Blue Mind and Flow

~Wallace J. Nichols

How being around water can help us overcome creative blocks

Benjamin Franklin, Edmond Rostand, and Vladimir Nabokov did much of their writing while in bathtubs. Hilary Mantel reports that she takes showers when she gets stuck in her writing. Oliver Sacks reportedly got over his writer’s block with long swims every day in Long Island Sound.

“There is something about being in water and swimming which alters my mood, gets my thoughts going, as nothing else can,” Sacks writes. “Sentences and paragraphs would write themselves in my mind, and at such times I would have to come to shore every so often to discharge them.”

Being on, in, around, or near water can calm our overactive minds while it imbues our senses. It might help overcome creative blocks because of our long-term association between water and the unconscious mind. It may also help us by tapping into ancient neural maps that we developed when the sight of water provided us with the pleasing message that we could survive.

Either way, it’s clear that water can help us access the state called “flow,” where we connect to the default mode network, or daydreaming parts of our brain. This can restore our ability to focus and perform cognitive and creative tasks with greater ease.

Excerpted from the book: Blue Mind, Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, 2015; Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY

Wallace J. Nichols, PhD is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and cofounder of He hosts the annual Blue Mind conference, where neuroscientists and cognitive researchers gather to explore neuroconservation, or how our deep connection with nature might influence the desire to protect it.