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.
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.
Kounios explains that our brains typically catalog things by their context: Windows are parts of buildings, and the stars belong in the night sky. Ideas will always mingle to some degree, but when we’re focused on a specific task our thinking tends to be linear.
Kounios likes to use the example of a stack of bricks in your backyard. You walk by them every day with hardly a second thought, and if asked you’d describe them as a building material (maybe for that pizza oven you keep meaning to put together). But one day in the shower, you start thinking about your neighbor’s walnut tree. Those nuts sure look tasty, and they’ve been falling in your yard. You suddenly realize that you can smash those nuts open using the bricks in your backyard!
As far as Eureka moments go, using a brick as a nutcracker is pretty lame, but as an illustration for how the default mode network frees the things in your brain from external associations, it works quite nicely. As ideas become untethered, they are free to bump up against other ideas they’ve never had the chance to encounter, increasing the likelihood of a useful connection.
Source : GoWeLoveIt
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