Yesterday (and not for the first time) I was at Zumba when I was struck down suddenly with an idea. It was a good idea (and still is). I wanted to write it down straight away. I wanted to stop dancing and find some paper and a pen. I had to wait until I got home to write it down.
This got me to wondering, why do I get ideas while at Zumba? Or when I am driving, cycling, or between deep sleeps at 3am? Is this normal?
A while ago, I became interested in the connection between mental health and creativity, and I think the idea that creativity can come when we are in a slightly altered state of mind is connected to that. Some artists have famously entered drug-induced states of mind to enhance creativity. I think that’s another discussion.
Science tells us that one of the key ingredients to creativity is dopamine. Triggers for creative spells are activities that make us feel lost in drifting thoughts and relaxed. We feel happy. They therefore provide an increased dopamine flow. Such activities include: bathing, showering, driving, and Zumba of course.
Dopamine alone isn’t enough. There is an added ingredient, says science, and that is distraction. The subconscious mind may have been pondering an issue or an idea for days and going to Zumba creates what is called an ‘incubation period’ for the mind. The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard all day and once the mind is allowed to rest, it can surface and plant those ideas into the conscious mind. So hey presto my idea!
The other place to find ideas is sleep. Or more accurately, between sleep and wakefulness. Apparently Salvador Dali used to take naps sitting in a chair with a spoon in his mouth and a bowl in his lap in order to reign in on the burst of creativity experienced either before a deep sleep or between deep sleeps. The idea was that as he was entering deep sleep his mouth would open and drop the spoon, which would clatter on the bowl and wake him up. This state of mind is called hypnagogic imagery. The term is Greek and means roughly abducting into sleep. It refers to that between state when the mind is just beginning to dream but is still conscious. I think this state of sleep is more for inducing those completely bonkers out-of-this-world ideas. I often have mad ideas at 3am that run away from the light of day.
Perhaps I shouldn’t throw away my 3am ideas. Dali didn’t and look what became of him?
Leo Widrich, ‘Why we have our best ideas in the shower: The science of creativity’, Feb 28th 2013, http://blog.bufferapp.com/why-we-have-our-best-ideas-in-the-shower-the-science-of-creativity [last accessed 20 August 2013]
OMG Facts, http://www.omg-facts.com/Celebs/Salvador-Dali-Would-Wake-Himself-Up-The/51420 [last accessed 20 August 2013]