How to become an idea generator according to Einstein.
Illustration by Anna Golde from Icons8
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein
Finding ideas is like dividing the tasks between two roommates: your body and your brain. Your body’s role is to go grocery shopping, that is, to collect real-life experiences. Then go home, take all that raw material to your brain and let it do the work: cook those experiences and turn them into ideas.
Get out of your head and into your body.
Your brain is a shy cook. He needs a little time alone, undisturbed, to unpack the raw material your body has brought and make something out of it. So once the shopping bag is delivered, leave the kitchen.
This is the technique I use to find my writing ideas. Creating content every day requires a lot of ideas. Yet I never look for them. They come by themselves. All I do is store them in a note on my phone as they come in. In the morning, when I write my first article of the day, I scroll through my list of 171 ideas to date and pick one that inspires me.
No tiring over-thinking. No writer’s block. The process is fluid. I repeat it several times a day, and that’s how I manage to produce between 1 and 3 articles on any given day.
What I am actually doing is changing my state of mind. As Albert Einstein said:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
When I say “change your state of mind”, I am not of course talking about changing your perception of reality: get rid of drugs and alcohol. What you need, on the contrary, is space for reflection, clarity of mind, so that your brain can process everything in the pot. And for that to happen, you — your consciousness — must get out of the way.
So why not go and play in your body?
3 ways to change your state of mind in a healthy way
“For me, creativity lives in the body, not the mind.” — Marie Forleo
I noticed a common pattern. Most often, my ideas appear when I do one of these three things:
- Working out
I love it when that happens. I have free time, I relax, I free my mind… and suddenly it appears. Sometimes even directly in title cases. Or with a few bullet points that I make sure I write too. Sometimes I’m dictated the complete outline of an article.
Thanks to these three activities.
Meditation is quite new to me. I’ve been hearing about it for some time now, but I had never made the conscious decision to apply it to my daily life until recently.
I stick to a daily ritual of 10 minutes. Not more than that for now. I sit down and focus on my breathing and body sensations, trying to be aware of the present moment as best I can.
This simple and short exercise takes me out of my head and into my body. The very idea for this post happened last night in the middle of my session. I wasn’t thinking about writing at all. I was just trying to meditate. And it happened.
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, explained to The Washington Post that meditation has shown to thicken four parts of the brain, including the posterior cingulate (involved in mind wandering and self-relevance), the left hippocampus (learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation), the temporoparietal junction (perspective taking, empathy, compassion), and the Pons (a part in which a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced).
Meditation thus modifies the brain, and consequently our faculties of reflection. I’ve found that it has a way of cutting short the constant inner chatter of my mind. When the hubbub subsides, ideas have a calm atmosphere in which to emerge. It’s as if meditation makes the mind land.
Feeling apathetic? Go for a walk. Feeling sad/angry? Go for a walk. Bored? Go for a walk. Looking for solutions or ideas? Go for a walk.
Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration: “A person walking indoors — on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall — or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down.”
Walking is always a solution for me. Having this body movement, which is almost effortless, somehow rearranges the parts of your brain like a jigsaw puzzle. My best ideas and thoughts often come after the first 30–40 minutes. I always bring something to take notes with me, as it’s not uncommon for ideas to come out of who knows where in such large numbers that I would have forgotten half of them by the time I rush home.
Walking acts as a window to your mind. You renew the air, you use your energy, get rid of bad vibes, unite the movement of body and mind. It works every time.
It seems that exercise facilitates neuroplasticity, which is our brain’s ability to form new connections and neural pathways, aka. get creative or inspirational thoughts (source).
Working out is like cleaning myself, physically and mentally. It has become my daily need. I can hardly go a day without at least 30 minutes of exercise. Afterward, I feel free of all negative energies and tensions, which leaves me healthily tired, soothed, refocused.
I have three options every day. Either I go for a run, I ride my stationary bike, or I do bodyweight exercises.
The first puts me in a kind of meditative state. After the first 20 difficult minutes, I feel my mind de-fogging and with it, the first ideas appear. As far as stationary cycling and training are concerned, ideas often arise afterward, when my mind is at peace again.
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” — Henry David Thoreau
Don’t think too much about finding ideas. All you have to do is collect raw material every day, through living life, having interesting discussions, reading, daydreaming. Mix it all together by moving your body, and there you go.
Don’t forget to have something to write down at hand. You might be surprised at how much inspiration comes out of it.