4 AH-HA! Moments When You’re Out Of Ideas

Matthew Ray
May 12, 2016

“Reverie is when ideas float in our mind without reflection or regard of the understanding.” —  John Locke

It happens to me once every few weeks.

A client or coworker needs an idea.

And they need it ASAP.

Sometimes the well is dry. Even the most creative (or crazy) of us run out of outstanding ideas. Brainstorms draw dead stares from me and my team. Ideas can’t always be scheduled, and they rarely happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The best ideas sneak up on us out of the blue, sometimes so powerful and scary we don’t know where they come from.

Other times, we have to tweeze an idea out, working it back and forth, from left to right brain, ‘till we have something we could possibly give a client.

Plus, have you met the 21st century? It can be amazingly distracting. As much as you want to think that you will have your best ideas during a Naked and Afraid marathon, distractions destroy dreams!

I find the only way I can cook up new schemes is with some mix of the following ingredients:

  1. No phones/computer/streaming thingy to distract me.  
  2. Good music.
  3. Plenty of water or wine for hydration.

To make it even easier on those of you going through any kind of (copy)writer’s block – I’ll even share my super-private and terribly personal BEST idea moments for you to duplicate!

Biking For Better Understanding

I bike to work every day as weather permits. I also love to jaunt around Philadelphia’s bike trails before and after work. Recently, a client project took me to San Francisco and Seattle, and in both cities I rented bikes and explored their neighborhoods. The fresh air clears my mind, and that often gives me time to think and reflect on various ideas. In fact, I’d recommend that any outsider do a bike tour of a new city, especially if you’ve been challenged to craft relevant messaging for the locals in that city.

AH-HA!: I find that when I am on a bike, I’m always questioning and considering.

Ingredients: Spotify ‘80s playlist, XXX Vitamin Water, no screens. Maybe one Instagram.

How not to lose the idea: Voice recorder apps are pretty standard on smartphones. If you have a great idea while riding your bike, stop for a minute, grab your phone and record it.

Example: While biking across Austin at South by Southwest, I was struck with the notion of how many of our accounts are still doing reactive customer service as opposed to proactive engagement. I also realized that my end-of-life plans would include Whataburger in them, but I digress.  

The Gym Can be a House of Ideas

I’ve been going sporadically to the same (amazing) gym for several years. Entirely group classes, I love it because someone tells and shows me what to do. I am thankful for any opportunity I have to not make a decision. The hardest part then becomes just GETTING to the class.  

The coaching staff there has grown accustomed to me zoning out during my workout. Maybe it’s the endorphins, but I’ve found several moments of clarity while sweating. If you’re a chubby guy like me, your mind HAS to wander to a happier place when you’ve been instructed to do 50 burpees. Also, the gym is a place of WISHING, ‘cause aren’t we all wishing (and imagining) a healthier and hotter body for ourselves?  

AH-HA!: Physicality can offer Zen moments when we are contemplative and clear. And it’s not just me. Studies have shown that just half an hour of physical activity can boost creativity. For hours.

Ingredients: Coach’s favorite EDM, electronica and hip-hop (and a lot of it), two bottles of Evian (I’m a sweater), no phone policy enforced by the surly gym staff.

How not to lose the idea: To abide by the no-phone policy, carry a small notebook and pen with you. It’s a little unconventional at the gym, but hey, it’s better than a lost idea.

Example idea: During one intense workout, I realized one of our clients needed a style guide for their blogs that also included SEO and keyword suggestions. And that I hated crunches.

Rub-a-dub-dub, Get to Thinking in the Tub!

Whether it’s soaking in a bath, or singing in the shower, I find that my bath time is hygienic and inspirational! I’d recommend going INTO the tub with some things you want workshop out.  

Didn’t we have our first bits of inspiration splashing around in our tubs as toddlers? Now, the shower can serve as a quiet meditation space. Relax, let your mind wander… Think and ponder while you wash those hard-to-reach areas. Some people get great ideas cleaning their filthy house; I get great ideas cleaning my filthy body.  

AH-HA!: Whether it is a classic soak or long languid shower, bath time can be a fertile ground for uninhibited imagination. This happens because it’s quiet in the shower, free from both actual surrounding noises and distractions and from all the voices and thoughts in our heads. While you’re bathing, you can’t check email and you’re not on Facebook. You’re by yourself (perhaps) and you’re performing a task that’s so easy your brain kicks into automatic operation. It’s then when those ideas have the space to breathe and grow.   

Ingredients: Wine (often before, during and after), water (and some DuRoss & Langel products), classical or jazz music for tub, modern pop for the shower.

How not to lose the idea: Get a waterproof writing pad for your bathtub or shower. No really, they do exist and for a totally reasonable cost.

Example idea: Trying to figure out how to sell water conservation required a long, hot shower — but it helped inspire this campaign for Cal Water:

In All Honesty, Haven’t You Ever Had an E-PEE-phany?

This goes without saying. I actually wasn’t going to include this one, since it’s a bit racy and this kind of humor doesn’t sit well with my business partner. But, the class I teach at UArts SWORE this was a common occurrence for them in their artistic pursuits.   

So yes, the trip to the bathroom can be a solitary moment where we clear our thoughts and meditate. I’ve noticed it even when I just have to go number one. Those 15 seconds of urination can often reset my head. Don’t believe me? Try it.

Really, any five minutes, away from the desk can help you relax and open your mind to brilliant ideas. Relaxation isn’t just for 11 p.m. right before bed. If you take care of your brain, it’ll take care of you. Try an app like calm.com, which offers a five-minute guided mediation, and see what happens. As an added bonus with guided meditation: it’s just like being at the gym, where someone else is telling you what to do for once, just for a shorter period of time and a lot less sweat.  

AH–HA!: Even a few distraction-free seconds can offer a brief reprieve of clarity and creativity.

Ingredients: I think you get the picture.

How not to lose the idea: There’s no great way to keep an idea that pops up when you’re zoning out while peeing or meditating. The best advice I have is to repeat it to yourself and when you get back to your desk, grab the closet sticky note and get that idea out of your head and on to paper.

Example idea: It was actually during an E-PEE-phany that I came up with the idea for this blog. Who says toilet humor is tacky?

I encourage all of my fellow creatives to find YOUR own AH-HA! moments. Find that special inspirational place where you can not only get out of the box, but you can kick the box across the street and climb into a trapezoid.

Where do you find your creativity and clarity? If you are looking for it, you’re welcome to come biking or the gym with me. No offense, but bath time and potty thoughts are still going to be kinda private.