2017-12-31 misc

How I remember thoughts from my showers

I love taking long showers.

I used to try and take short showers because I thought taking long showers was a “waste of time.” Surely I could be doing something more productive than doing nothing.

But over the past few years I’ve realized that some of my best or most creative ideas have come from showers. I would often be mulling over a problem at work, unable to find a solution for hours on end, only later to stumble upon some solution when I was finally in the shower.

People have long recognized the benefits of thinking in the shower, which is probably due to incubation. So rather than limit my shower time, I’ve tried to encourage longer showers.

One of the main features of thinking in the shower is that you can’t do much else besides think[1]. You can’t check your phone. You aren’t talking to anyone. There’s just you and your thoughts.

This makes showers a great opportunity for discursive thinking, or the monkeymind. While I don’t endorse the monkeymind in service of getting things done, I do think it offers immense utility in surfacing ideas or thoughts that may (or may not) be important. It “puts them on the radar.” Singular, focused thinking almost by definition precludes that.

One chronic problem I’ve faced however is remembering these thoughts. If I think about something which merits more research or consideration, but then move on to something else, there’s a pretty good chance I’ll lose the first idea.

On the other hand, it’s pretty impractical to bring a notebook into the shower, and the whole point of shower thinking is to distance yourself from distractions like your phone. So there’s no natural place to store these thoughts.

How do I get the benefits of shower thinking, yet actually recall most of the ideas that I got in the shower?

One strategy I’ve started using is to create mnemonics. Here’s a mnemonic from today:

Reddit returns a single lock to the FSM

Of course this makes no sense to anybody, and probably wouldn’t make sense to myself in just a few hours. But I can now capture a bunch of ideas in a single phrase and move onto to other things. I am no longer so concerned with losing these ideas anymore.

When I revisit the mnemonic later (typically right after the shower), I can pick up each of these threads exactly where I left off:

All I need is the first or most salient word of each “topic” in order to recall the thought I had (no matter the topic, such as chores or learning something new). Then, I have just two things to keep in mind:

With the aid of mnemonics, I don’t feel the need to rush out of the shower and write something down. I also don’t feel the need to bring something like a phone or notepad to the shower. Instead, I can pretty much rely on a popular and well-founded memory technique for storing information. Not bad for now.

[1] And bathe, presumably.