This excerpt is from the new book Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and HuffPost Senior Writer Carolyn Gregoire.
There’s one rather simple and prosaic way to tap into your deepest creativity and trigger your most profound insights: Hop in the shower.
We know that showering is relaxing, but it also seems to have larger benefits for the mind, supporting creative thought and leading to unexpected insights. Research conducted by Scott Barry Kaufman, in collaboration with the world’s largest showerhead supplier, Hansgrohe, found that 72 percent of people around the globe report experiencing new ideas in the shower. In fact, people reported that they are more likely to get fresh insights in the shower than at work!
As creative people stuck in offices know well, your best ideas don’t usually come to you when you’re sitting in front of a computer straining to think up a solution to a problem or make a project come together—especially when you’ve been at your desk for hours.
But when you get up for a bathroom break or a walk around the block to clear your head—precisely when your attention wanders away from the task at hand—the missing link pops into your mind. More often than not, the elusive Aha! moment comes when you give the intensely focused mind a little break and let your thoughts wander free, uninhibited by critical thought.
A shower is also, quite literally, a place of incubation -- a change of scenery from the rest of our everyday lives that’s relatively free of stimulation and distractions. Showering insulates us from the external world so that we can focus all of our attention on our inner desires, daydreams, and memories -- thereby increasing the likelihood that our mind will come up with creative connections.
No matter how minor they may seem, new and unexpected experiences can lead to constructive shifts in thinking. Getting off the couch and jumping in the shower may be all you need to see things a bit differently -- it can jolt you out of your ordinary awareness and create the necessary distance to force you to entertain a different perspective.
According to Harvard psychologist Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, the brief distraction that a shower provides can also be a good thing when it comes to creativity.
She explains that interruptions and diversions can help that all-important creative incubation period. “In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution,” Carson told the Boston Globe.
Woody Allen has been using this technique for most of his creative life. The writer and director says he regularly takes showers for inspiration, sometimes standing in the water for close to an hour to explore what’s going through his mind and to get those creative juices flowing.
“In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you’ve left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you,” Allen said in a 2013 interview with Esquire. “It’s the change of venue, the unblocking the attempt to force the ideas that’s crippling you when you’re trying to write.”
But it doesn’t have to be the bathroom where you go for a little creative inspiration -- find your own personal showerhead, a space where you let your mind roam free -- whether it’s a walk near the ocean, a country drive, or in your reading nook at home.
Nikola Tesla had many great ideas, but one of his best occurred to him far from the laboratory: The inventor came up with his idea for alternating electric currents while out on a leisurely stroll. Tesla used his walking stick to draw a picture explaining how the currents would work to his partner. For Gertrude Stein, it was being in her car, looking at cows. She made a habit of writing for just 30 minutes a day, driving around a farm and stopping at different cows until she found the one that most inspired her.
Read more from the upcoming book here:
From WIRED TO CREATE: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire. To be published on December 29, 2015 by Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire.