Why you do your most creative thinking in the shower, car, or bed


Or not. Shower and car are also where I came up with most of my patented ideas – which depended on some pretty intense concentration, rather the opposite of the “meditative” hypothesis.

However, they were occasions where I could reasonably count on not being interrupted. Unlike, say, at my office.


When I was a kid one of the best pieces of advice I got for unknotting a problem came from the Great Brain books by John Fitzgerald. His brother would sometimes sit up in the barn thinking over a problem with his mind “working like sixty”, but his best insights came from going to sleep at night with a problem in mind and waking up the next morning with an answer.


Many times I’ve experienced instances of creativity and problem solving during the hour before I get up in the morning. It’s sort of a semi-conscious state where I’m not fully awake but also not fully asleep.

Several years ago I was commissioned to do a sculpture of a new insurance building under construction in Iowa. They were going to make a mould of it and have several hundred copies cast to hand out to their officers and directors on dedication day. A model like this often has to be done by compromising dead-nuts accuracy for the sake of having the correct draft so castings will easily come out of the mould. With a hard deadline looming I was having trouble with getting one detail to come out looking right and I had gone to bed very late the night before completely frustrated. The next morning I had a very vivid dream detailing exactly how I could do what was frustrating me the night before. I finished the model that same morning and delivered it to the casting shop a day early.


I do get some of my best and most creative thinking in the shower, sometimes a million ideas a minute, so much so that I forget where i am in my routine - did I shampoo yet or not? Unfortunately I forget most of it and it gets wiped from my mind when I get to work, a place not always conducive to the creativity it requests.

Treadmill desks, bah - I need a showering desk to help me be inspired.

We have good company in that Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock also get his best ideas in the shower, or not as this fails him in the show.

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Those are the three important places; everything else is just getting there.


I can’t seem to find a clip or even a picture, but I distinctly remember Bobcat Goldthwait doing a standup act in a portable shower on stage. If I remember correctly he said it was where he got his best ideas.


The shower is a great place to have ideas pop into my mind. I have assumed that the idea was sitting in there since the night before, and waited for a free moment to make itself heard.

I’ve used and share the concept of incubation when training creativity and problem solving classes. That’s usually a great question to start discussing the topic: under what circumstances do you have your best ideas? When driving? When waking up or falling asleep? Enjoying that first cup of coffee in the morning? Sitting on the can? Learners without the psych or educational background are skeptical, but many do experience it at one time or another. Mine come right before sleep, or anytime I’m feeling a bit fuzzy in the brain. I’ve also studied and practice meditation and yoga, neither religiously, and find them both helpful allowing me to disengage from the problem before me. When I return to it in 15-20 minutes, or the next day, I can take a new perspective on the challenge and usually make significant progress beyond where I was previously stuck.

big ideas in all fields come from only one place: the unconscious. Nobody’s ever had a big idea by a process of rational thought

Better stick to advertising, buddy! All fields indeed, this is why he chose the “profession” based entirely on bullshitting people and encouraging irrationality. If it wasn’t for rational thought he’d be advertising beetle grubs in a forest somewhere.



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That’s one of the main reasons I don’t drive. When I get lost in thoughts, I go on auto-pilot and block out nearly everything. I would be worried about getting into such a state behind the wheel. Public transportation is great to think however. I’m not in charge, I can just distractingly watch the scenery and only need to remember not to miss my stop.


My most creative ideas- although not best per se- are in bed. Of course I am blessed/cursed with super vivid weird dreams and/or nightmares. I kept a dream journal for a while, until it occurred to me that if someone found it I might be institutionalized.


That’s why encrypted notes are a good idea.
Against a casual adversary, even writing in a non-local language may be enough.

I think what he meant by “big idea” was a big intuitive leap, whereas rational thought gets you places one step at a time. It’s the difference between Newton getting clocked with the probably-apocryphal apple and him working out the math and physics of it.

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Yes, many times in bed I’ve suddenly realized that I’m doing it wrong.


I usually get the inspiration in the twilight while falling asleep or during the night and otherwise which I called “background processing.” Now I call it “the muse,” which I’ll bet is where that came from.

I had a coworker who would actually say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to take a shower.”

While not trying at all, I can think up the perfect solution to a work problem, where I take action the first thing back at work, and it goes as well as I imagined. These days I get inspired with good insights on issues to post on social media. I’ll realize as I replay happenings that my conscious mind overlooked.

One problem is when I told people that my brain can come up perfect solutions while I’m not directly thinking about the problem, I got laughs like I’m out of mind.

I’ve learned to enjoy and appreciate how clever my unconscious minds can be.

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