By Effie Delimarkos
Have you noticed that the best ideas come to you in the shower?
Is it time alone? The acoustics? The washing away of stress?
All of these factors may be helpful, but the ability to come up with creative concepts in this simple moment has more to do with the way our brains are wired than the shower itself.
For many of us, this is a time when we are alone and without distractions, the focused brain pauses, the mundane takes over, and EUREKA, the idea pops into our head.
It isn’t a coincidence that Archimedes himself had his Eureka moment in the bath.
When we think, we are using two different networks in the brain: the goal-oriented central executive network and the aptly-named imagination network. The central executive network is hard at work when we are reading, studying and paying attention, and as you would expect, it requires our focus. Our imagination network, on the other hand, works in the exact opposite way; it only activates during downtime.
Think of the brain as a not-so-new computer. When the brain needs to run a complex program, it directs all available resources to the task at hand. To do so, the brain closes tabs that it thinks are not relevant out of concern that they may slow the system down. The previously “irrelevant” tabs can only be recovered when the task is complete, and the brain is no longer actively engaged. As the brain shifts to downtime, more and more of these tabs open, bringing creativity, innovation and insights to the forefront; which begs the question, when was the last time you enjoyed downtime?
True downtime requires no focused attention. No goal. No multitasking.
As much as binge watching a show, doom-scrolling social or listening to the latest podcast while cooking or cleaning might divert our attention, they still require our mind to pay attention to something.
Without true downtime, the brain continues to put resources into moving from one focused task to another. Much like that computer, it will do this for as long as it can, but it is not a sustainable pace. Completing what was once a quick project will take longer and longer. There will be glitches and lags.
And what does every good technician tell us to do when our computers face these challenges?
Control + alt + delete
That is exactly what our minds need from us, too.
As it happens, the Greek word for vacation is διακοπἐς (diakopes), from the word διακοπἠ (diakopi), which is used to describe an interruption or a break. Not only is vacation the perfect time to take a break from the everyday, it is the very definition of it.
“Our busy brains need that break, and ‘diakopi’ is important for a creative entrepreneurial mindset,” emphasizes Carla Tanas , Dean of the Institute of ACS Athens.
As you plan your next vacation, make it a point to put “do nothing” on the to-do list to rejuvenate your imagination network.
Take a walk without listening to a podcast.
Go to the beach, the pool or the porch without a book.
Let kids get bored without access to wifi or devices.
Let your mind rest. Let it wander.
And when you come back, to work or to school, you might be surprised that nothing is exactly what you needed to start your next adventure refreshed and ready.