From the vault:
Today I am going to share a secret with you – my superpower, if you will. I sit for ideas.
A mentor once told me, “Hugh, lots of people in this world are going to tell you that you should work on your weaknesses. But if you do that, you just get a lot of strong weaknesses – things other people would be better at doing anyway. I think you should outsource your weaknesses, and focus on what only you can do.”
I have thought a lot about this advice over the years. And while I see the limits of it (and also remember that said mentor died of alcoholism and estranged from his family and thus, perhaps was not equally brilliant in all areas of his life) it really has served me well.
And sometimes, I have learned, you can modify a weakness so it becomes a strength. An example is meditation.
I like the idea of meditation. I like the outcomes. I even like the practice of meditation – for about 2 minutes. Then my mind goes all ballistic – the Zen practitioners call this “monkey mind” – and ideas rush in at ballistic speed.
Now, I’m not alone in this. Many people report this experience, and as I said above, there is even a term for it. But I also noticed something: Some of my best ideas happened during this time. Game changing ideas. Career changing ideas. Ideas that rocked my world. Ideas that apparently had been floating around in my head and co-mingling with ideas like, “We should eat dessert first” and “I need some new socks” and ‘It’s time to weed the flower bed.” Until one day, I sat still, closed my eyes and created space, and the idea finally saw a wedge of space and showed up.
So I asked myself, “What would happen if I was actually intentional about sitting still, closing my eyes and waiting – would the ideas still show up?”.
Yes. Yes, they did. Later I would read that Thomas Edison did something very similar. He would spend an hour a day, alone, in solitude, without distraction or noise, waiting for ideas to come. He said, “Ideas come from space. This may seem astonishing and impossible to believe, but it’s true. Ideas come from out of space.”
Here is how I do it.
- Set aside 10 minutes or so. Longer is better, but even 10 minutes has value.
- Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Sometimes, I put in my earbuds and use a white noise app, because the inner-city can be noisy.
- Assume a position of comfort, but not total relaxation. I usually sit upright in a kitchen chair, feet flat on the floor.
- Have a paper notebook and pencil beside you (in order to capture the ideas).
- Pretend to meditate. – I’m sorta kidding here. But seriously though. Close your eyes. Notice your breath. Relax. Your mind will begin to drift. But instead of calling it back, like you would with meditative practices, you let it roam.
- Enjoy the ride.
Your brain will go everywhere. Things will pop in your head you haven’t thought about for years. People you haven’t seen. For me, anyway, it feels like body surfing in a sea of thought, flitting from idea to idea, never fully landing, just surfing.
Until it hits you. The connection you make you wouldn’t have made before. The solution to that problem you had last week at work. The idea that could revolutionize your industry. It will hit you like a ton of bricks. And when it does, pay attention. Look at it from all angles. Notice the colors, how it feels – and then, quietly, calmly, open your eyes and write it down. And keep writing until you have the idea down. And now, it’s yours.
Now you just have to do something with it. But that is another blog post, for another day.