Two ways to improve how you personally have ideas

“Do not try to change yourself, you are unlikely to succeed. Instead: work hard to improve the way you already perform.” — Peter Drucker

If you aren’t aware of how you generate ideas, you’ll always struggle to come up with new ones when you need them most.

As much as we may want to believe in a formula for coming up with creative ideas, the reality is each of us develop and generate ideas in an entirely personal way. The best advice you’ll ever hear about how to be creative is just that: find the techniques that work for you.

Your brain may be physically similar to mine and some other 7.5 billion people, but the small connections that make up what’s in your skull are undeniably different than those in mine. Because of your unique life experiences and original perspective, how you think will always be somewhat different than how anyone else does. Your brain is very much uniquely yours, so are the ways in works.

So why would we rely on the exact same techniques for generating ideas or being creative? What works for me may not work for you. What “clicks” in your brain may not do much to connect in mine.

How do we learn what works best for us?

Document the experience of having an idea.

Whenever you feel a moment of “aha!” get into the habit of writing down not only the idea, but also what you were doing when it occurred. Where were you? How did you feel? What had you done just before the idea struck? When did you first feel the idea developing? Why might the idea have struck then rather than another time?

Even if the idea doesn’t turn out to be your best idea, or even a realistically feasible one, the act of having an idea that catches you off guard is valuable. You’d benefit by writing down anything you can about the experience.

Then look back through your notes. A few weeks of notes are helpful, but six months to a year should give you a really strong sense for how you personally generate ideas.

When you look through your writing, take note of any trends or surprising points that stand out. Where are you when ideas usually strike? Are there ever moments you encounter ideas more readily than others? Are there people or circumstances that prompt you to generated ideas? Where might you need support or otherwise be lacking what you need to generate more ideas, more of the time?

Of course one of the easiest ways to be mindful of how you generate ideas is to journal often. But self reflection is just one way to become aware of how you generate ideas. Another way is through feedback analysis.

Get feedback from those you’re closest to.

It helps to get an outside perspective on your creativity too. Talk to those closest to you—friends, family, co-workers—about how you act whenever you seem to have an idea. Ask them for feedback on your creative process and habits.

Have they noticed any peculiar behaviors whenever you’re about to have an idea? Do they feel a shift in energy or focus when they’re around you and an idea strikes? Have they ever felt inspired or motivated by your creativity, or vice-versa?

We may not fully understand everything that goes on in the recesses of our brains, but through personal reflection and feedback analysis you can start to get a sense for how you generate ideas. The next time you need to spur new ideas, you’ll be better equipped because you’ll have a more intimate sense of what does, and does not, help you do just that.