What if whenever someone asked you a question, you had tons of innovative ideas waiting in response? You would be a hot commodity; who doesn’t want an ideas machine?
Unfortunately for those who want this power, the science behind the eureka moment is tricky. While cultivating great ideas is a process that can’t quite be produced at a moment’s notice, you can get better at thinking in ways that open yourself up to inspiration and, hopefully, generating better ideas.
Below are some ways to push yourself to having the best ideas you’ve ever had:
According to author James Altucher, you need to be in a constant state of panic and up against the wall for your creative brain to really kick into gear. He writes:
“States of panic are special and have to be revered. Think about the times in your life that you remember–it’s exactly those moments when you hit bottom and were forced to come up with ideas, to get stronger, to connect with some inner force inside you with the outer force.”
The problem is, most of us are not constantly in this frenzy state (hopefully) so we can’t just come up with amazing ideas at a moment’s notice. So what do you do? Altucher says you have to train yourself to think in crisis mode and compares it to when a runner reaches the point of exhaustion, then miraculously discovers the “second wind” sometimes known as a “runner’s high.”
This high is the eureka moment when really good ideas happen, but to get there, you must be in good shape or you’ll never be able to push past the point of exhaustion. Similar to training your body, training your brain to think past this point of exhaustion, this “crisis” mode, is crucial.
To train your mind, you need to constantly be thinking of ideas even when you don’t necessarily need them. Altucher writes about his system:
Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational book for 10 to 20 minutes. Then start writing down ideas. The key here is, write 10 ideas … a waiter’s pad is too small to write a whole novel or even a paragraph. In fact, it’s specifically made to make a list. And that’s all you want, a list of ideas.
Do this every day. Just like your muscles don’t start to build and form until your sweat, you also need to make your brain sweat by coming up with at least 10 ideas whenever you sit down for your ideas sessions.
In his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young says that one of the principles of producing ideas “depends largely on the ability to see relationships.” Many of the thoughts we have throughout the day are bits and pieces of knowledge that are separate unless an “aha” moment links them. To get there faster, write every one of those bits and pieces of knowledge you think of down.
Once you’ve collecting your thoughts, your materials will be waiting when your brain is ready to make the connection.
When you need to come up with specific ideas for a problem, consider mixing up your usual environment. Rachel Sklar, cofounder of Change The Ratio and The Li.st, tells Fast Company she prefers to stay on the go so that her “brain can whirl without distraction.”
The distraction that happens when you mix things up is exactly what your brain needs when it comes to creativity, according to Harvard psychologist Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain.
When your mind wanders, you’re usually in a state of relaxation and this is exactly the reason why so many brilliant ideas happen during baths and showers. According to neurologist Alice Flaherty, these happy, relaxed times release dopamine in your brain and the more dopamine that’s released, the more creative power you’ll hold. Hence, showers, walks, and runs are prime times to have a eureka moment.
When considering the tricks above, remember that idea sessions, like everything else, take practice and process to make perfect. There’s certainly no magic formula, but a process can help your ideas flow more freely and help you make the connections you need to have more and better “aha” moments.