Have you ever set a problem aside to let the “creative juices” soak in, or maybe switched projects halfway through to let an idea “marinate”? Or maybe you’ve simply given up on an idea, only to have an “aha moment” hours later in the middle of a completely unrelated task?
Whether you realized it or not, you were employing the “Shower Principle.” It’s the simple idea that moments of inspiration or insight occur when the brain is distracted.
There’s not a lot of actual scientific data on the principle, as it is rather difficult to quantify and study inspiration, but what little scientists can analyze suggests that creativity is linked to increased dopamine, as well as the deactivation of the detail-oriented and decision making parts of the brain in favor of more internally focused parts (You can find more on the science details here).
In other words, creativity can be increased by relaxing our minds and getting our analytical functions distracted from the problem. The trick is finding tasks that can do that, so I’ve compiled a few fallback options to try when your ideas just aren’t clicking the way you’d like them to.
An obvious one, given the principle’s name, but the trick here is letting your mind wander, rather than trying to focus and direct your thoughts as you soak.
Exercising can definitely get you out of your head, and it helps release dopamine, among other mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
Really, any cleaning task could work here, but I find the repetitive motions of these two to be the most effective for allowing my own musings.
4. Raking/Lawn mowing
Just watch where you’re going with that mower…
There’s a reason they make adult coloring books now. This is one of my personal preferences for getting out of my head.
Like #4 above, you can’t completely let your mind wander with this one, but a leisurely drive, simply following the path before you without rushing to get anywhere, can be relaxing, and it certainly gives your analytical functions something else to pay attention to.
Sleep is when our brain sorts out the events of the day to be stored in long-term memory, so it only makes sense that it could help sort some of the information taken in throughout the day as well. Also, dreams themselves are often weird enough themselves to serve as creative inspiration.
8. Puzzles/Brain Games
This is one that won’t work for everyone. The jigsaw puzzle, word search, solitaire game, or other brain-teaser has to be able to relax you, to be more about falling into the rhythm of recognizing patterns than the solving or winning to really get the analytical functions out of the way. My dad, for instance, is not one who can do a puzzle for fun. If he sits down to one, he must finish it.
Have any other suggestions for getting out of your head? What makes you feel your most creative?