You’re more likely to have good ideas if you shower in the morning. In theory, anyway.
The reasoning is simple enough: during sleep at night, the conscious parts of your brain mostly “shut down,” and the energy they regularly use is sent to more subconscious areas. In those hours of rest, your brain then has time and energy to ruminate on ideas and problems.
When you wake up and hop in the shower, the subconscious parts of your brain begins to share all of the work it’s done while you were asleep with your more higher-level conscious. Seemingly just like that, bright ideas make themselves known.
But why exactly is this the case?
The notion that our brains have spent the night working through thoughts and problems is one that certainly has some reliable scientific evidence to back it up. We can vividly see through MRI and other scans that the brain is certainly active during sleep.
It’s reasonable to believe, based on feedback from neurologists, that sleep is a time when, amongst other things, the lowest levels of the brain begin to “clean up.”
From random thoughts that may have been repeatedly bumping around your brain all day, to stressful problems or projects that your consciousness has been obsessing over, when you sleep the brain processes, categorizes, and files those thoughts away, in a sense.
In order to clean up those thoughts and problems properly, your subconscious has to find the right way to process the thoughts; which is another way of saying that, while you sleep, your brain takes individual thoughts or problems and scans itself for similar problems or insights. Our brains naturally do this when we’re awake too, but while we’re sleeping there’s a bit more magic to the process.
Because you’re asleep during this process, your brain has no distractions which would hinder the clean up work. Often this process poses as a hinderance to creative thinking in general.
The result of this distraction-free clean up is that a lot of the energy and mental concentration that would otherwise go to, say, working on a project or even watching TV, are now freed up to focus on the issues at hand. Your brain has the time and energy to work with almost everything it’s got stored! Sleep really is the best way to generate new ideas or solve problems.
(It’s not only ideas that the brain cleans up while we sleep, new research indicates that when we sleep our brains flush out toxins and other mental waste too!)
So what about the morning showers?
After a good night of sleep, we get into the shower where we give our conscious mind the perfect environment for unveiling everything that was mentally cleaned up and sorted through the night before.
If, while we slept, our subconscious was able to find a connection between a problem we’ve been working on during the day and something already stored (maybe an image you saw while walking around the other day, or something you overheard but didn’t consciously acknowledge) then all it takes to resolve our issue is to think about the problem again and let our subconscious filter the possible solution up.
Think about this for a minute. Showers offer just the right amount of low-level conscious stimulation while allowing the subconscious to complete it’s cycle of running mostly unchecked. This is where the magic really happens. A morning shower just after waking up is the ideal bridge between subconscious processing and conscious awareness or higher thinking.
We can see clear examples of this foggy “coming out of subconscious thinking and into conscious awareness” while showering.
For example, I often find myself running through impossible scenarios in my head when in the shower. I’ll imagine myself winning arguments with someone at work or having imaginary conversations with friends. You’ve probably run through similar thoughts while showering.
We experience these thoughts because, while we’re busy standing beneath the water raining down on us, our hands robotically scrubbing soap or shampoo all over the place, our conscious doesn’t have much work to do and our subconscious is still coming out of the sleep-cleaning business.
The result of the shower environment just after waking up is a rare connection between the two mental states. While showering, your conscious, problem-obsessed mind is taking over from your subconscious mind. It’s the perfect time for ideas to make themselves known, from our subconscious (which has been working with the ideas all night despite our mental absence) to the conscious!
The result is what creativity expert Edward de Bono refers to as “creative pause.” It’s the ideal condition for just enough mental stimulation to be thinking, but not enough stressors or distractors to hinder thoughts from freely flowing.
Investor, author, and entrepreneur, Paul Graham summarized the power of the shower in his essay on the topic of top of mind thoughts. Graham wrote: “There’s a kind of thinking you do without trying to. I’m increasingly convinced this type of thinking is not merely helpful in solving hard problems, but necessary. The tricky part is, you can only control it indirectly…You can’t directly control where your thoughts drift. If you’re controlling them, they’re not drifting. But you can control them indirectly, by controlling what situations you let yourself get into.”
This less-than-stimulating situation of a shower combined with the freshly “cleaned” morning mind allows thoughts and ideas to surface almost effortlessly.
A clean mind plus a clean body equals good ideas.
Of course, if you don’t have any big problems or projects that are top of mind during the day, you’re less likely to reap the rewards of a good night’s sleep and a morning shower, but you never know.
Photo via Flickr.