Where do ideas come from?

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Where do creative ideas come from? 

Have you ever wondered where ideas come from?

As a creative person, you’ll know that inspiration and ideas can make a powerful, even magical difference to the quality of your work, as well as your enjoyment of the process.

Great ideas can transform a piece of art, literature or music – uplifting it to almost mystical levels.

And even beyond the creative life, good ideas help us to cope with the challenges and demands of everyday living.

But where do those helpful notions and flashes of genius actually come from?

Ideas about inspiration

In Ancient Greece, nine goddess Muses were believed to be the source of inspiration, gracing the various creative realms with their inspiring blessings according to their whim and fancy.

More recently, in her hugely popular Ted Talk, Liz Gilbert suggests that moments of transcendent inspiration may be a ‘glimpse of God’ granted for fleeting moments to the lucky few – but the source is some ‘thing’, separate to us, unimaginable and beyond our control. 

Whereas Steven Pressfield has other ideas. In one of his many books exploring the creative process, he cites a more mundane approach to inspiration, believing that we can entice that magical flow state through  ‘order, regularity, discipline and a constant striving after excellence’. 

inspiration where do ideas come from gold stars spiral ceiling art

Practical creativity

It can be fun to ponder the true source of humanity’s greatest ideas – and it’s a game that has been entertaining great minds for millennia, and probably will for many years to come.

But is it even possible for us to ever know for sure?

Until we can answer the Big Question of where ideas come from, I’d like to suggest a less profound but more pragmatic version of this question, which may actually be of more practical help to you right now:

Where do ideas come from – for you?

If you’ve been a creative person for any length of time, you’ll be familiar with the concept that sometimes ideas flow, and other times… not so much.

But why is that?!

The good news is that with a little detective work, we can discover a little more about the source of inspiration – as it appears to us.

We can learn what activities, places, people, routines etc… have an idea-sparking effect on us, individually.

Wherever ideas REALLY come from, we can learn at least a little about how to entice more of them into our lives, especially when we need them most.

• • • 

Inspiration zones

One common ‘inspiration-zone’ is that lovely woozy state just before we fall asleep – a state known as hypnogogia.

The prolific inventor, Thomas Edison, famously liked to tap into this realm with his technique of strategic napping. 

This involved sitting in his chair holding a metal ball-bearing in each hand, poised over a metal plate.

As he dozed and entered that fruitful pre-sleep phase, the ball-bearing would slip from his hand and make enough noise to wake him up, so that he could capture any magical insights without drifting off to sleep.

Other common activities for tapping into the realm of ideas are;

   • In the shower or bath

   • Whilst driving

   • Walking, swimming, running, rowing or climbing

   • In or near water, by the sea, by the lake, waterfalls, fountains (Something about the flow of water is conducive to the flow of ideas.) 

   • Mindless, repetitive actions. (Much as I’m reluctant to admit it; housework often leads me to some inspiring breakthroughs.)

   • R&R activities. 

• • • 

The Relaxation Response

Relaxing seems to be particularly effective in inducing a receptive state.

Many successful people claim that they have their best work ideas during their holidays. (The smart ones actually plan for this.)

In The Diamond Cutter, Michael Roach suggests a scheduled weekly/yearly Circle Time – a period of downtime away from work, strategically to create the space to receive new solutions and innovations and tap into the creative realm.

And of course, Aristotle famously had his Eureka moment during bath time.

In my own studies into inspiration, I’ve noticed that a trip to the spa is highly productive in sparking new ideas and insights.

relaxation response inspiration rudding park 5 star spa hydrotherapy pool misty morning

{ One of my favourite Inspiration Zones; Rudding Park Spa, North Yorkshire* }

What inspires you?

So, over to you!

What are your muse magnets?

In the interests of living a more inspired, productive and creative life – as well as enjoying more flow and ease in general – can you identify your Inspiration Zones?

What are the places, activities, people or things that connect you to that mysterious source of inspiration?

Where do your ideas come from?

You may already have a few clues about what opens you up to inspiration.

But if not, play detective.

See if you can spot any patterns.

For example, you might notice that you always come back form your lunchtime walk buzzing with ideas.

(Scientists debate whether it is the motion, fresh air or natural beauty that are the source of this inspiration, but until they decide – you can still just use this info and go with it!)

Or you might realise that it’s not so much where your ideas come to you, but how.

Maybe you notice that the more you try to force an idea, the more it eludes you.

Yet when you give up and move onto something else, the idea ‘magically’ pops into your head all by itself.

“Perhaps you recall an instance when you were trying to remember a name, and you struggled and struggled but with no success.

Finally, you let go of your attachment to the outcome, and then a little while later, the name flashed across the screen of your consciousness.”

~ Deepak Chopra

Cultivating creativity

Why is this information helpful?

Well, as scientists and philosophers continue to debate the true nature of ideas, we can begin to identify our own individual patterns and tendencies.

We can then use this information to create conditions where we are naturally more open and receptive to inspiration.

And if we ever need an insight or solution ASAP, we can use our techniques and awareness to help us tap into that mysterious realm.

Who knows, it may even be possible to master inspiration-on-demand! 

But even if humanity must evolve more to fully understand the mysteries of inspiration, we can use our carefully gathered muse-clues to tip the odds in our favour.

An inspiring example

This blog post is a case in point.

I had a free afternoon and wanted to write a new post, but I couldn’t decide what to write about.

I had a number of ideas but none of them felt… inspiring.

So – I went for a nap.

Not in defeat – but because I’ve learned that, for me, naps are highly productive.

And sure enough, about 3 mins after my head hit the pillow, this thought arrived:

Where do ideas come from…?

I grabbed my notebook and after a few minutes of frantic scribbling, this post had virtually written itself.

So, where DID that idea come from?!

I can’t say for sure, but I do know this;

When we pay attention to the ways ideas come to us, we can learn to align with the process.
This opens us up to more inspiration for our creative projects, our careers, and in every aspect of our lives.

• • • 

So, if you’d like to enjoy more of those inspiring benefits, keep asking the question:

Where do my best ideas come from…? 

And I’d love to hear how you get on.

May the muse be with you. 🙂

PS If you’d like some help in identifying your own muse magnets, we have a whole module devoted to this over in The Muse Spa

You can help yourself to the collection of free samples here

pay attention to the ideas you have in the shower muse spa quote
*Photo Credit: Rudding Park Spa, used with permission.

Hi! I'm Danielle.

creative coach danielle raine

creative coach danielle raine l

OBSESSED WITH THE CREATIVE PROCESS SINCE 1993

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