A colleague of mine was presenting a two-day well-being programme to a group of high-level executives in a corporate company, and he asked the group where they got their best ideas.
A few said they got their best ideas in the shower.
Nothing unusual about this answer, it’s a common time to get fresh thoughts, but my colleague was surprised when, in the debrief, the CEO asked how he could insist on the executives having longer showers in the morning to keep them coming up with new ideas.
My colleague had to explain that the ideas didn’t come from the shower but from the quiet mind that most people experience in the shower when old thoughts disappear along with the water down the plughole.
When do you get your best ideas?
Showering, walking, running, or any form of exercise is often when you let go of the thousand thoughts about what you have to do that day, what you said to your partner last night, and how well the children are doing in school.
It makes sense that you’ll get your best ideas when walking the dog or stirring the sauce rather than in the middle of a thought storm.
And there is a scientific reason for this.
Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist, says that the more dopamine that is released, the more creative we are, and triggers for dopamine release are warm showers, exercising, driving, food or any event that helps us to feel relaxed.
But there isn’t an ideal time for your good idea.
You can’t schedule it in your calendar. And it isn’t worth trying to devise a strategy like going for a walk or a drive because sometimes these things will work, and sometimes they won’t.
One day I can walk on the beach, and my mind is clear, and ideas are popping like corn in a pan, but another day, I’ve taken my head with me, and I’m full of whatever is going on for me at this moment, and, no shit Sherlock, no ideas to be had.
One person might experience a quiet mind when meditating, and another will have the same experience whilst listening to the loudest heavy metal music.
You have to allow your mind to settle to have space for a new idea.
This is also why some people like to have a pad and pen next to their bed as they find that they might wake up in the middle of the night with the idea that has appeared in their mind, and if they don’t write it down immediately, it will have disappeared by the morning.
Of course, you could do this and find in the morning that the idea you had written down is bizarre and involves aliens but what the hell?
How to have good ideas?
There are ways you can prompt your mind to create some good ideas.
James Altucher, an entrepreneur and journalist, proposes that it’s possible to become an ideas machine by spending time each day to write down ten ideas. It doesn’t matter what the ideas are about, how practical they are or whether they’re even possible.
So don’t use the exercise to think about an issue or problem, but whatever pops into your head, like ten ways to make your fridge more efficient.
Altucher says that most people struggle when they get to six or seven ideas, and if you stall during the exercise, keep going until you get to ten.
This is a great way of letting your thoughts flow without attaching anything to them, and, who knows, there might be a great idea in there.
Or you might try listening to whichever guru is the flavour of the month, read a book by an expert, buy a course or, generally, look outside for an idea.
But when you fill your head with other people’s wisdom, there isn’t space for you to hear your wisdom. So rather than looking towards others for solutions, quieten your mind and listen to yourself.
How do you quieten your mind?
You know when you have a quiet mind because of the feeling you’re in, and when you recognise that you’re head is busy, and your mind is racing, it’s almost impossible to find your best idea.
This is because you’re not in this moment; you’re thinking about the past, and the future, you’re having imaginary conversations in your head, and you’re busy, busy, busy.
It’s equally as impossible to have your best ideas while you’re trying hard to have them.
You might have your best ideas in the middle of a crowd, a concert or a field. The circumstances aren’t important, but your state of mind is.
We’re conditioned to believe that we have to think our way out of a problem, but if you’re trying to do this, notice what you’re using to think, yes, more thought!
You’ll be better served to do your best to let go and do something else. Dr Shelly Carson, Harvard University researcher and psychologist, says;
‘A distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.’
Don’t judge your ideas
In the same way that James Altucher encourages us to come up with ten ideas and not mind how crazy they are, I want you to stop judging your ideas.
How many times have you had a good idea, and when you’ve held it up to the light, you see the gaping holes?
Why does this matter?
You don’t expect to execute every idea, so don’t, well, execute it.
And often, although you might have a few bad ideas about a subject, this clears the way for a good idea, just like writers are encouraged to write out the rubbish to get to the good stuff.
A bad idea can be the first step towards a good idea. Towards your very best ideal.
Whenever you have it.