Article Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

Why Your Best Thoughts Happen in the Shower or When Walking

Mar. 2, 2023 Psychology Today

Ever wonder why a good shower relaxes your imagination and body or why it seems to release a stream of creative thoughts about a problem that may have vexed you?

The answer lies in the fixed amount of attention your brain has to work with at any given moment. This biological limit is why trying to multitask so often degrades performance and leads to mistakes.1

When the rational mind focuses on a problem, it eats up much of your allotted bandwidth, whereas letting the mind wander while you carry out a “mindless” task lets your subconscious thoughts roam beyond the activity at hand. 

By mindless, I mean a relatively automatic routine such as walking, driving a habitual route, following your exercise workout, hiking in nature, or, yes, taking a shower.2 These are all solitary activities that let us disconnect from the outside world. They can become meditative, relaxing intervals that open us to new ideas and perspectives.

An additional benefit of the shower is that its white noise blocks outside stimulation. The roar of the water produces a partial sensory deprivation, taking bandwidth that would have been used for other perceptions, and shunting it to the mental space the mind uses to wander. Ideas incubating in the background can rise to consciousness and lead you past a creative impasse. 

Carving out mental space and freeing the mind of deliberate thought is a proven incubator of creative insight. The lack of outside stimulation can lead to the state of “flow,” in which we are deeply if absentmindedly, engaged with inner contemplations.

Two widely agreed features of “shower thoughts” are that they insights from the subconscious and the result of not thinking deliberately about anything.3 Sometimes breakthroughs occur in an “aha” moment. Two features of this kind of insight are the need for relative mental quiet and the suddenness with which they arrive when not intentionally thinking about the problem at hand.

Walking is another mindless–or should I say mindful–activity that grounds us in the present moment. Famous walkers attest to walking’s benefits and shed insight on solitary activities. During her habitual, meandering walks, Virginia Woolf honed her ability to portray consciousness and the character of thought. In one of her last novels, The Waves, she refracts six separate consciousnesses into the mind of one character, the biographer named Bernard. 

In her biographical essay, “A Sketch of the Past,” Woolf said that her novel To the Lighthouse burst forth while walking “in a great, apparently involuntary, rush … Blowing bubbles out of a pipe gives the feeling of the rapid crowd of ideas and scenes which blew out of my mind. What blew the bubbles? … I have no notion.”

In his essay “Walking,” Thoreau explained that it is nothing like exercise and is “absolutely free from all otherworldly engagements.” Nietzsche, too, walked so that he could think. In Twilight of the Idols, he wrote, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” 

In The Boy Detective, Essayist Roger Rosenblatt explores the flâneur–a stroller who saunters and observes–a walker without purpose. Wandering feet reflect a wandering mind, going wherever the chain of associations takes you. Rosenblatt develops a lovely concept that each of us has two personalities we take on our private walks, one “for the senses, one for the intellect.” The two never meet, yet live connected “parallel lives … and side by side move into infinity.”

Showers and walking can be meditative experiences and opportunities for introspection and reflection. They are also times when great ideas can pop into our heads.

Read More on Psychology Today

Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund

Apply Today

All Resources

Tell Me More

3 Ways to Get the Benefits of Meditating, Without Meditating

There are multiple ways to get the effects of meditating.

Read More

The 7 Habits of Health and Happiness

A good life begins with the fundamentals.

Read More

15 Signs That You’re at Risk for Depression

These variables significantly increase the odds of persistent low mood.

Read More

3 Powerful Ways to Help Manage Your Inner Critic

Simple steps to help manage self-criticism.

Read More

Financial Freedom in Retirement Is All About Cash Flow

Change the way you think about money for the better.

Read More

What to Know About Rental Assistance Programs

The PAF is here to support former players in their time of need.

Read More

Does Life Get More Fun as You Age?

12 amazing benefits of getting older.

Read More

5 Strategies to Empower Employees to Make Decisions

Giving employees autonomy is critical for innovation, performance, and motivation.

Read More