Factors that Encourage Creativity

I do some of my best thinking in the shower. For whatever reason, the sensation of water impacting my head and cascading down my body to my toes seems to stimulate some of my most creative problem solving ideas. Indeed, I am certain that a staggering 90 percent of what I dream up in the shower are not only good ideas, they are very good ideas.

Okay, that last assertion goes too far, but it is what I tell my children. In this I follow the theory that if you tell your kids something is true enough times, even if they adamantly refuse to acknowledge the validity of your assertion, it still bothers them in the back of their head at odd moments that maybe, just maybe, Dad is right.

To return to my original subject, my belief that my best thinking occurs in showers is not new, by any means. I first began to believe that water running on my head was good for my creativity back in high school, when most of my creativity was funneled into schemes of avoiding curfews, playing pranks, and other mischievous deeds.

By the time college rolled around, I could spend over an hour under running water (or until I could no longer tolerate the pruning of my skin) composing an entire essay assignment – usually due the following morning – that, after dressing and drying off, I would then dictate to some underclassman who could type far more quickly and could be bribed with a few beers (lest you think I was violating the law, folks, remember that when I was in college the legal drinking age was 18 in Wisconsin).

And the pattern has continued into adulthood. As you have probably surmised, a large portion of each column you read is composed in the shower before I ever sit down and begin to type on my computer. Planning for the bookstore, for various committees I have participated in, and sundry other household issues, have all received some of the best, most productive thoughts while water spilled onto my head.

Indeed, once I recognized this phenomenon I was a tad bit envious of those cartoons we have all seen with the raincloud permanently over the head of some woe-begotten character. Imagine what I might be able to dream up and/or accomplish if I had water constantly falling on my head! Of course, given that I live in the northern hemisphere I would undoubtedly succumb to pneumonia if such an eventuality did occur; still the prospect seems intriguing.

This past week, however, I read about a new study that puts a damper (pardon the pun) on my water falling on my head theory. According to this study, if you want to be more creative you should set your alarm a little earlier so you have extra time to wake up slowly. The study goes on to say that when we are drowsy and unfocused our minds tend to wander. And when our minds wander they are significantly better at making connections between concepts that would otherwise seem unrelated. In other words, minds fresh from sleep tend to be more creative.

So how, you ask, does this undermine my shower theory of creativity? Well the first thing you need to know is that I shower in the morning and then you need a little history.

I began showering in the morning in junior high, the same time that I began as a morning paperboy for the Milwaukee Sentinel. Each morning I would get up as about 4:45 am, fold my papers, and head out on my deliveries. Typically, I was home at about 6:15 and would rest for about 30 minutes before showering, grabbing some breakfast, and heading out to meet the bus. I did this six days a week (though I didn’t have the school portion to deal with on Saturdays) all the way through high school.

When I went to college, I was the weird guy who scheduled all his classes in the mornings. I then had the afternoon to go to the library, study in a quiet dorm, and take a nap. As an adult, the pattern has continued. I need more sleep now than when I was younger so I go to bed earlier, but I still get up at 6:20 am six days a week.

So when I read this study I began to suspect that the creativity I felt I experienced in the shower might have less to do with water falling on my head than the fact that I rose early with plenty of time before I had to leave the house for work.

Well this led me to do a little more research on what factors may encourage creativity.

The first study I found suggested a few alcoholic drinks can encourage relaxed, unfocused, creative thinking. According to a study in “Consciousness and Cognition,” a blood alcohol level of 0.075 percent improved scores on a creativity test by 30 percent among test subjects. Now I have personally tried this method, but I cannot personally attest to a creativity improvement since I was never able to stop at 0.075 percent.

Then I found a more interesting study. This one was in Science, and it stated that test subjects doubled their creativity when they were in a blue room rather than a red room (subjects in the red room were more accurate and detail oriented). Now I felt certain I had my answer.

You see, I shower in our downstairs bathroom and, a number of years ago my wife, Barb, painted this bathroom a pale green. So it’s pale green…except I see it as a pale blue. So the reason I feel that I do my best thinking in the shower is because I am showering in a room that is blue (at least to me).

Or maybe it is because I get up early without having to rush to work. Or maybe I am just weird and like water running on my head.

I think I will take a shower and think about this some more.