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Why we get our best ideas in the shower

Filipe Donadio
Filipe Donadio
1 min read

An ancient Greek scientist named Archimedes had the task of finding out whether a crown crafted for a king was made of pure gold or gold mixed with other metals. He could not melt or destroy the crown.

While taking a bath, he noticed that the water level changed as he got in and out of the tub, and realized that this effect could be used to determine the volume of the crown.

Knowing the mass of the crown, Archimedes used the bathwater method and the mass/volume = density equation to determine whether the gold crown was pure gold or had less dense (less valuable) metals added.

Nobody knows if this story is real or an old myth, what we do know is that a relaxed state of mind is absolutely important to be creative. And for many people, bath or shower, it's the most relaxing part of the day. Research on creativity explains why.

Distraction

Activities that don't require much cognitive effort, like lathering up or washing your hair, cause other parts of the brain to start contributing. Being distracted allows our brain to wander and our subconscious mind to work on the ideas we have been thinking about.

Dopamine

Another important ingredient for creativity is dopamine. According to neurologist and researcher Alice Flaherty (2005, Journal of Comparative Neurology 493:147-153) the more dopamine that is released, the more creative we are. More relaxation, more dopamine. More dopamine, more creativity. Activities like showering or exercising are events that trigger dopamine release.

Relaxed Mind

When you are stressed, you can't think. Having a relaxed mind is essential to be able to hear that voice inside our heads. Many times the answers were there all the time, but we were not listening.

Apparently, the combination of a state of distraction, a dose of dopamine, and a relaxed mind is the formula for having more good ideas and insights.

💭 Reflection

“I sit in front of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and spend an embarrassing amount of time staring at the screen, then I get my best idea in the shower.’’ ―Mark Fenske

Science

Filipe Donadio

I'm a software engineer and YouTuber. I make videos about note-taking and knowledge management apps like Obsidian, Logseq, Roam Research, and Notion.