6 Legendary Thought Exercises to Boost Brainpower
THE BEST ideas hit us when we expect them the least.
Think about Newton’s apple, the discovery of aspirin or the moment when Steve Jobs resolved to create the iPhone.
A great number of historically important events happen because the right person had the right thought at the right time.
All the great visionaries are alike in one aspect – they’re ordinary people, just like you. You, too, can come up with life- and work-changing ideas by achieving the right disposition.
A few mind-altering thought exercises can go a long way in breaking out of the conventional thought patterns and coming up with excellent ideas. Discovering original concepts and beliefs starts with committing to a single goal and preparing your brain for the task.
Up next, you’ll find six simple yet incredibly efficient ways to boost your brainpower for greater creativity and energy.
1. Imagine the exact opposite
When feeling stuck with a complex problem, ask “What if?”
Try to look as far from your current solutions and problem-awareness as possible. Think: “What is it that everyone’s doing that’s actually outdated and inefficient?”
Imagine you need to present your team’s quarterly results to the company’s board. In the past, each presentation has featured 15-20 slides of the past and current results. However, this time, the results have dropped compared to previous periods.
Using the “What if” approach, you could come up with solutions such as:
- Presenting five super informative slides instead of twenty
- Presenting fascinating charts instead of words that nobody reads
- Briefly admitting the decrease in the quarterly results, but focusing your effort on finding the solutions to the problem
Think outside the box and challenge the status quo: “What is it that I could do differently from everyone else that would actually improve the quality of the outcome?” How could you heighten the current standards instead of keeping to their boundaries?
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2. Think 10x instead of 10%
If you’re after a 10% improvement of the current results, it’s not a big enough change to completely alter your mindset.
When trying to simply improve the current affairs, you’re disposed to sticking to the existing rules and beliefs. Instead, look for original ways to make a meaningful change – something that would improve the current situation times ten.
- Need to increase your sales results on the same marketing budget? Good, instead of trying to get more leads, ditch the small leads altogether, and focus on getting 10x leads.
- Have an upcoming deadline? Great, instead of working an extra 30 minutes every day, find a way to get the other tasks done in half the time and devote 5-6 additional hours to the high-priority task.
- Want to be better than your competitor? Alright, instead of copying their product improvements, commit to a long-term transformation that would land you product in a completely superior category.
By aiming for a dramatic change and improvement, you’re forcing your brain to remove the limitations you’ve unnoticeably set to yourself.
There’s no reason to stay in the confines of your current standing. Thinking 10x will reveal you to the opportunities that had seen unthinkable up to this point.
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3. Get into the flow
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find a pursuit of happiness while being completely absorbed in an activity.
While in the flow, we experience a heightened focus and control. There’s nothing that could come in the way of you and the task at hand.
There are several ways to get into the flow. Find the methods that help you to become immersed in achieving a single goal.
- Get yourself excited about the task. Imagine the positive outcome and reflect on how it will help other people.
- Focus. Find a quiet room and get rid of distractions.
- Drink an excessive amount of coffee. This will only work if you cut back on coffee at other times.
- Develop a ritual. Create your personal get-in-the-flow ritual, e.g. listen to a specific song on repeat, grab a cup of special tea – whatever works for you.
The state of flow is common among writers who get absorbed into their stories, making it easier to write. But the method can be easily applied to business and work as well, specifically when working on demanding tasks.
Getting yourself (artificially or naturally) excited about exploring a problem can lead you to ideas and solutions you’d never considered before.
Many high-achievers contribute their best work while being in the flow.
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4. Write lists
While to-do lists can help you organize your work, there’s a completely different category of lists that you should compile.
Create random 10-point lists that force your brain to be more creative.
This easy exercise will show an immediate effect and stimulate your mind to enjoy the idea generation process.
Before committing to a demanding task, create a random 10-point list of ideas, for example:
- If I had to write ten books, the topics would be…
- If we had to pivot and build a different product, it could be…
- The ten weirdest productive work habits I could take up are…
Aim to write lists that spark your creativity and nudge you to come up with original ideas. E.g. avoid asking “Which famous people I’d like to meet?” as it’s more about making a choice instead of imagining something new.
In addition to boosting your cognitive process, there’s another benefit to creating lists. You’ll get plenty of innovative ideas that you might actually use.
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5. Change your perspective
Sometimes, the best way to look at things is through someone else’s perspective.
When facing a complex problem, the simple thought exercise of “What would X do?” can help you come up with innovative solutions. Adopt someone else’s mindset and alter your standpoint, nudging your brain to think differently.
Whether you find a feasible solution to a problem depends on the way you look at it:
- Instead of an employee standpoint, put yourself in your manager’s shoes and ask: “How would they handle the situation?”
- Who do you think of when you think of the word “successful”? What would they do in your situation?
- Are you negatively predisposed to the challenge at hand? What if you approached it with a positive mindset?
Another way to transform your thinking is reading an article or watching a TED video on a topic that’s completely out of your radar.
A change of perspective will free you from the self-proclaimed rules and limitations, bringing to light new ideas and solutions.
Read on: How to Apply the Grit Psychology to Your Work
6. Zoom out
When confronted with a challenging task, take a pause and zoom out.
We tend to be so immersed in our to-do lists that we forget to pause and reflect on the long-term outcome. Instead of rolling up your sleeves and digging right in, think: “Why does it matter in the first place?”
Often, zooming out of the current situation will give you another perspective, helping to realize why the task matters (and which parts deserve the greatest attention). Is there a task that when given 110% of your effort, would turn all other tasks irrelevant?
- Imagine that one day, you’ll be looking back on today. What would the older and wiser you suggest that you did differently? How would they solve the problem?
- The Amazon press release method: write a press release presenting the final outcome of your project/task. What are the most important things you need to achieve?
Look for meaningful ways to maximize the benefit from each hour worked. When tackling a complex project that’s prone to fail, ask yourself: “What will I learn from it even if all else fails?”
By getting yourself and your brain prepped for work, you’ll be able to contribute high-quality work and come up with original solutions. It’s all about setting the mood and choosing the right perspective. Find what works for you and build new habits into your daily routine.