Turns out it wasn’t a coincidence that Archimedes was in the bathtub when he figured buoyancy. People do get epiphanies in the shower for a reason. This piece in the National Geographic explains the science behind it. Not just showers, whatever activity lets our mind wander freely in a pleasant state of mind sets the stage for creativity to thrive, according to research cited in the article. Central to this is that part of our brain called the Default mode network or DMN:
“The key, according to the latest research, is a pattern of brain activity—within what’s called the default mode network—that occurs while an individual is resting or performing habitual tasks that don’t require much attention.
Researchers have shown that the default mode network (DMN)—which connects more than a dozen regions of the brain—becomes more active during mind-wandering or passive tasks than when you’re doing something that demands focus. Simply put, the DMN is “the state the brain returns to when you’re not actively engaged,” explains Roger Beaty, a cognitive neuroscientist and director of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity Lab at Penn State University. By contrast, when you’re mired in a demanding task, the brain’s executive control systems keep your thinking focused, analytical, and logical.
…“The default mode network seems to be an important source of creativity, and it’s decidedly associated with mind-wandering,” says Jonathan Schooler, a psychological scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Indeed, a study in the February 2022 issue of Human Brain Mapping found that positive, constructive daydreaming—“characterised by planning, pleasant thoughts, vivid and wishful imagery, and curiosity”—is associated with activity in the default mode network and creativity.”
It goes onto highlight the benefits of mind wandering:
“Whether we realise it or not, we all engage in mind-wandering on a regular basis, says Beaty, noting that there are different kinds. There’s deliberate mind-wandering, where you try to exercise some level of control or direction to your thinking; and spontaneous mind-wandering, which happens in the brain without us directing it….
It’s the spontaneous form, in particular, that allows you to combine information and ideas in new ways. “When your mind drifts away from a situation into an internal reverie, that’s where you can have creative insights,” Schooler says. “In this pleasurable state, you’re allowing thoughts to playfully cross your mind.” Keep in mind, he adds, “sometimes you have to do the work to create a problem space—that sets the groundwork for spontaneous ideas to emerge.”
This is often referred to as “the incubation effect,” which occurs when you spend time away from a particular problem or challenge and your mind has the chance to wander and generate novel ideas through unconscious associative processes.”
So how can we consciously use this knowledge and set ourselves for creativity:
“As a first step, it’s wise to prioritise getting plenty of good quality sleep, which can improve your mood and help with memory, says Kounios who is co-author of The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain. While you’re asleep, he notes, “the information you take in during the day is transformed from a fragile state into a more durable state which can bring aha moments.”
Immediately upon awakening from a full night’s sleep or even a 20-minute nap, Christoff recommends paying attention to thoughts and ideas that occur to you in that liminal state between being sound asleep and fully awake—that’s a time when your ideas are “often quite free-flowing,” she adds, which means you can tap your creative potential.
To consciously activate your DMN and creative ideas during the day, allow yourself to spend time doing activities that aren’t cognitively demanding—such as going for a walk, taking a warm bath, or gardening—without listening to music or a podcast. Simply let your mind wander.”
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