere of the brain has the same benefits as when we are taking shower because it creates an “incubation mindset.” Participants who had their PFC blocked were able to perform well in creative tasks, reinforcing the strong link between incubation and creativity and showing a precise location in the brain by which this interaction may take place.
Given these explanations behind creativity, it follows that a relaxed state of mind, motivation and a lot of dopamine makes for a winning combination for creativity. So next time you’re in the shower or taking a walk: relax, unwind and let your thoughts wander, or rather, “incubate.”