How to Generate a Brilliant Idea in 20 Minutes or Less

I often hear people say they want to start their own business, but that they just don’t have any great ideas. There are techniques anyone can learn to make moments of insight become more common. It’s not hard to do. Henry Ford used to sit in a rocking chair to get great ideas; Ralph Waldo Emerson did it by walking in the forest.

Researchers at the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University found that when people take the time to quiet down the left brain–to forget about to-do-lists and unplug from all input–solutions often percolate up from the subconscious. After a period of not thinking about the problem, the answer simply appears. The more the study participants let go, the more activation was seen in the part of the brain associated with enhanced vigilance and awareness–exactly what you need if you’re looking for a new idea.

The human brain contains approximately a hundred billion neurons, which are constantly disengaging and engaging in new neural networks, creating brain patterns that we experience as ideas and feelings.

The great news is that we have some control over all that neuronal activity. We can consciously change existing neural patterns through hypnosis, daydreaming, presleep, and other interventions, such as simply taking quiet time early in the day so that it becomes natural for us to generate brilliant ideas.

Stilling the mind takes about 20 minutes, and contrary to common belief, we are not slowing our thoughts down but speeding them up. Once we stop distracting the brain with menial everyday worries and tasks, we release it to work at its maximum speed long enough for the brilliant ideas that are constantly fired at us to come into our awareness.

Want to generate moments of insight? Here’s how to do it.

Be alone.
Taking quiet time is a technique you must practice alone. Inviting moments of inspiration requires that you separate from the disruptive energy and influence of other people’s thoughts and intentions.

Do it early.
Because our days are filled with sensory input right up until we fall asleep at night, this process is best undertaken early, after waking. Unless you’re a meditation master, a still mind is much easier to achieve while you’re not fully awake.

Get silent.
Choose a calm place away from as many interrupting sounds as possible. Make it comfortable so you look forward to being there every morning. Find a comfy chair in a quiet corner with a blanket to keep you warm.

Sit up.
Don’t lie down; sit to prevent falling back asleep. We need to be comfortable enough to consciously release our thoughts, which means focusing on nothing. Get relaxed, with your feet on the floor, to avoid stiffness and aches and pains.

Clean your energy.
Rub the palms of your hands together vigorously until you feel the heat, then place them on your temples and drag your hands down your cheeks. Shake your hands as if air-drying them, and repeat this two more times. Do the same for your forehead three times, and then cross your arms and brush your hands over the opposite shoulders and upper arms three times.

Relax and sigh.
Close your eyes, if helpful. Take a deep breath and exhale with a sigh. Making a sound helps concentration. Repeat this a few times until you feel relaxed. Concentrate on relaxing every part of your body, starting at the top of your head and moving down to your toes.

Get grounded.
Once you’re relaxed, it helps to practice a technique borrowed from Native Americans, where you imagine yourself connected with the Earth. This allows your mind to be fully in the present.

Follow the breath.
Now it’s time to distract your left (logical) brain. Focus on your normal breathing–in and out. Try to follow it through the nose, curling into the lungs, and back out. Do this for 10-20 minutes. If extraneous thoughts pop into your head, let them float away. Don’t follow the thought, just your breath.

Open your eyes now and smile. Get the blood flowing through your body by standing and stretching. Thank yourself for this gift of a few minutes of peace just for you.

Plug in to nature.
Don’t immediately plug your brain back into those stressful texts, emails, or media headlines. Take five minutes outdoors first. Touch a tree, smell a flower, and breathe in some fresh air before returning to the noise of your everyday life.

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Trevor Blake ( is a highly successful serial entrepreneur who started his first company with a few thousand dollars and sold it for more than $100 million. He shows others how to succeed at anything using a three-step strategy he developed that’s backed by his business experiences and the latest findings in neuroscience, which he shares in his new book, Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life (BenBella, 2012). Blake has donated more than 8,000 copies of the book to US libraries, and all profits go to cancer treatment research and development. His book is number 5 on the New York Times bestseller list.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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