Why Our Best Ideas Come In The Shower & Why They Are So Hard To Remember

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
by Gary D. Halbert

March 5, 2013

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.  Why Our Best Ideas Come in the Shower

2.  Where Our Creativity Comes From

3.  Why We’re Only Creative at Certain Times

4.  Why Ideas in the Shower Are So Difficult to Remember

5.  On the Economy & the Over-Hyped Sequester

Overview

My task in writing this E-Letter week in and week out is to come up with content that is interesting, relevant and useful to the majority of my subscribers. As regular readers know, I tend to focus most on the economy, the markets and investing, and the numerous issues that are related to all three.

I have long maintained that politics can affect the economy, the markets and investments, so I make no secret about my conservative political views periodically. Like-minded subscribers want more political commentary, while our liberal readers want less. No surprise there. I do welcome feedback from both sides.

In preparing to write the E-Letter (Tuesdays) and the Blog (Thursdays), I read a tremendous amount of information. Fortunately, I am a “speed reader” which is a huge blessing. When I took speed reading years ago, my reading went from 250 words per minute to almost 2,000 – with an actual increase in comprehension. I highly recommend a speed reading course to anyone! You’re never too old to learn to read a lot faster, and you can.

In perusing the many sites I visit regularly on the Internet this past weekend, I happened to notice an article on RealClearScience.com that caught my eye. The piece was entitled “Why We Have Our Best Ideas in the Shower: The Science of Creativity.” Does that sound familiar to you? It sure did to me.

As it turns out, there are physiological and mental reasons why we tend to have our most creative thinking at times when we’re doing certain things like: taking a warm shower, driving home from work, exercising, cooking, etc. But there are also reasons why our creative thoughts are often fleeting and hard to remember.

Best of all, there are ways you can increase your creativity. And there are some simple ways you can remember your creative ideas better. I’ll summarize the articles I read on this topic below. I think you will find it very interesting, as I did.

Following that discussion, I’ll have some thoughts on the economy, the much over-hyped sequester and how the campaign for the 2014 mid-term elections has already begun in earnest.

Why Our Best Ideas Come in the Shower

I don’t know about you, but I have had some of my best and most creative ideas while in the shower. But the shower is not the only place or activity where we tend to be more creative. Our creative juices can frequently be stimulated when doing other things as well – such as driving home from work, during or after exercise, cooking, meditating, etc.

The article I read over the weekend was written by Leo Widrich of the “Buffer” blog, which led me to read several other articles on the topic of creativity. Widrich quotes Dr. Alice Flaherty, one of the most renowned neuroscientists researching creativity. Dr. Flaherty believes that we are all creative, or at least we have the capacity to be creative. Obviously, some people express their creativity more or less than others and express it in different ways. She says:

“A creative idea will be defined simply as one that is both novel and useful (or influential) in a particular social setting.”

Dr. Flaherty and other researchers noted below believe there is a very distinct mental process behind our creative moments. While they do not believe that we can simply “will” our brains to be more creative, they are convinced that we can put ourselves in certain situations where our creative juices are more likely to flow.

And this is definitely important to investors. In today’s fast-paced, volatile and uncertain world, we need to be creative about our investment portfolios. As you will read below, our creative thoughts come only at limited times, and we need to be able to remember those thoughts.

Where Our Creativity Comes From

So, what is actually happening in our brain when we are having creative thoughts? That’s always been extremely hard to track since creativity has long been considered a very vague activity. A group of researchers affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, headed by Allen Braun and Siyuan Liu, conducted a study last year that sought to identify the areas of the brain that are responsible for creativity.

Of all things, the researchers decided to study the brains of free-style rap dancers. While I’m not much of a fan of rap music, much less rap dancing, the researchers noted that free-style rap is a great example of a creative process that is both relatively easy to track and can be translated into lots of other areas.

What they found was fascinating. They found that when we are being creative, some of the everyday brain areas are completely deactivated, while others we don’t use in our every-day lives light up:

[Rap] Artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be ‘deactivated’ are associated with regulating other brain functions.”

To make it a bit more understandable, lead researcher Allen Braun notes:

“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity.”

So, the areas in our brain that we use to make day-to-day decisions – commonly called the “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex” – goes largely inactive. On the other hand, the “medial prefrontal cortex” area, which is responsible for emotional responses, including creativity, becomes extremely active. This graphic of brain activity probably describes it best:

Brain activity of freestyle rappers

The reason the above is so fascinating is that for the first time, there was an activity that was deeply creative and also fairly straightforward to measure. The researchers believe that the findings from studying the freestyle rappers can be applied to other creativity activities as well. They say the brain activity shown above is similar to that when we sleep.

Why We’re Only Creative at Certain Times

While free-style rapping shows us a high level of creativity, and where it comes from in the brain, that still doesn’t explain why great ideas happen in the shower, or when driving home from work, or when exercising, etc.

Dr. Flaherty (noted above) has an answer for us. Another ingredient that’s very important for us to be creative is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, including emotional responses and creativity.  The more dopamine that is released, the more creative we are. She says:

“People vary in terms of their level of creative drive according to the activity of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.”

Typical triggers for events that make us feel great and relaxed and therefore give us an increased dopamine flow are taking a warm shower, driving home from work, exercising, cooking, etc. The chances of having great ideas at those times are a lot higher.

Still, that’s not all there is to it. Dopamine alone, which gets triggered in hundreds of events, where we aren’t very creative, can’t be the only reason. Another crucial factor is a distraction that causes us to shift our attention from everyday thinking. For example, when trying to solve a problem but failing to do so, Harvard researcher Shelley Carson, author of “The Creative Brain” says:

“… A distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.’’

Especially if you have thought long and hard all day about a problem, jumping into the shower can turn into what scientist call the “incubation period” for your ideas. The conscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problem. A distraction can allow your mind to wander, and allow the subconscious mind to surface and plant new creative ideas into your conscious mind.

Lastly, after you have received an influx of dopamine, you can be easily distracted by an extremely habitual task like showering or cooking that can result in a more relaxed state of mind, which is absolutely important to be creative. Jonah Lehrer, author of “How We Decide,” explains as follows:

“Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease–when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain–we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere.

 In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the [creative] connections that lead to insights.

That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers… For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day. It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been there all along–we just weren’t listening.”

So this seems to be the magic combination: If you are in a relaxed state of mind, easy to distract and full of dopamine, your brain is most likely to give you your best, most creative ideas.

Why Ideas in the Shower Are So Difficult to Remember

With the help of the contributors quoted above, and Leo Widrich who wrote the initial article I read this weekend, I hope you have a better idea where creativity comes from and why such thoughts often come to us in the shower. But the problem is that by the time we get out of the shower and get to a place to write down the idea, it’s often long gone. Sound familiar?

Basically, things in your brain switch back to normal when we get out of the shower and resume our regular daily routines. The medial prefrontal cortex goes back to inactive again, and our creative thoughts can go with it.

Widrich strongly recommends that we keep a notebook with us at all times, even in the shower. He notes that it’s easy to bring a notepad to the office or have it lying on our desk. Yet, that’s not when our most creative moments happen. Here are some of the areas where we typically forget to keep a notepad:

  • In your car
  • In the gym
  • While exercising
  • While grocery shopping
  • In the shower

These are some of the most typical activities where our creative moments happen, and capturing them “in the moment” is absolutely crucial. As for the shower, don’t worry – Aqua Notes is a great way to capture your ideas. Each notepad has 40 sheets of waterproof paper, and the cost is only $7 (a little more for extra paper). That’s something I’m asking for on my birthday later this month!

AquaNotes

I hope today’s discussion on creativity was interesting and helpful to most of you. It certainly was for me since I’ve always been a serious list keeper. And the AquaNotes will help me to capture those creative ideas in my morning showers. [FYI, I have no ties to AquaNotes.]

On the Economy & the Over-Hyped Sequester

Last week, the Commerce Department revised 4Q GDP from -0.1% to +0.1%, hardly worth talking about. It will be revised again at the end of this month. Consumer sentiment edged slightly higher last month to 77.6. Personal spending ticked up fractionally in January (latest data available). There was more encouraging news in the housing sector last month as well.

On the negative side, personal income tumbled 3.6% in January, the largest drop since January 1993, largely due to the resumption of the full payroll tax deduction. Taking taxes into account, income plunged a record 4.0% in January after advancing 2.7% in December.

With income dropping sharply in January, consumers put a brake on their spending in order to pay their bills. The saving rate – the percentage of disposable income households are socking away – fell to 2.4%, the lowest level since November 2007. The rate had jumped to 6.4% in December.

The highlight this week will be the unemployment report on Friday morning. The consensus is that it will remain unchanged at 7.9%. The Fed’s “Beige Book” which analyzes the economy across various regions will be out tomorrow.

The much over-hyped sequester came and the world didn’t come to an end, despite Obama’s repeated warnings to the contrary in recent weeks. After meeting briefly with congressional leaders on the sequester last Friday, President Obama shamelessly and arrogantly vilified the Republicans in a press conference afterward.

One thing is for sure: Going forward, every single economic report that is bad or disappointing will be blamed on the Republicans. Count on it! President Obama blamed everything wrong in his first four years on President Bush. In his second term, he will blame the Republicans.

I speculated in these pages recently that it might just be that Obama wanted the sequester to happen, for this very reason. He needed a new “scapegoat” to blame for everything, and now he’s got it! It’s clear now that he didn’t believe those horror stories he spewed in recent weeks about the sequester. Sadly, I think it played out just the way he wanted.

And one final note on this subject. There is no doubt that the campaign for the 2014 mid-term elections has begun in earnest! Democrats have their marching orders: Bash Republicans at every opportunity. Win back the House at any cost. I predict we will see the ugliest mid-term elections ever in 2014! There is a good article on this in SPECIAL ARTICLES below.

Most pollsters believe it will be very difficult for the Dems to take back the House in 2014. To them I say: It’s a long way off and a lot can change. Especially with a president that will say literally ANYTHING if it helps Democrats win the House.

It’s a very scary thought!

In closing, in light of today’s main topic on creativity – where it comes from and how to foster more of it – feel free to share today’s E-Letter with anyone you feel might benefit from it. This may be one of the more interesting letters I’ve written in a while.

Also, I would once again encourage you all to sign up to receive my BLOG that comes out on Thursdays. My goal with the Blog is to write about whatever I find most interesting each week. It is always short and to the point and the content is different from what you read in the E-Letter. Of course, it is FREE. And you can join in the conversation by responding.

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Thanks for reading & best regards,

 

Gary D. Halbert

  

SPECIAL ARTICLES

Obama looks ahead to 2014 to cement his legacy

"Catastrophic" Sequester Warnings Die a Quick Death

Stocks high on Fed steroids
 


Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert, Mike Posey (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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