Last year I read about this thing that James Altucher does. He has a habit of writing down ten ideas a day. I decided to give it a try and it changed my life. It’s been about a year and I feel like I’ve leveled up in a way that doesn’t happen very often.
Altucher says that if you write a list of 10 ideas a day, you’ll turn yourself into an idea machine. I’m all about ideas. It’s how I’m hardwired.
A while back, I found a copy of Strengthfinders at a thrift store for $3, with the code in tact. I took the test and by a whole lot, my #1 strength is ideation.
That manifests for me as a love of ideas. My own, of course, but I get excited about other people’s ideas, too. I think ideas are at the root of my deep, sustaining love for stories.
I get so excited about ideas that I have a tendency to leap into them without a ton of planning. I can clearly see the potential end point. It shines like a beacon — a fully-formed dream in fantastic detail.
I’m great at taking the first steps toward that great, magical place. But I get lost in the middle.
I visited my dad and my brother last spring in Las Vegas and we were talking about this. I think that my love for ideas is genetic, or at least the product of nurture. When presented with an idea, all three of us first see all the reasons to say yes. Later, we might talk ourselves out of it, but at first — it’s all excitement.
My husband is the exact opposite. If someone presents him with an idea, his knee-jerk reaction is to see all the reasons why it can’t be done. Then he sometimes talks himself into something later.
(That actually works out pretty well in my life. Kevin keeps me grounded in a way that I often sorely need.)
I’m not great with all of the steps between the idea and the end result, though. I take off on the Yellow Brick Road, and I know that Oz is at the end, but I hit a fork in the road and realize that if I do this other thing I can get to Wonderland instead of Oz, and Wonderland sounds awesome. Or, hey, what about Neverland.
I can totally imagine being there. Getting there is a different story.
Great starts, pretty much non-existent follow through about 80 percent of the time. And because of my propensity for cannon-balling into ideas, that 80 percent of the time often happens publicly and embarrassingly.
I realized, when I started practicing James Altucher’s ten ideas exercise that I’ve never thought about letting myself have bad ideas. Even encouraging bad ideas. Or ideas that I’ll never even get started on. Or ideas I’ll pass off to someone else who might make better use of it than I might.
Or ideas that will get me through the middle steps of my last great idea.
I always thought that if I had an idea that didn’t pan out or that I didn’t follow through on, that was bad. I’ve changed my mind. And the more I encourage my idea machine, the better my ideas get.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve made lists of:
The upside to ten problems.
Ten good things about having my parents-in-law (and their dementia) living in my house.
Ten books I want to write.
Ten ideas for a new project with my daughter.
Ten breakfasts that are healthier than Poptarts.
And as a result I:
Outlined a book I really do want to write.
Had several great conversations with my daughter about the ideas I came up with, and acted on some of the ideas.
Ate zero Poptarts.
Took a deep breath and relaxed about some problems that were circling my brain.
The most important thing though, the real point of this exercise I think, is that after a year I can feel my brain opening up to the idea of ideas. I am able to connect deeper with the world around me because I am primed for ideas. I am hunting them.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.