For most of the day, your mind works in overdrive to try and solve problems for you. Brains spend their days at proverbial gyms, where they exercise potential solutions for things like work, extracurriculars, and relationships.
It’s pretty amazing — and a bit humbling — to think that our cerebellum, containing approximately 55-70 billion neurons (thanks Wikipedia) cares more about keeping us alive than just about anything else out there.
So why does our most complex organ, with all of these complicated neural networks, come up with the best ideas when we happen to be in the shower?
Amazingly, there’s a scientific answer to this. Harvard researcher and psychologist Shelley H. Carson suggests that when our dopamine levels are elevated, we're relaxed and more easily diverted, we often find ourselves in what she calls the “incubation period” of creativity.
“When we have a relaxed state of mind, we're more likely to turn attention inwards, able to make insightful connections.”
“When we have a relaxed state of mind, we're more likely to turn attention inwards, able to make insightful connections,” Carson says.
Typical triggers that allow ideas to incubate are things like going on a run, doodling, riding the subway home, or…bingo: taking a warm shower.
For renowned sports writer and EXPLO guest speaker Bill Littlefield, the retired host of National Public Radio’s beloved program “Only A Game”, the incubation period has been a crucial element of his writing process. We were lucky enough to sit down with Bill to learn more about his approach to deadlines and effective sports writing.
Explore books, articles, games, and songs that may help you step back from work (even if just for a moment).
- Check out NPR's story archives from Bill Littlefield himself — nationally known author and veteran sports commentator
- Never want to forget an idea you had during the incubation period again? Here's a waterproof notebook designed specifically for "shower thoughts"
- Some amazing wisdom from School of Life that perhaps our only breakthrough is in navigating a breakdown. (We recommend most anything from SOL; an online field guide for anyone interested in learning more about emotional life.)
- Stressed? Go for a walk. Still stressed? Take a line for a walk. No, really.
- What happens when you are so close to the finish line you can taste it. What is holding you up isn’t fonts — it’s fear.
- “Declare a deadline for yourself" or "pretend you are an opossum!" are two very sound suggestions from Breakthrough!, a book on overcoming creative blocks
Just a few EXPLO experiences that encourage students to practice stepping back include:
- Program: Want to learn more about navigating the world of sports and sports writing with people like Bill Littlefield? We have a few more spaces available for our Sports Management focus program (grades 10-12)
- Workshop: Strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, and center your mind while learning numerous physical postures, the flow of movements, and internal actions in Yoga (grades 8+9)
- EXPLO Advisor: Take a psychology course whose curriculum has been guided by insight from EXPLO advisor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology and the pioneer of Flow theory (grades 10-12)
- Weekend Trip: Stretch your academic legs and head out to the popular weekend trip, Water Wiz, where you'll get showered in waves from New England's famous log flume waterpark ride (grades 4-7)
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Stephanie LaMont + Adam French