Creativity Without Borders

Innovation from East and West

The Power of a Shower

How to soap up and find ideas

A lot of people say they have aha moments in the shower, maybe after wrestling with some problem the night or day before. That’s the “unseen mind” at work, as researchers call it. Even though it seems you’re NOT thinking about something, your brain is working away, making connections all the while.   I know one person who claims that 80% of the time he has been thinking about some problem, he gets one of those moments in the shower the next morning.  Wow.  Wouldn’t it be nice to count on THAT?

He’s not alone.

After talking to lots of people who work hard at generating aha moments and insight on and off the job, they often find they can encourage those moments to happen more frequently, once they become conscious of them and how they happen. But before we talk about that (i.e., practicing aha moments), let’s first talk showers.

So why does the power of a shower happen? 

Think about it—all kinds of good reasons.

You’re in a confined space, one you know well, and is usually safe (unless you slip and fall and then have another kind of “moment,” but let’s not think about that one). 

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You’re in warm water, which is pleasant, comforting, and soothing for most of us.

You’re doing a task that, by now, you can do without thinking—soap up, scrub down, rinse off.  It’s a routine, which allows your brain to do something else since it doesn’t have to concentrate on the external task. 

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And perhaps the best reason of all, you are by yourself where no one will interrupt you.  You can stand around for two or ten minutes, without someone coming with a question, a demand, or even a comment. 

Your own space on your own time (albeit somewhat limited since you’re kind enough not to use all the warm water). 

Now think about where you can replicate the power of a shower? Imagine a few others—what might you do without having to think about doing it, where you are essentially alone, and doing something kind of comforting?  Say, taking the dog for a walk, doing laundry, or chopping onions?   Lots of people use exercise or listening to music to recreate the sense of being some place “safe,” confined, comforting, routine and “alone.”

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The trick is to find what helps YOU reach those aha moments and then do them more often.  For me, chopping is a blood sport so I’ve learned that the shower and dog walking are where my brain can wander and BOOM!  Of course, it’s a problem to take notes in the shower or in the woods with my dog so instead I just allow myself to think about the idea long enough that it sticks and until I get to paper, which is just what I did this morning for the power of the shower. 

Nancy K. Napier, Ph.D., is Professor of Strategy and International Business at Boise State University.

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