Sam Holstein

The 4 Step Guide To Having High-Quality Ideas

There is nothing more demoralizing than sitting down in front of a computer ready to create something and having no idea what to create. You know there’s a world of great ideas out there ready to become reality, yet you cannot think of a single one of them. A lack of ideas is the bane of creators everywhere.

Creators resort to all kinds of bizarre behaviors in order to come up with ideas. They do cleanses and detoxes and try new mediums and go on creative retreats and do brainstorming exercises, all in order to come up with just one good idea.

These are all well and good, but they don’t get to the root of the issue. They treat ideas like discrete phenomena that you should be able to call upon at will.

Ideas don’t work like that. They are not something you can pull out of thin air. Ideas are like the fruit of a tree; if you want a tree to grow more fruit, you don’t ask yourself “how can I make more fruit.” You ask yourself “what can I do to make this tree grow more fruit? How can I make this tree healthy?”

The tree that produces the fruit we call an idea is your mind. If you want to have more ideas, you shouldn’t be focusing on “coming up with ideas,” you should be focused on nurturing your mind so it can produce more ideas all on its own.

What follows is a list of ways you can nurture your mind:

1. Consume a lot of information

If your mind is the tree that produces ideas, information is fertilizer for the soil.

An idea is a new and novel connection between previously unrelated pieces of information in your mind. If you have no information in your mind, you are not able to have ideas. So, the first step to having ideas is to have some information you can use.

Not just any information will do. Much like how the quality of the food you eat directly impacts your health, the quality of the information you consume directly impacts the health of your mind.

Most people fertilize their minds with low-quality information like Facebook posts, Twitter rants, and whatever people happen to be gossiping about at work. As a result, most people have low-quality ideas.

To have high-quality ideas, cut out this low-quality information and replace it with high-quality information. Some sources of high-quality information are:

2. Create mental space

If information is the soil that fertilizes the tree of ideas, mental space is the sunlight that helps it grow.

Mental space for deep thought is vital for creating new connections. If your mind is constantly being assaulted by sensory input, it never has a chance to engage in this deep thought.

Many of the world’s most successful people understand the importance of mental space. Bill Gates takes what he famously calls “think weeks,” where he spends a week doing nothing but consuming massive amounts of information and thinking deeply about the problems he wants to solve.

If you’re like most people, you are constantly facing a firehose of stimulation. At any given moment, you are listening to music, texting friends, scrolling social media, listening to or watching YouTube, or playing Netflix in the background. This is on top of regular stimulation, like road-noise, Slack messages from your boss, requests from your children or parents, and other long-term life pressures.

If you want to have high-quality ideas, you need to make time in your day to just exist.

Here are some ways you can do this:

The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best.

Thomas Jefferson

3. Exercise regularly

Most of the time, when people talk about exercise, they talk about the direct benefits of exercise: losing weight and looking hot, feeling more energetic, and living longer. These are all great benefits, but the benefit we are concerned with here is mental performance. As your body is able to metabolize nutrients more effectively, your entire body reaps the benefits — including your brain. As your physical ability goes up, so too does the ability of your brain.

In case you are not familiar with how to exercise, a good exercise routine has two parts: aerobic training and resistance training.

In my experience, both kinds of training are important for having great ideas. Much like running a puppy gets their excess energy out, exercise gets our excess energy out. That way, when we are at rest, we are truly resting. (Compare this to how you feel when you do not work out regularly: you always have an undercurrent of fidgety energy wherever you go.)

4. Eat healthy foods

Just like how low-quality information breeds low-quality ideas, low-quality food breeds low-quality health… which breeds low-quality ideas. Garbage in, garbage out — so make sure you aren’t putting garbage in.

I’m not just mindlessly harping on the importance of diet. The average person eats 2000 calories a day, and 300 to 400 of those calories are spent just powering your brain. If the 2000 calories you eat are garbage calories with no nutrients, your brain is starved of nutrients it needs to function properly. You aren’t going to have high-quality ideas if your brain can’t function.

I appreciate how difficult it can be to eat healthily. Sometimes I read self-help articles that say things like “it’s easy to eat healthily! All you have to do is spend an hour every morning cooking quinoa salad with fresh garden vegetables from scratch!” These make me want to pound my head into the wall. I, and many other people, struggle to make instant oatmeal in the morning, let alone start our day with “fresh quinoa salad.”

If you’re like me, here are some ways you can keep yourself fed with (reasonably) healthy food:

I’ll be the first to admit these dietary guidelines are far from perfect. But if you’re the kind of person who eats Taco Bell for every meal and whose doctor is worried you’re going to pass out for lack of vegetables, it’s a good start.

Following these guidelines doesn’t mean you’ll come up with the next Facebook. When it comes to creating world-changing things, having a good idea is just the first step. But following these guidelines does mean you’ll have a mind that’s sharp and ready to work every day, which is a damn fine foundation from which to start.