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YOU’RE IN THE shower. The water sounds like a gentle, rainy static, and feels like a Plinko massage. You’ve just started to lather up and suddenly, you’re hit with a flash of brilliance. Maybe it’s the answer to a vexing problem at work, the location of your lost USB drive, or perhaps it’s just a random, inconsequential (yet totally satisfying) insight.
But, by the time you towel off, the idea already has spiraled away down the drain. We all get these kinds of thoughts, and they don’t just happen in the shower. Long drives, short walks, even something like pulling weeds, all seem to have the right mix of monotony and engagement to trigger a revelation. They also happen to be activities where it’s difficult to take notes. It turns out that aimless engagement in an activity is a great catalyst for free association, but introducing a pen and paper can sterilize the effort.
What’s Up With That?
Each week, we’ll explain the science behind a strange phenomenon that you may be wondering about, or may be hearing about for the first time right here. If you’ve seen or heard of something you’d like us to explain, send us an email. View the entire collection.
Why Does Sleeping In Just Make Me More Tired?
Why You Always Seem to Choose the Slowest Line
There haven’t been a lot of experiments on why we get random insights, but psychology does have a theory that describes a mental state that seems to foment these kinds of thoughts. It’s called the default mode network.
“You become less aware of your environment and more aware of your internal thoughts,” said John Kounios, a psychologist who studies creativity and distraction at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The common thread in these activities is they are physically or mentally active, but only mildly so. They also need to be familiar or comfortable enough that you stay engaged but not bored, and last long enough to have an uninterrupted stream of thought.
Read more on Wired “What’s Up With That: Your Best Thinking Seems to Happen in the Shower”