How to Have More Eureka! Shower Moments


It is often quipped that the best ideas happen to someone, somewhere, while they are in the shower. And while many people do get inspired while scrubbing up (just take these waterproof notepads as evidence), the perfect "ah-ha" experience can happen most anywhere. So the question arises: Why? And, how can we encourage it to happen more often?

Happiness Is Brilliance

What exactly causes that moment of brilliance? A number of factors can contribute, but science suggests it usually can't be done without that amazing brain chemical called dopamine. Responsible for the feelings of pleasure, this hormone-turned-neurotransmitter can also bring out some of those amazing moments that make us shout "Eureka!" So this likely explains why great ideas happen in the shower, while listening to our favorite tunes in the car, or when relaxing with a tasty treat. (See also: 9 Surprising Ways to Generate New Ideas)

As it turns out, however, there is much that happens before the pleasurable event that goes into the brewing of a great idea. Here's how to make the moment ripe for inspiration.

1. Create a Bigger World

It's hard to have new ideas if your vision is narrow. To expand how you see the world — and potentially create new concepts — is to approach everything with openness. Nessa Victoria Bryce of Scientific American suggests that this first step is by done by challenging yourself to explore something new to you.

Have you always wanted to try watercolors? Do you shy away from certain cooking trends? Is there a different route home that you've avoided taking for no particular reason?

When you find the time and energy to stretch yourself, do it! By keeping your options open in your everyday life, you are training your mind to anticipate and acknowledge new "ah-ha's!"

2. Dig In Deep

Once you've found something that you really connect to (those watercolors, for example), Bryce claims that you you now need to get into the trenches of that subject and learn everything you can about it. Learning the answers to your questions only prepares you mentally to solve even more problems, possibly with unique ideas that haven't been implemented before. It also helps to make you a "subject expert" for a particular topic. Future bright ideas can come together more quickly if you have all the puzzle pieces stored away in your brain.

3. Relax

You can't — and shouldn't — work all the time. Once you've discovered the ins and outs of your chosen subject, walk away for some "off" time. Drop the brush and head outside for a jog; enjoy the breeze or listen to the birds. When your mind is allowed to just "coast," you'll be surprised to find that your brain may pop with a new, brilliant idea! (And if your "off" time creates extra dopamine, you're set for success!)

In a recent study of 90 Harvard students, those who were forced to step away from their problem-solving and given the opportunity to work on a different task, came back to the table with more ideas and solutions than the group who stayed focused on the problem continuously. Further proof that taking a break is essential to having a truly "ah-ha" moment.

What if you have tried all of these things and aren't impressed with the results? It's possible that the timing just isn't right. Like most great ideas, we can't always set the perfect stage for their appearance. I find that most of my best ideas happen when it is terribly inconvenient to write them down (driving in traffic). Again, this is related to the science that my brain is likely on "auto-pilot" or coasting, plus I enjoy driving. The combination of the dopamine I get from listening to my favorite tunes in the car, plus the relaxation that seeing the wide-open plains gives me is the perfect storm for some brilliant ideas.

What can you do to capture the ideas you do get so that you don't lose them for later? Here are a few of my favorite tools for gathering up all the goodness:

  • Use the memo recorder on my cell phone.
  • Jot it on a sticky note. (Although most of my ideas end up on the backs of envelopes.)
  • Scribble it on your hand. (Writing on your hand won't kill you.)
  • Bounce it off a significant other.
  • Call your voicemail.
  • Send an email.
  • Post it on your Facebook wall.
  • Find a similar idea on Pinterest and pin it!

And there are always those waterproof sticky notes mentioned above.

When do you usually get your best ideas? How do you ensure that you keep them for when you need them?

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