7 Practices of Highly Inspired People

I have been writing every for this blog for the past 20 days and every time I open up my laptop to write, I don’t necessarily have an idea that I want to write about. I need some kind of an inspiration, some seed of a thought which can then go on to become a blog post. This is what writers call inspiration. As entrepreneurs, we our productivity and effectiveness is at its highest when we are inspired. So it is with our team mates.

All creative ideas have an inspiration as their seed. Someone somewhere was inspired by someone/something that led him/her to come up and express their creativity. As entrepreneurs, we know the importance of creativity in our pursuit. We are constantly facing challenging situations that need to be solved. The more creative and practical our solutions, the more success we can see in our enterprise. This is as much true for us as leaders as much it is for our teams.

All kinds of artists and entrepreneurs are always looking for inspiration or as they call it – their muse. There are times when something comes together in our minds rather suddenly and strangely.

The question then to ask ourselves is the following:

Is it possible for us to find inspiration & thereafter stay inspired? Can we do it on-demand?

Can we create an environment where not just us, but everyone in the environment can access inspiration on-demand?

I believe that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes”. I can tell this with some authority as I have been able to find inspiration to create something every single day for the past 30 days as a result of some practices that I have put in place in my live. I can tell this with authority as I know of a lot of artists and entrepreneurs have done this in their lives from which I have learnt a lot. I can tell this with authority as there is a lot of scientific research that has show that this is possible. 

Before we start talking about practices to find inspiration on-demand, lets first try to understand what inspiration actually is. Every time we come across a new set of information or a fresh idea, the way our brains process them is that it creates a new neural pathway that corresponds to this idea. Now, almost all neural pathway is connected to all other pathways. The question is for us to find some of these interesting connection.

We say we are inspired by something, when unwittingly our brain has found a new neural pathway from one known pathway to another known pathway. So, almost all new inspiration is about finding new neural pathways from one existing idea to another. This can happen by connecting one idea with another, combining different ideas, subtracting something from one idea or even a combination of all of these tricks. The most fundamental thing here is that we need to be exposed to a lot of different ideas.

Once when someone asked me about how to get new ideas, I had responded that in order to get new ideas, you need a lot of old ideas. Every idea that we come across is filed away in our brain and is similar to an alphabet in our language. We are able to combine these alphabets to come up with words (first simple, then complex) and build our vocabulary. We can then use these words to come up with sentences and then combine these sentences to come up with paragraphs, stories, poetry and so and so forth. So, the more ideas that we are exposed to, the more chances we have of coming up with an inspired idea.

Being inspired is a state of mind.

Creating conditions for inspiration is about finding and accessing the states of mind that works best for us. Knowing this, here are some practices that I have put in place in my life to find inspiration on-demand.

Practice 1: The Practice Intentionality:

The first practice is all about noticing thing all around us. There are ideas all around us. The way someone is dressed, the advertisement that we saw on TV, the way something is on display in a shop, the way a speaker presented his idea, the story your child told you about her school, the way a dancer moved on stage, the way a musician composed his song, etc.. The list goes on and on. There are ideas all around us. What we need to do is be intentional about noticing these ideas.

Practice 2: The Practice of Diversity:

As i have already indicated, in order to be inspired, we need to allow our brains to connect disparate information together, which means that we need to expose ourselves to diverse and disparate information from different sources. If we only read the same stuff everyday, watch the same shows on TV, take the same route to office everyday, see the same friends, work in the same industry, we are ensuring that we will not have the diverse inputs needed for us to be and stay inspired.

So, we need to read different kinds of stuff, watch different kinds of shows, visit new places, take different routes to office, work in different industries or at least meet with people who are not very similar to us and our appraoch to life. We need to mix things up intentionally.

I know people who pick up magazines specifically not targetted for them, attend conferences which have nothing to do with their industry or the kind of work they do. I myself have a reading list that is varied and consists of material and topics that is no way connected to the work that i do. Yet, my brain always finds a connection between what I do and what i read. That is the job of my brain that it does really well.

Practice 3: The Practice of Reflection:

Once we notice things around us, we then need to find a way to capture and reflect on these ideas. We could capture them by clicking a picture, taking a video, making a note (audio or text), connecting this idea with something that we already deeply care about. I use all of these methods to capture ideas – click pictures/videos, make notes (text or audio), save something on my Evernote (stuff that I find interesting online), etc.

The key here is that we need to go back to these ideas on a regular basis so that we are able to create neural pathways to these ideas and can retrieve them on-demand when needed.

Practice 4: The Practice of Brahmanian Thinking:

In Hindu mythology, there are three gods who are the “Trinity”. One of them, Brahma, the creator, is supposed to have 4 heads, one in each direction. I consider that as an analogy for us to learn to see and think from different perspectives before creating anything new. This holds true for all creative ideas.

The practice of looking at the same thing from different angles and perspectives offers us a great deal of more information that can then trigger new ideas. It is important for us to build this habit intentionally. This is the key practice if we are to be able to make unusual connection. If we see the same thing that everyone else sees, we will come to the same conclusion that everyone else is coming to and thereby we will come up the same kinds of ideas that everyone else is coming up with.

Practice 5: The Practice of Reframing:

Another way to ensure that we are able to speed up the ability to connect disparate ideas and inputs to form new, creative and inspired stuff is by practicing the art of reframing. Our brain functions in a way that it frames everything that it encounters in one way or another. Add to this that the way our brain functions is that if we pose a question, it is conditioned to work towards finding an answer.

So, If we can find a way to frame the question or the problem differently than what was originally posed, we are able to solve it differently as well. There are different ways to reframe any challenge or issues or problems.

We can reframe by changing the context in which the problem is being faced, by changing the person whose point of view is being used to solve the problem and similar.

Practice 6: The Practice of  Constraints:

One of the ways that we can force ourselves to come up with interesting and unique ideas or feel inspired is when we introduce new constraints. This again is how our brains function. If i were to ask you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your home, you might take longer to answer if I just asked you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your kitchen. This is just how our brains work.

So, if we are looking for an inspiration for something, we will do better if we introduce new constraints in our thinking. This could come in many forms – we need ideas that use sound/music, will use comedy, will make use of children, needs to cost us under a certain cost or needs to use a specific color even. The idea is to move between different constraints to see if any of them inspire us to come up with something really unique and inspired.

Practice 7: The Practice of Practice:

The last but the most important practice to getting and staying inspired is to practice being inspired. We need to constantly work our muscles of creativity and inspiration. As most inspired creators will tell you, they need to build in rituals and habits of getting and staying inspired. This is also like a muscle. The more we practice, the stronger it gets.

In short, we need to practice getting inspired on a daily basis. We can’t do the work every single day by practicing all these practices and expect to get inspired on-demand. This is the work-ethic that is needed to get and stay inspired.

When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it  -Freud

In Conclusion:

There are a lot of things that we can do to get and stay inspired on-demand. There is also a lot that we can do to create an environment that allows us to create a culture where our teams can get and stay inspired on-demand.
I will delve deeper into how to create a culture where teams can get and stay inspired in a separate post shortly.
Btw, this post was also inspired by a post by  on here.

Importance of Silence and Reflection in the Life of an Entrepreneur

Premise:

We are living in a world where there are just too many demands on our attention as entrepreneurs. There is the internal chatter about our people, products, processes, etc. Then there is the external chatter of marketing, networking, selling and to top it all off, there is social media and NEWS (fake or otherwise). Add to this there is a huge movement about increasing productivity. Every other blog (at times, this one included) tries to gives us hacks that can help us increase our productivity. So, in this environment, it is quite natural for us to try to use all our time and attention to maximise our productivity.

However, it is critical that we don’t get sucked into this seemingly logical thing to do.

Importance of Silence:

One of the most important things for us, as entrepreneurs, is our ability to make connections that others miss, see opportunities that others are blind to and be creative. Generating good ideas and connections requires us to look at things from different perspectives, which can happen when we give ourselves some quiet time, to think and reflect. It is this reflection that gives us the ability to connect seemingly unconnected stuff. It is reflection that enables us to bring our best creative self.

Author JK Rowling, biographer Walter Isaacson, and psychiatrist Carl Jung all have a practices for managing the information flow and cultivating periods of deep silence. Cal Newport talks about how he has stayed away from social media and does what he calls Deep Work (You can listen to my podcast with him here) that allows him to be super-productive at what he does.

Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores our nervous system, much like deep sleep. Silence is our pathway that allows us to get into contemplative states. It is during this state that we allow our minds to tap into our sub-conscious, creating the opportunity for connections of apparently random stuff, thereby allowing us to be creative.

Cultivating silence, as Hal Gregersen writes in a recent HBR article,  “increase[s] your chances of encountering novel ideas and information and discerning weak signals.” When we’re constantly fixated on what to say/write/tweet next, it’s tough to make room for truly different perspectives or radically new ideas.

If you are a typical entrepreneur, you will also find embracing silence to be extremely difficult and irritating.  What we need to understand is that cultivating silence isn’t just about getting away from social media or office chatter but it is ow we make time for reflection. When used well, it can also help us become better listener and increase out mindfulness.

We also need to understand the work pressures that we have to deal with and so it is critical that we are intentional in our need to set time for reflections. So, we need to put in place deliberate practices that create opportunities for us to incorporate silence  in our incredibly busy schedules.

Here are four practical ideas that can help us:

1. Two Minutes of silence before every meeting:

We can all do really well if we can have at least 2 mins (ideally 5 mins) of silence before any meeting that we attend. We can use this to meditate or even take some deep breaths. We could use this 2 minutes to reflect on what we are trying to achieve from this meeting. We can even think about what kind of mental state do we want to be during this meeting. Imagining how would someone we really admire run this meeting, puts us in the right frame of mind for the meeting. This also makes every meeting that we attend intentional. If we can’t come up with our objective for the meeting, we can start to re-look if that meeting needs to remain on our calendars. This also helps us defeat attention residue. It is now well-known that when we switch from one task to another, there is a short period of time when we are carrying our attention from the previous task into the current task. By taking the 2 mins silence between every meeting, we force ourselves to get rid of this attention residue thereby being fully available for the current meeting.

2. Movement:

A lot of creative people, when asked about their most creative moments talk about moments when they were in motion. For some it is when they are in a shower, for some it is when they are walking or running, For some it is when they are cooking or gardening. Each one of us needs to find out what it is that we could do that provides us the movement and also allows for self-reflection to happen inside of us. We need to schedule this on our calendar as a daily activity. This creates a habit that allows us to reflect on what is happening in our lives, which allows for creativity to emerge.

3. Nature as a companion:

We need not be an outdoor person to go into the lap of mother nature. Once a month nature retreat, where we are all alone, with no distractions, in nature’s lap, is an experience that one needs to have to know its impact. Being immersed in nature can be the easiest option to improving our creative thinking capabilities. Again, this needs to be scheduled and needs to be an activity that we do by ourself. What we could also do, is to take our leadership team into the woods with a clear instruction that each one is expected to contemplate and reflect upon the current reality, struggles and challenges that each one of them is facing. They are not allowed to talk to each other during this afternoon. We could finish the retreat with a social get-together, if it can be arranged in the woods.

4. Go on a media fast 

Try turning off all devices for a day every month. This can be pre-scheduled with information about this shared with everyone who needs to know. We can also set up an emergency protocol, in case someone really needs us. Once this is done, we need to turn off all devices for the day. This includes our phone, tablet devices, television sets and anything else that has a screen. Use this day to connect with everyone around us fully and try to enjoy listening to our ambient noise, irrespective of where we live. The place I live, I have birds chirping in the morning and the traffic noise throughout the day. This allows us the opportunity to disconnect from our work and focus on something else. It is during such disconnection that our sub-conscious continues to work on the different things that we are working on. It is during this time that connections are made and creative ideas emerge. We just need to make sure that we have some way for us to capture these ideas without compromising the media fast.

Conclusion:

The world is getting louder.  We are getting busier. And the demand for creativity is higher than ever. We can use silence and the ability that it provides us to contemplate/reflect to come up with creative ideas and also help us improve our productivity significantly.