Write Down 10 Ideas per Day and It Can Rewire Your Brain

Write Down 10 Ideas per Day and It Can Rewire Your Brain

2002 is the year his depression nearly ruined his life.

His home was taken away and two kids had mouths requiring food. Staying in bed all day became a toxic habit. An unusual decision to handwrite ten ideas per day entered his mind. The goal was to sit down and simply make lists.

The first list, a list of things. The second list, a list of ideas. The third list, ideas of article headlines. The fourth list, a list of names of people who might be interested in those articles. Once he had the names he started emailing them.

“Let me buy you a cup of coffee,” which is code word for “let me pick your brain” (the pitch that never gets a reply).

One person he pitched for coffee was investor Warren Buffett. Upon further reflection it’s obvious Warren wasn’t waiting around with his billions of dollars for someone to buy him a $2 (2002 price) cup of coffee.

A list of ideas that opens doors for you

Random ideas weren’t focused enough. He tried a different approach. Every day he sat down and wrote ten ideas to improve the business of the people he wanted to meet. (A subtle tweak many of us never try.)

One by one he resent each email. “I admire your work and here are ten ideas that I think can improve your business/blog” or whatever they were focused on in life. Twenty people got the email. Three replied.

One email he sent to a writer read, “I love your writing and here are ten ideas that I would love to read your perspective on.” Short and sharp. A reply came from the writer. He didn’t want to write those articles. He didn’t have time. But he loveeed the ten ideas.

“How about you write them?”

So the man wrote the articles for the writer as requested and didn’t ask for anything in return. Little did he know this one opportunity would lead him to become one of the most well-known writers and podcasters on the planet. The articles he wrote for the writer eventually got him gigs for the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and enabled him to publish 20+ books.

Around the same time he sent ten ideas to a hedge fund manager. The manager liked his ideas and asked him to have lunch. That led to a second career managing money and eventually starting his own hedge fund.

Instead of doing what most of us do, and writing ideas for ourselves, he wrote ideas for other people.

This Is Exactly How Writing Ideas Can Rewire Your Brain

The story above is of James Altucher. Before his habit of writing down ideas, he wasn’t a writer or a respected hedge fund manager.

Writing down ten ideas per day helped him recover from deep depression. He says by the end of 2002, it felt like his brain was on fire. Getting up in the morning was a joy. All he wanted to do was get to the cafe as soon as he could, read a few articles, then get straight to writing down ten ideas. The success of his idea habit became addictive.

It was the one thing producing results for him, and he wasn’t going to let the magic stop.

James’ name is now attached to several successful companies such as Airbnb, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Quora. He used the same ideas technique. He’d write “10 Ideas for Airbnb” and then find an Airbnb employee he could send them to. It led to consulting gigs and being asked to speak professionally to their employees. James says the world opened up.

This is the part that rewired his brain: Possibilities became visible when previously they were invisible to his mind. Ideas created many possible futures. Ideas were paths in life he could take.

“Writing down ten ideas a day was rewiring my brain.”

James experienced a dopamine boost from his idea habit. Writing down his ideas gave him a feeling of achievement in the morning that became the momentum he needed to tackle the rest of the day. The process of capturing ideas builds up your idea muscle. James describes the phenomenon like going to the gym for your mind.

When you don’t use your idea muscle it gets weaker

I experienced this pain recently. I was about to leave my job and found it impossible to generate any ideas to write about. For the first time ever my notepad full of writing ideas was empty.

I labeled the situation burnout because it’s convenient. After reading about James’s idea technique, I started playing around with it. Instead of forcing myself to write ten ideas per day, I simply forced myself to write at least one idea per day. I followed this process for several weeks.

Yesterday, in a single day, I wrote down over 30 ideas for articles I could write and publish in my private newsletter. Many of the ideas I came up with were terrible, so what I did was start to add another label of curation.

In my email inbox are all my ideas. I regularly read each of the ideas again and then place a red flag next to any that are interesting. The result is I haven’t given up writing — my biggest fear.

If every day you force yourself to be creative, the brain rewires itself to make creativity a priority.

— James Altucher, Skip The Line Book

A whacky experiment

James still won’t answer my emails or direct messages. You can’t blame him though, as upon reflection, my pitch broke all of the rules mentioned in his book about how writing down ideas saved his life.

I’m going to use James’ idea formula to see if it speaks his language in my next message. Idea experiments lead to opportunities. Remember: 3/20 people will respond using James’ idea technique, so you still need to comfortably be able to deal with rejection.

Writing ideas down is useless if you don’t follow it up with idea experiments.

Final Thought

Many of you know who James Altucher is. Many of you probably have no idea how he became one of the most well-known writers on the internet.

I certainly had no idea that sending a list of ideas to the host of CNBC’s “Mad Money” was how James got his big break. Now we know James’ secret and we can mimic his results.

Writing down ideas every day helps remind your mind that there are unlimited possibilities available to you when you use creativity to imagine alternate realities. That’s how writing down ideas can completely rewire your brain and get you out of a dark phase of your life.

– Tim Denning

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