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For many people, a car is just a means to get from point A to point B. For others, cars are more meaningful, whether it’s the sheer joy of driving, taking a journey with friends and family, or a reflection of one’s personality. Cars can also serve another purpose — in a way you might not expect. Driving a car is a wonderful catalyst for creative thinking to get big ideas.

How driving a car makes you more creative

Man driving a car on a mountain road, highlighting how driving is great for creative thinking for big ideas
A man driving a car | Rich Pearce/Total 911 Magazine/Future via Getty Images)

Have you ever had an “Aha!” moment at an unexpected time when you were doing a routine activity? It could be while you’re in the shower, cooking some food in the kitchen, brushing your teeth in front of the sink, or exercising at a gym. You’ll be plugging along, and then bam! A great idea pops into your head. 

You think of a beautiful way to decorate your house. If you’re an artist, you might dream up a vision for a painting or imagine a new song in your head. It could also be thinking of a solution to a problem that has held you back or brainstorming new ideas for your job. 

Woman sticks head out car window, highlighting driving for creative thinking and big ideas
A woman sticking her head out a car window | Averie Woodard

During my college days, to help pay for my tuition, I had an extremely boring job of packing boxes on an assembly line at a warehouse. However, this was also one of the most creatively fruitful times of my life. I wrote dozens of songs and dreamed up plans of traveling around the world while I routinely doled away on the assembly line. 

It’s not a mere coincidence that your mind is the most creative when it’s busy with routine activities. The same thing applies when driving a car. When you’re in a vehicle, routinely getting from point A to B, your mind can think of spectacular ideas. What’s more, Aviva found that one in five people use a car journey for thinking. Also, during the early months of the pandemic, when people drove less, one in four people missed the “thinking opportunity” that a vehicle provides. 

The science behind creative thinking while driving

Man driving a car on the open road, highlighting driving for creative thinking to get big ideas
View of the open road from a car | Hamza Bounaim via Unsplash

There’s an interesting scientific reason why people are more creative while driving a car. Dr. Shelley Carson is the author of Your Creative Brain and a researcher and lecturer at Harvard University. She has studied the connection between psychology, creativity, and neuroscience for over two decades. 

“I drive 50 miles from work to my home in South Boston. It probably takes me about 20 minutes to get out of the city, and that’s the time I start calming myself,” said Dr. Carson. She continued, “As soon as I get on the open road, I’m relaxed, and that’s when ideas really start to percolate and make their way through the filters.”

Light from a sunset shining on a car, highlighting driving for creative thinking for big ideas
Sunset by a car | Ben Shanks via Unsplash

When doing non-routine, mentally stimulating activities, a part of the brain called the central executive network is more active. The central executive network is the conscious part of the brain that enables us to focus on an activity. It also filters out what it considers non-essential thoughts of the subconscious mind, which is called the default mode network. Also called the imagination network, the default mode network is the part that does the mind-wandering and creative thinking. 

Dr. Carson explains, “When you’re driving down a clear road for a long period of time, you go to an automatic state that turns down the volume on the central executive network. That frees up a lot of your information processing space to just let your mind wander. Ideas that ordinarily would be filtered out collide together and reach what I call the cognitive workspace, or conscious awareness.”

How to use an automotive journey to enhance your creativity

You can use a car drive to harness your creative potential. The next time you feel the need for some creative inspiration or encounter a challenging problem that you’re struggling to overcome, head to your car. The best type of roads for creative thinking are ones that are quiet and have little to no traffic

“The changes of scenery provide new external stimuli in the cognitive workspace at the same time as your internal stimuli, which is beneficial to creativity, as long as the scenery doesn’t take your focus,” said Dr. Carson.

Gather info before your car ride, then ideas will flourish while you drive

Also, it helps to gather all of the information you need before you start up your vehicle. “Say you’re writing a book, and you’re blocked. Go over as much about your problem as you can, then take a break from it for a while before you go on your ride.”

It’s kind of like planting seeds in a garden. You plant the seeds of information in your brain before the car drive. Then, when you’re on the road, this information will grow and flourish into great ideas with a burst of creativity. 

Additionally, it’s easy to forget your creative ideas while driving. With this in mind, it’s helpful to record them so you can remember them later. You can speak your ideas into a recording device. You can also pull over to the side of the road to write them down or type them into a smartphone, laptop, or tablet.

Before you take your next car journey, prime your brain for some creativity — and you might come up with your next brilliant idea.