On “Becoming an Idea Machine”

I write down 10 ideas every day. What I’ve found after doing this is that it creates space for me in my mind – makes me realize that there are always more options that I can think about or explore, even if I didn’t think of them initially.

Ten Reasons to do Ten Ideas:

  1. It strengthens your ability to think creatively.
  2. It strengthens your ability to think beyond the first, most obvious answers.
  3. It acts as a grounding/disciplined practice – almost meditative.
  4. It gives you a fast way to start building yourself up by 1% a day in the mental field.
  5. You will be better at writing list-icle articles.
  6. It will teach you that the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas by experience.
  7. It will teach you that the 7th idea, for some reason, is always the hardest.
  8. It will teach you that you know more than you think you know
  9. It will teach you that your creative capacity can be built.
  10. It will give you the ability to interrelate two different ideas.

This practice doesn’t take a long time, but it gets my brain warmed up for the day. It can be done over breakfast, on the train, or when I first sit down at my desk for the morning. 

James Altucher has gone into extensive detail on how and why to do this. James recommends writing the ten ideas in a waiter’s pad and then throwing the pages away but I find that neither of those things are necessary to the practice. I hold on to them, writing them after my daily morning pages (I’ll talk more about these soon). I simply hold on to them because I write them in a bound notebook, not because I think I need to. If you have a good idea it will tend to stick.

Sometimes I use my ten ideas practice to expand something I’ve talked about in the morning pages. Other times I use them to try to think up project ideas, what I should do next, and so on. But for whatever reason they’ve stuck. I’ve written down thousands of ideas by now. But most I haven’t done. So what’s the point?

The point is the practice of doing it. You’re waking up for the morning, limbering up, getting stretched out, like yoga. Or like my HFT/mobility practice. You’re getting the day started on a good foot.

Ten Ideas is a “win the morning and win the day” kind of strategy, a mountain in a grain of sand. Even if I don’t do anything the rest of the day, if I won the morning, I  know that I exercised my brain that day. Maybe that doesn’t add up to 1% better, but it’s certainly not worse. If I’m building, I know that I’m moving forward, if only a little bit, and sometimes that’s what counts. 

I used to always be on the lookout for a quick fix or an immediate improvement. While some quick fixes exist, especially as a beginner, I have found that most gains after the initial gains are incremental. I think incrementalism gets a bad name. Everyone wants a solution immediately to their problems: a life hack, two-week diets, eight minute abs. But the real solution to lasting change is what you do every day, not what you do for two weeks or eight minutes. 

Your habits will mean that you either spend most of your days getting a little better or most of your days getting a little bit worse. There are going to be some exceptions to this: you can have life changing days where someone close to you dies, you lose your job, or you get that promotion or win the lottery. But most of your days are going to be very similar to one another. The key is to make sure that you are improving on those days. Even when you are sick or the tide is moving against you in some way – today I had a migraine for most of the day, for instance – I have some sort of basic practice that makes sure I improve.

More Reading:

Become an Idea Machine: Because Ideas are the Currency of the 21st century by Claudia Azula Altucher


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