Have you ever noticed how some of your best ideas or best “ah ha!” moments happen while you’re not expecting them?

Think about it. How many times have you emerged from the bathroom, bursting at the seams because you just had an epiphany and can’t wait to share it? What about while showering or during your commute to and from work? Have you ever thought of something as you’re falling asleep or as you’re waking up the next morning?

I can hear your head nodding and the marbles jostling around. Yup. I know you’ve been there. We have all had some kind of epic moment or breakthrough thought while doing something habitual or mundane.

Although, I think these breakthrough moments are quickly becoming a thing of the past. But I’ll get to that thought in a minute.

Le Penseur

Le Penseur (“The Thinker”) – by Rodin, located at the Musée Rodin in Paris

Why We Do Our Best Thinking on the Toilet

So why do we do our best thinking on the toilet or while doing some other mundane routine? I could get all scientific on you and talk about the state of brain waves while we’re doing these mundane tasks, but I don’t want you to fall asleep or … to get up to go use the bathroom. Not yet, at least.

We do our best thinking during times when our brain doesn’t have to think so hard. It can shut off and shut out other distractions and just fall into a routine. We don’t have to think about how to use the bathroom, or how to shower. Most of us even get lost in thought during our commute, unable to recall parts of the drive.

A Long Commute Creates a Vortex for Unstructured Thought

I once had a 45-minute commute between home and work. The company I worked for was about to move about 15 more minutes south. But I knew I wasn’t a great commuter as it was. I dreaded the drive. Some of you may be thinking that 45 minutes is nothing, but for me that was about 30 minutes way too long.

My husband drives 2 hours to work twice a week. I’m not sure I’d ever want to attempt something like that.

The last straw for me was when I got to work one morning and could remember almost nothing about how I’d gotten there. I couldn’t tell you if I had stopped at stop signs or stop lights at all. I do remember almost being hit by a dump truck about a minute from work because I had failed to stop when I should have. And that’s when I had my own epiphany. I had no recollection as to how I’d spent the past 44 minutes – they were completely missing and it had to stop. I just wasn’t willing to do that anymore and I sure as hell wasn’t going to drive an additional 15 minutes each way once the company moved locations. Needless to say, I quit that job shortly thereafter. 

The result? I landed a job just 10 minutes from home for about $5,000 more per year more. As a recent college graduate, I thought that was a pretty good move. If you listened to my podcast from yesterday or read my blog post where I talked about limiting beliefs, that job with the 45-minute commute was part of my limiting belief that I couldn’t get a better paying job closer to home. I felt I didn’t have enough experience and I expected the first job to be imperfect. Once I let go of that limiting belief and set my sights on finding a better job closer to home… it all just fell into place. It was easy, actually.

Shutting Down and Tuning Out

Our mind/brain is always ready for a break and will make use of that time to provide some rather profound thoughts. It’s not because we’re trying to have them at that time. It’s because we are more capable at that time when our brain is less pre-occupied with 100 different stimuli.

Times when you may experience your own epiphany:

  • In the shower
  • During your commute
  • Riding as a passenger in any vehicle
  • While walking
  • Sitting on the toilet – it’s true!
  • Just before you fall asleep
  • Staring out a window
  • Sitting out in nature just listening to the sounds around you
  • And many, many, more

Creating Time for Intentional Thinking

It’s easier than you think to encourage those epic thoughts to happen. Mundane tasks or routines allow our brain to enter into a low-level meditative state. So all you really have to do is mimic that state of mind. Think about how you feel when doing any of the things listed above. You can almost feel your mind let go and begin to drift without rhyme or reason.

Here are some things you can do.

Do a mundane task!

Okay, so this one is a no-brainer. When you can’t think, go do something that allows your brain to relax. Take a walk around the office. Go to the bathroom. Take a shower. Go for a drive. Sit outside. You might be surprised by what you get.

Just Remember to Breathe

Not while in the bathroom necessarily. Just in general. While sitting at your desk take a moment to breathe. Count 1 on the inhale and 2 on the exhale. One, inhale. Two, exhale. One, inhale. Two, exhale. You get the idea. This will slow down your brain and declutter it. Then simply allow the thoughts to come.

This is actually an excellent trick for falling asleep if you are having a hard time getting your brain to quiet. Try it the next time you can’t sleep. You might not even make it through 4 inhales before you lose track and fall asleep.

Find a Fidget

Fidgets can help us to focus our thoughts. While they might not help to clear our thoughts, they can be like white noise is to our ears. White noise is something we hear so that we can tune it out. A fidget is a physical sensation in our hands or under our feet that we can feel and then forget it’s there. Fidgets and white noise both work to de-sensitize our senses.

Think Out Loud

Sometimes we can have a breakthrough thought or epiphany just by verbalizing our thoughts. If you can’t think of anything to comment in response to your rambling thoughts, don’t fret. The chances are fairly high that someone else nearby will have an opinion to share with you. (I say that with sarcasm – but talking through things with others is often very helpful.) And voila! You might just discover that thing you needed to discover.

Why Epic Thoughts are Becoming a Thing of the Past

Does this photo look a bit like you every time you get a moment to sit still? Don’t feel bad. It’s not really your fault. You’re addicted to your digital device – to the dopamine hormone stimulations that are triggered by digital devices and the instant gratification they cause. These constant instant gratification stimulations cause a dopamine drip of sorts within our body and because it happens so often, our brains aren’t quite sure what to do about it. It’s actually causing some serious issues, especially in youth who’s bodies and minds were never meant to handle high levels of dopamine. Don’t believe me? Just research it.

So if this looks like you every time you’re caught sitting still, STOP IT! Disconnect and put the device down. Your email can wait. That text can wait. Let your brain take a break so that it can continue providing you with new thoughts that keep moving you forward. Your spouse and/or kids will thank me unless you make them disconnect too. Then they might not.

But do it anyway!