Ben Borgers

Thinking in Silence

March 16, 2022

At home, I listen to a podcast or music while showering. But in college, in a communal shower, I’ve decided that I’d rather not treat everybody in the bathroom to the wonderful voices of CGP Grey and Myke Hurley.

But listening to podcasts finds its way into my life in other ways: while I’m at the gym, while I walk to pick up food, or while I’m taking a walk to fill my Apple Watch rings. I find that my brain enjoys the doubled efficiency of listening to something while also moving around.

But I shower in silence. And recently, I’ve found that my best ideas have appeared while I’m showering.

Ideas for how to refactor my code for my CS homework, or an idea for my girlfriend’s anniversary gift, or people who I need to get back to, have inexplicably popped into my mind while my mind was bored and unoccupied in the shower.

That troubles me. We often hear that it’s good for our brain to be bored, because a bored brain is a more creative brain. And indeed, sometimes when my thoughts are racing before showering I’ll switch from a podcast to music or nothing at all to let my thoughts go without being overwhelmed. I can feel the fact that listening to things competes with my brain’s own thoughts.

Another example: today, I was taking an online midterm. I was playing music throughout to pump me up and keep me focused. But when I got to a question that really required thinking, I found myself pausing the music. Somehow my brain felt like it could think better when I wasn’t listening to something — even though it was a track that I’ve listened to dozens of times before while doing work.

What troubles me is that I might be somehow drowning out my own creativity by having a constant need to fill the empty airwaves. That when I put in my headphones to take a walk across campus instead of giving my brain space to do what it wants to do, I’m stifling its creativity.

It can’t be that I have a quota of one or two creative ideas per day, and that they happen to all present themselves while I’m in the shower.

So maybe those people are right, and boredom is good for you. Maybe I should start walking across campus without music or a podcast, even when it’s uncomfortable.

If so, I eagerly await a future filled with millions of creative and insightful ideas. They must all be hidden up there somewhere… right?