Critical Thinking Skills

Sparking Ideas and Solving Problems

There are many ways to spark ideas, either in personal circles or in the work place. Anyone can build up their idea skillset, and be able to generate more thoughts and solutions to problems. One of the key characteristics to being able to do so is to be aware and be open to ideas. A major issue people have is not having the confidence in their ability to be creative, come up with ideas and solve solutions. It is necessary to do away with those toxic thoughts and have more confidence. Past that, however, there are a number of techniques to help spark ideas and solve problems.

One way to generate ideas is to not really think about ideas. Downtime is necessary for the mind to go through a lather-rinse-repeat cycle. In effect, downtime resets the brain. Engaging in mindless activities helps with allowing your brain to generate ideas. In fact, being a little bored is not necessarily a bad thing, as boredom will allow the mind to wander–daydream–which is essential to the creative process. Also, relaxing in general, so that you are not anxious, helps the creative process. When you are anxious, your brain is more alert, and better able to serve you on tasks related to details; when relaxed, however, the brain is better able to serve you on tasks of creativity.

Living abroad helps in idea generation. A week in a foreign country is not enough, however, even though it may be relaxing. Instead, you have to have had enough time to adjust to a new culture. Scientists are not fully sure why this is, but the adjusting your brain has to do with living in a new country may help your brain come out of the rut of familiarity and be more open to novelty. Novelty is especially important, as well as a general open-mindedness, in sparking new ideas. Explore the unknown. However, you do not need to go to another country and live there for an extended period of time to shake up your life. You can try new things, read a book you don’t normally read, try something new like a food from another ethnic culture. Listen to music you do not normally listen to, meet new people, visit a new part of your hometown, or even the town next door. The key is to try new things, constantly, and pull your brain out of the rut of routine. Forcing your brain to accept things it may not want to initially pushes your boundaries, making you more open to ideas in the future.

You can watch funny videos to help generate ideas. Watch more serious shows can affect you in such a way as to make you more focused. However, watching comedy relieves your mood, making you more open to ideas, and therefore, more able to generate them.

It is a good idea to keep an idea book. Writing down thoughts and ideas as they come to mind can help you organize them for later use. It may also help you remember old ideas to integrate with new ones. You can use this idea book of yours as a brainstorming tool; jotting down things, perhaps making maps of your ideas, or lists and outlines, may help you during the creative process.

You can use mind maps, which are essentially diagrams that have words and ideas, all linked to a central idea. The idea here is to organize your thoughts and give a bit more structure to a stream of consciousness approach. Further, it helps you see patterns and relationships between varying ideas and subplots.

Design–and live in–an environment that establishes and promote creativity. Did you know that colors affect our mood? Being in a blue environment, such as blue-painted walls, or even working on a blue computer screen, can help relax you, making you more creative. Being in a yellow or red room can make you more anxious, and therefore more alert, but less open to ideas. Decorate your work space with things that you love, such as trinkets, photographs, and other things. Further, imagine yourself in a comfortable setting, perhaps with comfy furniture, mementos, cherished pieces of art, etc. your favorite music could be playing in the background, perhaps the lights are dim and soothing candles provide the light you need. Research has indicated that being in dim light can help promote creativity. Take advantage of the evening, dim your lights, and let your roam.

You can pick a question you would like to solve and then write a 100-item list about it. The idea is to do it all in one sitting, free of distractions, and generate 100 list items related to that topic. Do not bother to evaluate or judge the list items at this point. The goal is to more let your subconscious and conscious minds work together to create a free-flowing piece of work that you can use later as a platform for idea generation.

Visualization is important in the idea and implementation process. The mind is a very visual organ; therefore, imaging things, that is, visualizing, can have a strong impact on accomplishing goals. The more we visualize something, including ideas, the more likely they are to manifest.

Get rid of the distractions in your environment. This may include sources of loud sounds, such as alarms and bells, or even bright lights. The key is to minimize the risk of being distracted, and instead focus on the task at hand–generating ideas.

Sleeping on an issue can help you consolidate the information so that you may solve it. This works best when you are close to solving a problem, however. Your brain needs sleep to organize and understand the working patterns of relationships. Give your brain the rest it needs.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online class in Critical Thinking?

Imagine yourself as a creative individual. We can all be creative; thinking otherwise, however, dampens your creative abilities and makes you less efficient at coming up with ideas. Visualize yourself as being creative, recognize your own inherent creativity, and celebrate when you do come up with solutions to problems.

Feed your brain the healthy foods it needs. This includes legumes, nits, fruits and vegetables. A healthy brain is a creative one. Make sure that you have plenty of water intake as well. Your brain needs water to maintain homeostasis. Make sure to keep hydrated.

Immerse yourself in absurdity. Studies have indicated that subjects who read Kafka before completing a pattern recognition task were better able to solve it than those who did not read Kafka. Try a hand at Dr. Seuss, or Lewis Carroll, or any other artist that engaged in the absurd. Perhaps you can try your handing at creating absurd things as well.

Challenging assumptions also helps with creativity. Think of all the assumptions you have with a given problem–and then challenge them. How would you get around them? What could you do differently? Say you want to buy a new house but do not have the money for it. The assumption is not having the money. But is there a way for you to get it? Perhaps you already have it in the way of other assets. What about selling those assets? Be sure to never go with the status quo, and to never hold yourself back by what you assume to be dead ends. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Rewording the problem could provide some forward thinking. For example, ask yourself, what is the problem to solve here? What are the roadblocks? Why do we need to solve the problem in the first place? What would happen if we do not solve it? The idea is not to go into panic mode, or to rehash the obvious. Instead, focus on seeing the issue differently, and figuring out ways around it. Also, try reversing; that is, thinking of an issue the opposite way. For example, say you have to figure out a way to upgrade a system. If you are having difficulty thinking of potential upgrades, perhaps try going the opposite way and thinking of ways to downgrade the product. You may start to think of viable ways via this line of thinking.

We typically will express ideas via words. Or express our frustration at not being able to solve problems via verbal language. However, try expressing in different mediums. You can paint the problem, or make a clay model of it, even build with Legos. The idea here is to think of ways to express your thoughts and feelings beyond the usual words you may typically use. Do not try to solve the problem at this stage; rather, focus more on expressing it and thinking about it. The goal is not to generate all the ideas you need, but to think of different ways to approach the needed ideas.

Try to find connections between random things and your problem. For example, pick up a dictionary and go to a random page, and then choose a word. Any word. Just close your eyes and point. Once that word is determined, try to find connections it may have with your problem. You may come up with new, and helpful, ideas. You can also try picking a picture. Perhaps a famous painting, or just a random one from a calendar. Try connecting that picture with your problem. Perhaps the relationships you see in the picture model the issues you see in your situation. This can help give you a clearer insight into the issues you are facing, and how to solve them. Do the same thing with objects. Pick a random object, perhaps a kitchen gadget, or some new piece of technology. You may either take the object as a whole, or pick apart its constituents and then choose one. The goal here is to relate the facets of the object with your problem, thinking of ways those facets may help solve your problem. The facets may be concrete, or they may be more abstract, that is, more symbolic.

Always be on the lookout for new information. Gather new ideas constantly. On your daily walk, perhaps, or your gym, a diner, coffee shop, anything and anywhere. Be on the lookout for things that capture your attention. And even force yourself to look at the things that are regular, and see them in different lights. The idea is to get you thinking beyond the usual uses of everyday things you see and do. Once you begin looking at things differently, and developing a habit doing so, it becomes easier for you to do the same with more challenging issues, such as problems at work. Keep a journal to jot down these ideas, to help you remember them later. Go back to this journal and look at it with fresh eyes. Many times, we see old things in new lights because of the mindset we are in. That old article, or perhaps that interesting graffiti, or maybe that mundane advertisement–these can all become fodder for ideas, when thought of in the light of the issues you are trying to currently solve.

Bring others into the scene, especially those who may not be related with the issue. Asking those in other departments, or even those in other fields and businesses, may help to bring in a fresh perspective to an issue, and provide knowledge you may not have had. Gaining the insight of those in other fields can help you find patterns and connections with your own field. Or if you do not readily see these connections, try sitting down and finding them. Jot down those connections and keep a record of it.

Think about what you would do, or how you could solve a problem, if you did not have limitations. If you did not have to worry about xyz, how would you solve the problem? Then, once that is established, try tackling how to work around xyz. You may have just found the solution to your problem.

Need Is Meditation?

The purpose of meditation is to make our mind calm and peaceful. If our mind is peaceful we shall be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we shall experience true happiness. By training in meditation we can gradually learn to stay peaceful all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.

If we practice meditation we will experience a calm, spacious feeling in the mind, and many of our usual problems will fall away. Difficult situations will become easier to deal with, we will naturally feel warm and well disposed towards other people, and our relationships with others will gradually improve.

Maitreya Kadampa Buddhist Centre (MKBC) offers introductory meditation classes and courses. Our beginners classes include guided meditations, a short practical talk about how to use meditation to solve daily problems, and an opportunity to ask questions and discuss over light refreshments.

Our meditation courses and classes are open to everyone, whatever level of interest or experience, and give people the opportunity to learn more about meditation, Buddhism, and finding peace & happiness from within.


The benefits of meditation include:

  • Improved concentration and focus in daily life
  • Less stress, worry & anxiety
  • Reduced irritation, anger & frustration
  • Greater inner peace & happiness
  • Increased confidence & self-esteem
  • Improved mental and physical well being
  • A positive outlook on life & better relationships

These beginner buddhist meditation classes and courses provide practical advice for the problems of modern living. Through attending our classes you can learn to view everyday situations in the most beneficial and constructive way leading to greater happiness for yourself and others.

“When the turbulence of distracting thoughts subsides and our mind becomes still, a deep happiness and contentment naturally arises from within. If we train in meditation our mind will gradually become more and more peaceful, and we shall experience a purer and purer form of happiness. Eventually, we will be able to stay happy all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.” -Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

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