Why It’s Important To Have The Right Idea At The Top Of Your Mind.
I think most people have one top idea in their mind at any given time. That’s the idea their thoughts will drift toward when they’re allowed to drift freely. And this idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it. Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.
— Paul Graham
Sometimes when I’m in the shower, I get a brilliant idea. Other times it’s when I’m walking while listening to a podcast. My friend, an avid swimmer, told me of a similar eureka moment he had after an intense swim.
A week ago, after a hard run, a vision of a new sales strategy I could implement came to me. The idea was simple, and afterwards, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before.
Many problem solvers know that after working hard for hours on solving a problem, they get no solutions until suddenly, when they stop and do something else, an idea pops up.
However, we can’t seem to be able to control these insightful thoughts. We can’t think our way into getting that particular thought. It’s all rather indirect and often not under our control.
The trick is in calming the chattering mind. True, it’s easier said than done. For example, when I’m under a strong shower, with water falling forcefully onto my head and body, I can only focus on the water jets striking me. I get so absorbed in that feeling that I forget to think. Boom! An idea comes out.
Or half an hour into a hard run, my mind is too tired to think about anything else. It can only focus on moving my legs that an idea escapes reaching my awareness.
The subconscious sends us messages when the conscious mind is still and bereft of activity.
Another obstacle is that these illuminating moments happened when my mind was focused on that ‘one thing’ before the illumination. So, for example, I can’t expect an aha moment on an innovative sales strategy for my business if personal issues have preoccupied my mind for the past hours, days and weeks.
Sometimes, I struggle with having one foot in the writing world and another running my company. This is because my focused thoughts are fragmented, and no insight arrives whether I’m showering or running.
However, whenever I was focused on one aspect of my business or writing life for weeks prior, I’d get that illumination.
In marketing, there is a concept known as TOMA, or “top-of-mind awareness”, which refers to a brand or specific product being first in customers’ minds when thinking of a particular industry or category. So, for example, when I think of cars, BMW stands out for me. Or when I think of chocolate, I can’t but envision myself opening and unwrapping a ‘Toblerone’ bar.
Likewise, what is at the top of our minds will always get the most focus and thus insights. We can’t control where our thoughts drift, but we can control where we put ourselves and our minds.
A writer solely focused on his writing process, with a pure and unpolluted mind, would be able to immerse themselves deep into the book’s craft, structure, and ideas. Here, they would get a helping hand from the mysterious muse, and an aha moment arrives via a shower, run or swim.
However, if that same writer is troubled by how to market themselves and get more followers, they have already tainted their minds.
I’ve been in both situations and have seen both the positive effect of total focus and the negative one polluting my mind with thoughts about not having enough people on my mailing list.
Though it’s not always easy to know what dominates our thoughts, the best way to indirectly control these illuminating moments is to make sure what is at the top of our minds is where we want to be.
Sometimes, I think it’s my company, only to meditate for ten minutes and find that instead, it’s the sense of injustice I’m feeling towards someone or something.
I then clear my mind of the conflicts within, refocus on where I want my thoughts to go and hope for the best.
Now and then, I get a brilliant idea.