3 reasons showers hack your brain and force it to focus

Way back at the start of last decade, Paul Graham, co-founder of the peerless Y Combinator accelerator fund, wrote a powerful article about how you can solve complex and important problems if you hack your brain. You just need to consciously direct what you dwell on unconsciously. In it, he treated us to one of our favourite quotes:

I’d say it’s hard to do a really good job on anything you don’t think about in the shower.

Paul Graham

Paul’s theory centres on the ideas that float to the top of your mind, those random shower thoughts where your mind wanders. These are the thoughts that are the most important to you at any given time – whether you want them to be or not.  Unless you find yourself coming back to a thought when you don’t mean to, it’s not top of your mind. 

What’s most interesting to us about this theory is that you’re not a slave to the content of these funny shower thoughts – there are routes you can take to get something else in the forefront. So, if you’ve ever wondered why you have some of your best ideas in the shower or wish you were similarly creative and focussed a mile high in the sky, read on!

So why the shower?

Before we get into the how tos of the best brain hacking to get deep shower thoughts, let’s look at what the shower does to your brain. Unlike a 10k run or taking two hours to cook a gourmet meal, a shower-based brain hack is likely accessible to you every day even when the world is your workplace and you’re bouncing from city to city. 

1. Showers are physically stimulating. 

The physical stimulation and constant background noise keeps your hyperactive brain busy and happy. While that side is enjoying the shower, your thinking brain kicks in, and you get to focus. It’s similar to the feeling of listening to music that you’re super familiar with or going somewhere a little noisy like a local coffee shop and totally zoning-in to your task. Brain hacking is all about distracting the unhelpful bits of your mind whilst stimulating the helpful ones. 

2. Showers are mentally boring. 

Much like the sound of water in a shower is constant but not distracting, so are shower walls and curtains. They’re just there, you don’t think about them, or need to orient yourself in their presence. Really, the duller the better for bringing on the weird shower thoughts. Anywhere boring or monotonous will do, but since you need to be in the shower anyway you might as well get the extra benefit of the brain hack.

3. (warm) Showers are relaxing. 

People focus best when they are relaxed. The adrenaline of the day either hasn’t kicked in yet or is finally wearing off. And there are no distractions, just shower thoughts. Open-plan offices may be great for socialising, but we’re just not wired to deep focus when we’re surrounded by constant interruptions.

Want crazy shower thoughts without the shower?

It’s neither practical nor desirable to spend your entire working day in the shower. Instead, let’s look at ways to replicate this formula for hacking the human mind outside of the bathroom. Key is to do something comforting, relaxing, and stimulating, in a familiar monotonous surrounding. Speed walking, a steady paced jog, or low-level climbs can accomplish the same thing. Just ensure the surroundings are not distracting or demanding focus. Try being in nature, or using white noise apps in familiar, nondescript place to access your mind-blowing shower thoughts without the water. 

It’s not when you think, it’s what you think

Like the chorus of a terrible Christmas song, some thoughts just stick with you whether you want them to or not. Money, work-life balance, appearance, social standing, career development – if these are keeping you up at night, you’re not alone. 

All of this noise that you’re dwelling on is getting in the way of the great ideas that you could be focussing on. And the real kicker? Take a minute to hack your brain and focus on that earth-shattering idea, you could be getting closer to creating a project worth spending time on.

Sure, you have some of the most clear thoughts when you’re relaxed in the shower but it’s not the when, it’s the what that matters. Want to make the most of the open space in your brain? 

  • Put down your social media
  • Ignore the distracting news sites you have to check when you have your morning coffee
  • Turn your morning shower into a 15 minute mind hack the rest of the day will thank you for.

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