What To Do When You Run Out Of Ideas

Out of ideas? Stop racking your brain: Take a deep breath and reflect.

I had a friend ask me if I ever run out of ideas of things to write about, because my blog gives the impression that I don’t.

Well, I do.

I often have lots of ideas, but there are many times when I have none. I thought it would be useful to talk about what I do when that happens, not just for bloggers but for anyone who needs ideas on a regular basis.

When you run out of ideas, it’s scary. It’s kind of like when you run out of food—you get a little panicky. Same thing happens when you run out of money—instead of trying to calmly figure out the best options, you are full of anxiety, looking around desperately for hope.

It’s not quite as bad with ideas as with money, but it’s somewhere along the same lines. Fear stops us from figuring out the best course of action.

So start by calming down, and don’t run around like a chicken without a head. I like to relax myself with a small meditation—just watch my breath, then my body, then the sounds and light around me. I can do this wherever I am. By being present, I realize that everything is okay, that this moment is perfect, that my life isn’t about to come crumbling down.

Then I do one or more of the following:

Look at my ideas list. I keep a list of ideas, and review it twice a month. Of course, if I’ve really run out of ideas, this list won’t have anything, but often I just think I’ve run out of ideas but when I look on this list I find something that sparks a good idea for me.

Look for inspiration. I cast a net for ideas, looking at blog posts, news, sites like Hacker News or Pinterest, anyplace where people are doing interesting and fun things. I don’t look at these for ideas to copy, but simply ideas that might spark my own ideas. Sometimes I can apply an idea from their field to mine, and that will be something new.

I ask people. Often I’ll ask readers what’s bothering them, what their top problems are, what questions they have. I use social media for this, and I find it one of the best uses of social media, for me at least. Someone’s problem is a post idea for me, if I think I have a solution, and if it’s applicable to many others as well.

I observe. I’ll watch others, see what makes them tick, see what problems they have, see what unique solutions they’ve come up with. This often comes through conversation, or reflection on past conversations.

I look inside. Again, I’ll sit still, and turn my gaze inward, and try to see things about myself that I hadn’t noticed before, or haven’t noticed in some time. I’ll reflect on things I’ve learned, things I’ve been doing, new practices that have been useful. This is the most useful technique of them all, by the way, because often the answer has been inside me all along, but there’s so much going on inside us that we forget to notice.

This post originally appeared in ZenHabits and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user Arman T Photography]

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  • Colleen Le Goff

    Great post! Its a good reminder to me of how experience is as important as inspiration. I have learned that sometimes it is best to get out of your own way. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy and get in the way of any good ideas I may have because I am thinking about it too much. My company just wrote a blog post on Aha! moments or The Eureka Effect. Take a look at how sometimes stepping back and just letting your thoughts happen are good for ideation: http://bit.ly/1bVOrgF.