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5 Ways to Have Life-Changing Ideas

Creativity can be built

5 Ways to Have Life-Changing Ideas

I hope you enjoyed last week’s dive into whether or not it matters what time you eat. Shoutout to two great American companies, GORUCK and Momentous, for sponsoring this newsletter.

I’ve been putting final touches on my next book, Scarcity Brain, and noticed this weird thing about good ideas. They don’t arrive as often when I settle into a predictable routine of everyday living.

But after I do something new (a day trip, a chance conversation, or even a Misogi), my creativity skyrockets and good new ideas flow.

Creativity is simple. It’s when we do something in an unexpected way. It’s obviously crucial for writers like me. I need it to discover the unseen connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information and build stories around those connections that enhance people’s lives. But creativity is, of course, important for everyone.

Whether your goal is big or small—around fitness or finance or art—creativity can help you find new ways to reach the goal faster and better. Creativity breeds innovation and progress wherever it goes.

It can even enhance your health and quality of life. Research shows that people who exercise creativity report being happier, more positive, and less stressed.

But we tend to think of creativity as a gift some people are born with. Or as if it’s a random thing that happens to us—like being struck by lightning. Or some magic brain ether we conjure up by sending woo-woo positive affirmations into the universe.

But in his new book The Creative Act: A Way of Being, Rick Rubin (the renowned American record producer) asserts that creativity is actually a skill we can develop.

Like building any skill, it takes effort. Consider one of my favorite creatives, Leonardo da Vinci. The man was doing—always wondering, questioning, and exploring. He’s been called the most relentlessly curious man in history. He constantly made observations, which he’d jot down in a notebook. And then, as Walter Isaacson wrote, Leonardo would then “marry observation and imagination, which made him history’s consummate innovator.”

Perhaps we all have our own version of the Mona Lisa or (my favorite) St. Jerome in the Wilderness in us. Here are five ways we can become more creative.

1. Do Something New

Creativity hates routine.

Scientists in the United Kingdom recently found that once we’ve done something over and over, we can anticipate what comes next. This makes us less likely to observe the world around us—and enter a black hole for creative thinking.

The solution is to do new things. Newness kills our ability to anticipate and forces observation. One study tested the traits of creative people and found that a common attribute between them is “novelty seeking.” It’s the inclination to explore new and unfamiliar territory.

The littlest acts help—anything that gets us out of the familiar. Even taking a different route home from work or reading an unfamiliar book. Other research suggests spending time with other cultures and a diverse group of people enhances creativity, too. When our worldview is big, so is the pool of ideas we can draw from.

2. #GTFOutside

The invention of Velcro started with a walk in the woods. George de Mestral, a Swiss electrical engineer, noticed how cocklebur (a thorny weed) clung to his clothes with hundreds of itty bitty hooks. Next came a brain blast, and now your impatient young nephew wears Velcro-laced shoes, and the industry is worth roughly $3 billion.

The submarine, airplane, and bullet train originated by observing how animals move through nature. Antlers are being studied to make modern products stronger and lighter.

Researchers at the University of Utah discovered that time in nature boosted creativity by 50 percent. The average person, however, spends 93 percent of their time indoors.

We don’t have to turn into some wilderness vagabond to see a benefit. Rachel Hopman, a neuroscientist who studies the impacts of nature, told me, “just passing through a park or by some trees on a walk to a coffee shop has benefits.”

Two tips can help you better stay in the moment and incite what Hopman calls “soft fascination,” a state we enter in nature where we’re, “lightly focused outwardly on the nature around us.”

  • Tip one: Don’t listen to podcasts. This turns your focus on the information coming through your AirPods, not the world around you.
  • Tip two: Walk or ruck with a very light load; don’t make every outdoor experience a tough workout. There seems to be something about slowly ambling through nature that stokes great ideas.

For example, Leonardo famously came up with his best ideas while taking long and slow walks in nature, carrying only a notebook. Which brings us to our next point …

3. Observe and Document—Now

So you made a creative observation. Great—but realize that it has an expiration date that is, if you’re anything like me, roughly 30 seconds after its inception.

Write your idea down. Like, now. Don’t delay. This is something many creatives recommend—from musicians and artists to inventors and generals. Leonardo, for example, famously left the world with 7,200 pages of far-out notes scribbled with words and drawings.

Use your phone’s notes app to document the idea (I use the Notion app). Or be like Leonardo and carry a pen and notebook at all times. (My go-to is this notebook and pen. They work in any conditions.)

4. Do Nothing

If you’ve been in the 2% community for a bit, you know where this is headed.

Part of the “trick” to inspiring creativity is letting your mind wander. As James Danckert, who studies the effects of boredom at the University of Waterloo, put it, “boredom doesn’t make you more creative. It just tells you ‘do something!’”

In the past, that “something” was often productive and creative. Say, figuring out a novel way to find food. Today, boredom often leads us to pull out our phone to distract ourselves.

A better strategy is to sit with that discomfort of boredom and resist the pull of quick stimulation. Allow your mind to get into “unfocused mode” (basically, mind-wandering). This mode is associated with novel ideas. It’s why we often have our best ideas in the shower.

5. Leverage Solitude

We view solitude as punishment in our society. For example, when young kids or prisoners misbehave, they go into “time-out” or solitary confinement. This might be why many of us report feeling uncomfortable alone. As a result, we often distract ourselves from that discomfort by being “with” others through TV, Podcasts, and other media.

I.e., we consume other people’s ideas rather than create our own. Creativity often requires the opposite—thinking without being overly influenced by the status quo. Solitude helps us get there.

Matthew Bowker, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Medaille College, told me that people often have breakthroughs when they’re alone. Leonardo, Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Oliver, Georgia O’Keefe, and so many more all leveraged solitude to develop their ideas.

Without other voices barking in our ear, we can hear our own voice.

The challenge:

  1. Make a “Mom Rule”: Get out of the house and do something new. Be home for dinner.
  2. Spend time in nature. As Rubin says: “Simply be aware of the moments when your breath gets taken away by something of great beauty.”
  3. Observe and document: Don’t delay writing down a good idea.
  4. Sit with boredom and see where it takes your mind (instead of reaching for the magazine at the doctor’s office or looking at a screen).
  5. Spend time alone—and leave your phone behind when you do. It’s the easiest way to limit outside influence.

2% Top Two

My two favorite things this week:

One: Outlive

My friend Peter Attia's book Outlive comes out on Tuesday. Peter was nice enough to send me an advanced copy. I'm 100 pages in and truly enjoying the read. It's packed with information we can use to live better and longer. I also love how Peter takes time to unpack better ways to think about health in the first place. The book even mentions The Comfort Crisis!

Two: New Cover for Scarcity Brain

I revealed my new book's cover in this newsletter a couple months ago. It pictured a somewhat evil-looking squirrel my wife named "hell squirrel." Well, my publisher decided to kill hell squirrel, and Scarcity Brain has a new cover. Here's what it looks like. I think the new cover is much cleaner ... although I do sort of miss hell squirrel. Long live hell squirrel.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week,


Sponsored by Momentous

Momentous made me feel good about supplements again. Over 150 professional and collegiate sports teams and the US Military trust their products, thanks to the company’s rigorous science and testing. I don’t have the time or desire to cook perfectly balanced meals that give me all the necessary nutrients and protein I need (let’s face it, few of us do!). So I use their collagen in the morning; Recovery protein after hard workouts; essential multivitamin to cover my bases; creatine because it’s associated with all sorts of great things; and Fuel on my longest runs on 100+ degree days here in the desert (because Rule 2: Don’t die). I also love (love!) that Momentous is researching and developing women-specific performance supplements.

Sponsored by GORUCK

When I decided to accept sponsorships for this newsletter, GORUCK was a natural fit. Not only is the company's story included in The Comfort Crisis, but I've been using GORUCK's gear since the brand was founded. Seriously. They've been around ~12 years and I still regularly use a pack of theirs that is 11 years old. Their gear is made in the USA by former Special Forces soldiers. They make my favorite rucking setup: A Rucker 4.0 and Ruck Plate. P.S., I can now get you 10% off any GORUCK product. Use discount code: EASTER