The calmer the water, the clearer the mind.

We’ve all been there — that moment when a great idea pops into your head — a little too late. This has happened to me on occasion, and I’m willing to bet it has happened to you as well. Oddly enough, my biggest “aha!” moments usually come when I’m drying my hair or when my brain seems otherwise unengaged. But why? I never really gave much thought to this phenomenon until I came across an article in Psychology Today (and upon further research, numerous others) that helps to illuminate this issue.

pool of thoughtsOn any given day, your mind is a pool of conscious and unconscious thoughts, constantly moving and often choppy with so many thoughts circulating. With so many other ideas in the mix, it can be hard to focus on generating those creative ideas. Contrary to what most of us think, but what science confirms, your brain is not most active when it’s focused. When you’re consciously focused on a particular task, your thoughts are limited as they’re narrowed in on the task at hand and likely to push out unusual, creative thinking that we are not aware of – known as subconscious thoughts. That explains why when we’re comfortable and relaxed and doing things that don’t require much thought, those gems appear. Brain activity actually increases during periods of mental stillness. To visualize this, imagine a pond of water. When you toss in a stone, the stone creates activity and the water ripples. If you continue to throw in stones, the more movement in the water and splashing on the surface. The ripples on the water are akin to the busyness of the mind. When the water surface – the thinking – settles, it’s easier to really see inside the mind and become conscious of the creative thoughts that were previously lost in the waves.

So, how does one overcome this barrier? Although it’s easier said than done, allow your mind to drift. Here are some ideas – see if you can work any of these into your day:


– Go for a walk outside
– Read something for fun
– Find a quiet place and stay there for a while
– Take a shower or bath
– Have a drink
– Watch or listen to something funny
– Take a drive with no destination in mind
– Be bored

If that doesn’t work, try these quotes for inspiration:

– “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”  – Steve Jobs

– “All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to concentrate.”  – Julio Cortázar

– “A short walk is more effective in coming up with an idea than pouring all the coffee in the world down your gullet.”  – Frank Chimero

Although taking a bath or going for a walk may not be appropriate when working on a deadline, research indicates that the more you practice, the more this creative clarity becomes a natural response. In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that the creativity is there. Let the water settle and give your mind room to wander – and be ready for when and where inspiration strikes. In my case, that means keeping a notepad next to the hairdryer.

view all blogs