10 tips for better ideas
Copyright 1993 and 2013, James Robert Watson, PhD. Illustrations by Mitch Baker.
According to the StrengthsFinder test, (more info) Jim Watson's number 1 strength is Ideation - a fascination with and propensity for coming up with new ideas.
To get better ideas you should make changes in your behavior. To change behavior you must change your attitude. These activity exercises can help you make those changes. The purpose of these exercises is to encourage you to:
• Open your mind
• Be more tolerant, more accepting
• Change your life, attitude, mind
• Help you get great ideas easier
• Creatively solve problems
• Have more fun and enjoy life for its wonderful adventure
Barriers to innovative thinking
• If it ain't broke don't fix it.
• That's not how we did it last year.
• It was good enough for my parents, it's good enough for me.
Conduits to better thinking
• Strive to make things better.
• Never leave well enough alone.
• Nothing is set in stone.
To become a better creative problem solver, it is necessary to build both roots and wings. Roots provide a secure stable foundation from which to operate with esteem, courage, and confidence. Wings encourage you to explore, experience, and enjoy - to soar.
The 10 activities and exercises are probably in order of importance, but maybe not. Skip around if you'd like (who will know?) Work on one or two areas, then come back and do others, or go straight through all of them, it's up to you. There is no single best way to enhance your problem solving skills. You know what is best for your growth.
Conduct periodic self-assessments.
Center the inner alpha spirit.
Play hard: exercise regularly.
Eat like your life depended on it.
Practice solving mind games.
Laugh like a child.
Address and embrace fears.
Neurobics: break the crust of habit.
Yes, I Can: affirm positively.
Scratch the itch, do something.
Conduct periodic honest self-assessments
Great designers (and great people) are in touch with who they are and how they fit into a connected community. It is beneficial and healthy for you to constantly assess who you are and what you are about. As the saying goes, "A life unexamined is a life not worth living." Well, that may be a bit drastic, but you get the idea. An examined life will help you feel more centered with who you are, gain self respect and self confidence, and help you survive, compete, and tolerate a sometimes ruthless environment.
Setting goals can help you grow in the direction that is most efficient for your growth and happiness. Your self assessment goals should be:
Attainable (but just barely)
Doable on a time schedule.
Address the items below honestly and thoroughly (you can certainly add additional assessment criteria and evaluation). This is not really about right or wrong, its about your honest, thorough, and deeply probing assessment of some of your beliefs and values. Do whatever you do when you check your inner thoughts: take a walk, fantasize, reread your journal, meditate, etc. Consider skills at which you excel, how you enjoy spending your spare time, where you would like to be five years from now, etc. Jot notes and clarify your thoughts. Dig deep. Try to figure out what really makes you you: why you think, act, and believe the way you do.
Jump-starters and thought-provokers
My most cherished childhood memories.
How I enjoy spending my free time.
My role models.
When I knew for sure that I was talented.
Heroes who have had a major influence on me.
People I must impress in order to feel good about myself.
The attributes that make me unique and special.
The major goals I want to accomplish in my life.
Behind my back, people say that I am . . .
Some things that prevent me from focusing on a task or project.
What I want to say on my deathbed.
My three best assets.
Why I do or do not feel very confident about myself or my ideas.
I am happiest when I am . . .
My ultimate fantasy dream job.
Things I would change about myself.
Some of my pet peeves.
I want to break out of these ruts or habits.
The things that prevent me from thinking more open-mindedly.
What I am most afraid of.
Self-assessment is important as a foundation to further growth, to determine the starting point, and the direction to grow. These assessments are very private and should be very honest. Don't kid yourself. Conduct them often, take stock of where you are in your growth, the progress that you've made. Reward yourself when you achieve some positive changes.
Question yourself, what are your likes, dislikes. What excites you. Where do you feel inadequate, uncomfortable, uneasy. Who are your role models. What is it about them that you admire and respect.
Figure out whats working in your life, enhance that and minimize the rest.
Writing in a journal is an efficient way to clarify your thoughts. It allows you to see on paper your inner thinking. Write in each area of growth: spiritually, mentally, and physically. Assess where you are right now. List your strengths. Relish them. Enjoy them. Emphasize them. Also list your weaknesses. Minimize those. Also write your goals and objectives for your life. Write some long term goals. What is the big picture, where do you see yourself in a few years, 10 years, at death, etc.
We all want: survival, health, to be loved and appreciated, satisfied with our work, and, we want to laugh and have fun.
Watson's secret to the game of life: the game of life is developing and experiencing a balance between making a responsible contribution to society and having a good time. Give and take, in balance. As citizens of the earth and our society, you have an obligation to impact that society, to make it better, to improve it. Balance that with a childlike desire to have fun. Life is a hoot, after all. If out of balance, such as too serious pressure on making an impact, life's hardly much fun. If you're having too much fun, you miss the humanness of helping your peer earth citizen.
Review your journal periodically. This gap of time allows you to see your thoughts more objectively, with fresh eyes, and allow you to better evaluate where you are.
Write in your journal.
Take walks in the woods.
Talk to yourself.
Stare at yourself in the mirror.
Write some more in your journal.
Send yourself a birthday card.
Center the inner alpha spirit
Work at (if you're not already) seeking to grow spiritually: becoming more calm, at peace, and acknowledging the tremendous power within that can be tapped.
We think in wave cycles, from most awake to unconscious: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. Thoughts can fluctuate between the wavelengths several times a minute.
• In wide-awake beta, we are active, fully alert, and able to experience logical reasoning, fear, excitement, tension, anxiety, and pain.
• It is in alpha that we have the most flashes of inspiration, conceive brilliant ideas, are most innovative, remember long-forgotten facts or experiences, and have the best memory recall and most effective retrieval of information. Alpha occurs right before sleep and during routine activities that are performed out of habit (mowing the lawn, vacuuming, driving, brushing teeth). One can achieve this alpha state of mind: relaxation, meditation, deep prayer, jogging, listening to music, daydreaming, etc.
• Theta is a state of deep relaxation and sleep dreaming.
• Deep sleep occurs in delta, an unconscious state.
Practice achieving the Alpha state - it gets easier. You can actually feel the shift in your mind. Its a brief shudder, a sense of calm, peace.
Be wary of any belief system that espouses only one correct way to accomplish something (salvation, forgiveness, etc.) There may be other ways. The close-minded approach of intolerance of differing beliefs causes much strife, tension, hatred, and a lack of compassion and forgiveness. Avoid holding your beliefs so close that they become smothering and stifling. Becoming a fanatic about your beliefs is counterproductive. It closes your mind to new stimuli and new options. Give yourself permission to change your beliefs whenever you want. As you grow and change you will alter your personal values. Your value system is influenced by your parents, friends, health, childhood, and your environment. All these external factors change constantly, so should you. Be open to that growth.
Realize that your self-esteem should not be based on the approval of others or on what others think of you. Earning their approval is certainly nice, but dont live for that. Accept and approve of yourself. Other's approval of you does not determine who you are or what you can do.
Like yourself. That's worth repeating: like yourself. You are talented, capable, and a creative problem solver. That's your birth status. If you dont think you are, its because you have deluded yourself or listened to the negative thoughts once too often.
Acknowledge and appreciate your parent's guidance during your development. Forgive them for their restrictions and inhibitions. They did their best with the knowledge they had at that time. Let go of the past. Release any anger towards your parents and love them for their sacrifices. Forgiving is very liberating. It frees the mind for openness, innovation, and growth.
Do you feel you aren't capable of meeting adversity by yourself head on? Are you too weak? So weak you need a crutch? Shed your crutches. Keep them close by for a sense of security at first, but work towards walking on your own. You are certainly capable.
Go camping by yourself. Eat in a restaurant alone. These allow you to be your own company, your own companion, your best friend. Delve deep into your friend, see her or him as a confidant, trusted peer. At first it may be scary or awkward, but relax and get to know yourself. There is nothing to fear, no reason to feel uncomfortable or awkward. Seek the calm and peace that comes from feeling comfortable with just yourself.
Like happiness or friendship, becoming a better creative thinker is not something that you can force or actively pursue. Mental barriers will form. Focus on your oneness and let go of any pressure or desire to achieve a specific result. The growth comes most rapidly and most effectively when you achieve a balance in your life.
Be at peace, one with the world. This is being centered. Acknowledging you are part of a larger whole, a necessary part, a joyous part.
Personal growth is an ongoing journey, not a destination.
Verbally forgive your parents, they did their best.
Humming exercise: lay relaxed, hum freely, let things out.
Ease into your day. Affirm, talk to yourself, pump-up. Avoid jumping straight out of bed (a bit too abrupt).
Read enlightening books.
List all the things that make you really happy, dwell on them, cherish them.
Watch a star fade into the sunrise.
Stare at the moon, really stare.
Slow down, calm down.
Walk in the woods.
See a therapist.
Say 'I Love You' to someone new.
Play hard: exercise regularly
Our incredible creative minds are supported by a complex structure of bones, muscles, organs, nerves, and cells. The health of that structure affects the health of the mind. To grow most efficiently as a creative problem solver, it is necessary to grow physically. Personal empowerment, strength and courage from feeling fit and healthy.
A study in 2013 concluded that people generate more creative ideas while walking than while sitting. And the benefits of walking lingered, as participants came up with significantly more and subjectively better ideas when they took a creativity test post-walk than they did pre-walk. Study author Marily Oppezzo of Santa Clara University tells The New York Times, "I think it's possible that walking may allow the brain to break through" some of its hyperrational filters.
One thing I like about going to the gym to work out is the level of the energy there. The people at the gym are all trying to better their bodies, and their lives. They are pushing, excelling, and striving for growth. This attitude exudes an energy that can be infectious. I often get great ideas at the gym. The energy is very inspiring. I sometimes take pencil and paper to jot down ideas.
Working out encourages you to concentrate on the physical task of the moment. This concentration frees your mind from other disruptive thoughts. Allowing you to center and be more at peace.
I am baffled by the people who ride the elevator or escalator up just one flight of stairs. Are they really that tired or lazy. I understand some people may not be feeling well and ought to take the easier way, but most of us would benefit by the short walk. The exercise for our legs, lungs, and heart is great and the mental attitude that we are growing and improving is rewarding. Or how about the people who drive up and down the rows in the mall parking lot seeking that perfect place right by the door. Is it really so important? Is someone keeping score? Whats the big deal with walking a few feet from the first available parking place to the mall door. The ultimate is when those row circlers park by the door only to go inside for their mall walking exercise.
Regular exercise increases your feeling of well-being, adds more years to your life and more life to your years. The physical activity helps release endorphins creating a natural euphoria. Activity increases blood and oxygen flow to mind, allowing it to operate more efficiently.
A great way to increase your level of physical activity is to act more childlike. Watch children. They are very active, very energetic. Its a great way for adults to live: skip down the hall (takes a lot of courage), run in the grass, do jumping jacks.
Jog or walk, really do it.
Lift weights, any weights.
Juggle. Requires focus and concentration. The satisfaction of the physical accomplishment is rewarding.
Walk up the stairs, avoid the elevator.
Don't park right by the mall entrance.
Run, skip, jump, spin.
Go dancing, often.
Wake up early and do exercises.
Make time for an exercise program.
Just do it.
Eat like your life depended on it
The nutrients we put into our bodies affect the efficiency of the mind's operations. Your mind needs fuel to operate. The main food of the brain is glucose (a sugar). Your brain weighs less than about 5% of your total body weight but uses almost 50% of the nutrient glucose. So maybe if you're up against the idea block, eat something sweet, preferably with natural sugar - bananas, an apple, or other fruit.
Some food is over processed and killed, just dead. Fresh fruits and vegetables are live food. They are active. They contain water that is clean and pure. You've probably heard the new studies: complex carbohydrates are important, fiber, and some protein. Less important: fat, salt, refined sugar, and processed foods.
Nothing tastes as good as feeling lean and fit. Feeling embarrassed about your appearance, or endurance, or lack of energy feels worse than the taste of the best dessert or fried food.
Diets (any regimen of eating; therefore we're all on a diet at any time) have taken on a negative connotation. So don't go on one. Its that simple. Just do what you know you should. Eating wisely is all a matter of mind. Once you've made that mental commitment, the physical part is easy. Nothing tastes as good as feeling slim, fit, and healthy. Get a post-it note and write that out and stick it to your refrigerator.
Eat well. Live full.
Control your life and what you put into your body (your brain-support mechanism).
Don't deprive yourself of any foods. Revive, alive with good foods.
Try ethnic foods.
Cook something new.
Eat less sugar and white flour
Enjoy fresh fruit, really enjoy.
Eat foods that are alive.
Do what you know you should.
Practice solving mind games
Solving mind games is a fun way for creative people to develop and exercise problem solving abilities. Stay out of the rut of looking for just one solution to a problem or puzzle: turn the problem over, see it from all sides, restate it, experiment with a multitude of options, and keep your mind open. Avoid giving in to your perceptual, emotional, cultural, and intellectual blocks.
One example - a surprising place for playing mind games is while stuck in traffic or at a red light. Sure, youre probably frustrated at some moron driver in front of you. Use the time to turn to a more positive outlook. License plate games: make up words using the letters on the tag. For example, if the tag says GTR, try the words garter, grate, great, strange. Shoot for the shortest word with the tag letters in order as on the tag. Therefore, garter would be a better solution than great. Playing these games keeps your mind active and alert (this helps you grow and keeps you alert while driving) and it keeps you from getting angry or thinking negatively while stuck in traffic.
Solving mind games does great things:
Helps you pay close attention to detail.
Stretches mental flexibility.
Exercises problem solving neurons.
Increases fluency of options.
Improves your mental skills in:
Helps you develop your creative problem solving abilities by:
Avoiding limiting assumptions.
Breaking out of ruts.
Making new connections.
Overcoming blocks and barriers.
Seeing things in new ways.
Mind games suggestions
Fill in crossword puzzles.
Make up names of government agencies from the letters on license plates.
Make words out of the letters on license plates.
Play any type of board, card, or puzzle games with your friends.
Anagrams: rearrange letters to create new words.
Buy books of mind games and do a couple each night.
Why are manhole covers round?
Laugh like a child
Laughter makes us feel more alert, more active, excited, and alive. Laughter is liberating, freeing. It allows you to overcome and forget your inhibitions and fears. Try to surround yourself with people that build you up, people that make you laugh. Minimize your time with people who are negative, complain, gripe, and who don't laugh enough (or you could try to make them laugh).
Studies have shown that our creativity drops when we enter school. Creativity goes underground, it gets blocked over. Previously we delighted in fantasy, abstract reasoning, imaginative mental images, and fun.
Percentage of people who are evaluated to be highly creative:
Age 0-5 = 90%
Age 6-7 = 10%
Age 8 = 2%
Seek to regain childlike activities (not childish, but childlike). Don't worry if someone accuses you of not acting your age. What's so great about acting your age? Didn't you have more fun when you were a kid, carefree and skipping down the driveway? Acting childlike is certainly not normal, but then what's the fun in being normal? Act like the child that is still within you. He or she would probably love to come out and play. Just ask.
There is a fine line between acting in a creative manner and acting crazy. Acting crazy is probably okay since it implies youre simply different from those around you. Look around, thats probably good.
Experience the ecstasy of the glory of laughter - it is humanness at its best, at its most satisfying.
Go to a comedy club
Watch funny movies.
Trip on purpose.
Tell a joke to a stranger.
Address and embrace fears
To varying degrees we are each fearful. Although some fear is healthy and good, we often give in to other fears too easily. To become a better creative thinker, acknowledge your fears. Affirm that they can control you, then let them go. Your fears allow the greatest blocks to having creative thoughts: they build barriers. Strive to minimize and control those barriers. Try to clarify what frightens you, what caused or causes it, what it is doing to your life and well-being and how it impacts your personal and professional growth. Embrace and strive to overcome the controlling factor of your fears. Work at controlling your fears, rather than letting them control you.
Risk-taking is inherently failure prone. Otherwise it would be called sure-thing-taking. Tim McMahon
The number one fear for most people is public speaking, often caused by not being prepared. If one is prepared one feels more confident and prepared, less fearful.
Some other strong fears are the fear of disapproval, fear of ridicule, and the fear of not being accepted. Realize that your self-esteem should not be based on the approval nor acceptance of others or on what others think of you. Earning their approval or acceptance is certainly nice, but don't live for that. Accept and approve of yourself. Other's approval of you does not determine who you are or what you can do.
Fail forward, learn and grow from your failures. Some anonymous wit pointed out that the only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.
The greatest mistake you can make in life is to continually fear that you will make one. (Hubbard Elbert)
The purpose of ancestral and hereditary fears was to give warning and protection against danger. The only fears we are born with are these two: fear of loud noises and fear of falling. The rest of our fears are learned behavior.
Embracing fears suggestions
Give yourself permission to fail.
Talk honestly to yourself.
Question your motives.
Question your direction.
Write your innermost revelations in a journal.
Sincerely say 'I love you' to someone you've not said it to before.
Seek fear assessment from others.
Act like the kid within.
Do that which you fear.
Neurobics: break the crust of habit
Creative people are well-rounded participants in a variety of activities. They constantly strive to experience new sources of enlightening input to stretch limits, broaden horizons, make new connections, and see in new ways. This allows them to increase the wealth of resources from which to draw inspiration and influence. Since a creative idea is a combination of previously unrelated ideas, the greater the wealth of ideas, the greater the chance of making new combinations.
Neurobics: neurons (the thinking cell of the mind) + bios (life). Whereas aerobics increases oxygen to the blood through activity, neurobics increases life to the mind through new activity. A neurobics event should be something you do not ordinarily do (stretch your mind) and appropriate for creative mental expansion. When the mind is stretched, it never returns to its previous shape. Experience life with open palms, not clenched fists. Rekindle your childlike curiosity, awe, and wonder. Strive to be courageous, open, and participatory. Steer out of your ruts.
We are most comfortable operating within our personal safety barrier. The barrier resembles a big donut around us. Sometimes when we feel secure and comfortable, we lower the donut wall or make the walls thinner. When we are threatened or afraid, we make the walls thick and tall. We establish rules to guide us within this barrier. These rules, if you allow them, can be stifling to your growth. It is natural in our culture to want this guidance safeguard. Knock it off. Lower the wall.
Or at least minimize it. Learn to see from new viewpoints, challenge assumptions, question authority, and take risks.
The trick is to develop the security and comfort in your environment so the wall can be lowered with little loss of security and comfort.
Don't let rules become inhibiting barriers, they are just guidelines. Decisions are often based on what works, not what rules are followed. Here are two valid rules: do not harm anyone else and do not harm anyone elses property or possessions. Pretty simple. Pretty effective.
We grow up with rituals: school, the pledge of allegiance, thanksgiving dinner, and the same route driving to work. Traditions provide comfort, security, and stagnation. Rituals grease the operational maintenance of our culture. Andreas Vollenweider performs differently in concert "you can hear my albums, this is live, I'll make it different". Still a ritual but expanded, bent, and altered. He saw the ritual for its value (familiarity, but enhanced our experience by enhancing the ritual).
We all have bent the rules. Sometimes just a little, but still bent. We bend them to justify our position or attitude or to get what we want while feeling, falsely, that we are upright moral and have obeyed the rules. Were good. We sense our value of good on how we have kept the rules. But you haven't kept the rules. Isnt a bent rule a broken rule? Sure. A rule is either/or, black and white. If you bend it, even a little, you have broken the absolute of the rule. Congratulations. Keep it up.
Routines may be valuable in that they provide comfort and security. If your routine is to do laundry every Sunday morning, stop and go out to breakfast instead. Do it at another time. So what.
Be spontaneous. Sometimes don't plan, just do what your mind is guiding you to do.
All great people are nonconformists. (All nonconformists are not great people.)
Some weekend soon, hold a mental garage sale. Get rid of all the stuff you no longer need nor use. Stuff that just gets in the way and clutters up your life.
Become aware of your rules and write them down.
Break some of your rules.
Take risks, especially when you think you shouldn't.
Use your other hand for routine activities.
Change your routine.
Avoid establishing routines.
Brush your teeth with your other hand.
Eat a meal with chopsticks or your fingers or your less dominant hand.
Keep the TV off for a full day and night.
Do absolutely nothing, especially on a hectic day.
The world and your life will be just fine. Sleep late,
eat a late breakfast, sit on the patio, read silly stuff.
Participate in some new activity.
Drive a new route to work, school, or the mall.
Travel to a new place.
Go to a seminar on an unfamiliar subject.
Learn a new skill.
Walk through Toys R Us and see it as a child does.
Explore the aisles of Lowe's Depot.
Learn a new dance.
Eat ethnic foods you've never tried.
Learn a foreign language.
Yes, I Can: affirm positively
We program our minds with negative thoughts: I can't do that, that won't work, etc. You convince yourself of these truths. You can just as easily program your mind with positive uplifting thoughts. Affirm that you are creative: I am a creative person. I am open and alert to new possibilities.
As a teacher in a Department of Design I too-often heard, "I can't draw". The main reason these people say that is they continually program their mind to believe it. Your mind will believe what it tells itself. The first step to learn how to draw or learn any new information or perform any new task is to affirm that you can do it. Let your mind tell itself it is capable.
Replace 'I have to' with 'I want to'. Usually that is true. When we say, 'I have to get back to work', its usually true that you want to, not have to. You do want to keep your job, your income. You do acknowledge that to keep that you want to keep your boss happy and your company productive. 'I have to do my laundry'. You probably really want the clean clothes. With sincere belief and repetition, your mind will accept and believe it. It may be tough but with practice these affirmations will become self-realizing habits.
To become a better creative thinker, acknowledge and affirm that your fears can control you, then let them go. Replace them with positive affirmations. Replace problems with challenges and opportunities.
Choose to be great in this day. Just because you say so. The day is here, its coming, make the best of it: you are in control: choose to be great. The day will be great or poor without you. It just is, but our attitude and response to the day can be affected. That is within you.
Affirm out loud. By yourself if you're embarrassed. Write a positive affirmation on a Post-It note and stick it around the house, office, or car. On the mirror stick one that says, "I'm attractive". In the office: "I am capable, talented, and creative." Determine the negative affirmations you are living by, write the positive version on the sticky note, and post it. Don't worry about how great the slogan is. You're not trying to win some writing award, youre not trying to win at all, just grow. Read it throughout the day. Memorize it. Writing it out helps you to learn it and live it. The posting is just a reminder for you to relearn and relive it.
My life has meaning.
I respect and like myself.
I am optimistic and hopeful about my future - I look beyond just what is - to what could be.
I am worthwhile.
I love my parents and appreciate their sacrifices for me, but I no longer need their approval to feel worthwhile.
I no longer need approval from others to feel worthwhile.
Each human is unique and deserves to be treated in an individual manner.
I am tolerant of those different from me.
I will not harm others or their property.
I solve problems with innovation.
I make decisions with intelligence.
I acknowledge the power of habits and conditioning - I will break the crust of habit and push myself to experiment, explore, and grow.
I am a participant and an activist to make things better; to contribute to the well-being of others.
Life can be unfair - I won't whine or bitch about it.
My life is a joyous adventure.
I learn from my mistakes.
I fail forward.
I see problems as challenges.
I am open to new attitudes.
I am creative, courageous, and capable.
I experience life with open palms, not clenched fists.
I will act more childlike but not childish.
I won't let my fears control me - I will take more chances, try new things, make new connections, see new patterns, and broaden my horizons.
I eat like my life depends on it.
I acknowledge that creative thinking is thinking without fear.
I will steer out of my ruts.
I strive to experience the glory of laughter.
I will scratch the itch.
I can step over or around any barriers.
Listen to yourself, really listen.
Write down your negative affirmations and throw them away.
Write down your positive affirmations and tape them to the refrigerator, mirror, dashboard, and telephone.
Have friends point out when you say "I can't".
No excuses: scratch the itch, do something
Creative people constantly seek better ways to do something; the new and improved version. They have this itch that moves them to make human existence better (more enjoyable, more profitable, easier, more convenient, safer, etc.) Robert Kennedy (among others) said something like: "Some people see things as they are and ask Why? Others see things as they could be and ask Why Not?" See things for what they could be, not just for what they are.
We all critique, pass judgment, and complain. Creative people go beyond, they do something about it. Have the courage to make things better. What have you got to lose? If your solution doesn't work, try something else or put it back the way you found it.
Do something suggestions
Invent a new product.
Take a chance to find a better way.
Start a garden, watch it grow.
Become aware of your itch to make things better.
Address your frustrations at products in your home.
Develop a way to shorten the lines at the bank.
Buy an Idea Journal. Use it to jot down your great ideas, revelations, quotes, and inventions.