Have you noticed how often you have really good ideas in the shower? In days of yore it would be the bath, which is where Archimedes famously shouted ‘Eureka!’ and ran naked from his house.
A psychologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia thinks he may be able to explain why this is. John Kounios is co-author of The Eureka Factor and he suggests that what you are actually doing when you take a break and focus on something else is giving your creative mind a chance to disengage and freestyle, which means that you can find the more creative solutions to your problems.
In another experiment scientists put a dozen professional rappers in a brain scanner. In the first experiment the rappers rapped using lyrics that they already knew. They then performed a second experiment in which the rappers went freestyle, making lyrics up on the spot. While this may all seem a bit off the wall the results, published in a paper entitled Neural Correlates Of Lyrical Improvisation, were striking. When the rappers freestyled changes occurred in the brain which freed them from mental supervisory functions, which took them into a state which can best be described as ‘flow’.
Much is written about this state, particularly in athletics. It is considered to be a state in which one’s natural talent comes to the fore, without distraction, and a state of high performance can be accessed.
What is interested about these experiments is that flow seems not just to be available to sportspeople or those with a creative talent. It is available to anyone, and the key to it is to move away from the problem that you are trying to solve and to distract the mind by doing something else that can be done in ‘autopilot’ mode.
For some that will be having a shower. For me it’s driving, particularly on long journeys. It can take time to get into the right frame of mind, so if you are inclined to shower quickly you may not relate to The Eureka Factor. However, in a car journey of two or three hours, particularly on large roads, a state of profound creativity can be accessed.
We tend to try to solve problems face on, sitting at a desk looking at them. If that is not working for you then perhaps the answer is to have a shower, or go for a drive.