Why your best ideas happen in the shower

In his latest book Digital Minimalism, author Cal Newport coins the term “solitude deprivation.” Newport defines solitude as “Freedom of input from other minds.” In the age of constant connectivity we are never lacking for connections. Even when were physically by ourselves we reach for our phone to text friends or browse social media to read the ideas of others. Depriving ourselves of time to think about nothing has its consequences.

This is why great ideas often come to people in the shower. The shower is one of the few places you can go and not bring your phone. It creates an environment where your mind can wander and discover great ideas.

In the book Where Great Ideas Come From, author Steven Johnson explains that ideas come from “the adjacent possible.” Imagine a house with several small, square rooms. These rooms represent the ideas in your head. As you enter one room you can only move next into one of the three rooms surrounding it. Once you enter that new room it opens up the new path of future possibilities. This is how technology evolves as one idea leverages the ideas discovered by a previous invention.

Writing is a career where extremely creative people need to be able to collect the ideas swirling around in their mind. Some of the great authors in history forced themselves into solitude to write their books. Author J. K. Rowling was struggling to finish the last of the Harry Potter books until she checked into a hotel in Scotland’s best suite to remove herself from the distractions of working at home. That coupled with the fact that she was spending large sums of money on a hotel allowed her to focus and finish the book.
Other examples of authors creating solitude for themselves include Maya Angelou and Donald Miller. Angelou rented office space where she went to focus on her writing. Miller will rent a cabin in the mountains to seclude himself for months while he writes his next book.
The creativity required for writing can be so elusive that there’s even a special typewriter developed for writers. The Freewrite typewriter has no ability to connect to the Internet and only a small monochrome screen. The product had nearly a million dollars in pre-orders on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Personally I always enjoy a long car ride to myself. While I utilize the opportunity to binge listen to audiobooks, I often find myself turning off the books to create silence for my mind to process the thoughts bouncing around inside it. These large blocks of uninterrupted time allow me to view things differently and open up the next room of adjacent possibilities.
If you never give your mind the time to wander because you’re constantly picking up your phone, you’re missing out on the creativity and idea forming opportunities this time provides. So next time you’re stuck on a problem or have writers block put down the phone and take a long shower.

2 thoughts on “Why your best ideas happen in the shower

  1. Pam says:

    This nailed it! I do get great ideas in the shower and it is wonderful think time. You do need that bit of isolation to work out the inner thoughts in your mind. I’ve taken up swimming at the gym and another example of focusing the ideas bouncing around in your mind with each lap.

  2. Mike McConnell says:

    This is why I ride my motorcycle, especially on long trips each summer. It helps to disconnect from electronics and just focus on the now, because you have to or else you crash. That frees the subconscious to wander and at the end of each day, laying in my hammock, the subconscious and my conscience mind get back together and I can come up with some really good stuff.

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