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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Brainstorming is a thinking process that helps in getting unstuck. It allows you to tap into your own internal resources, to recall previous experiences and past successes, to fantasize new connections; in short, to play with possibilities without judgment. You can always discard the impractical and unworkable, but without the excitement and possibility generated by creative new ideas and more data, you will easily fall back into old patterns, hoping that maybe this time they might work out. Here's how brainstorming works:

  1. Formulate a question, or state your problem as simply as possible: What can I do on my summer vacation this year?" or "How can I cut down on my smoking?" or "I hate my job."
  2. Let go of the need to come up with the "right answer" - or the most logical, least expensive, or easiest alternative.
  3. Relax yourself - with deep breathing exercises, a walk in the woods, the visualization of a crystal clear lake, perhaps vigorous exercise.
  4. Repeat the question or statement to yourself, and tape record or write down every suggestion or answer that comes into your head. Doing this with a friend, who simply writes down what you say without comment will allow you to speak freely. Do not judge any suggestion. Do not reject any idea for being dead wrong, silly, impractical, too expensive . . . whatever.
  5. Continue throwing out ideas as fast as you can for a limited period of time - say five minutes. This will force you to think fast, and it will minimize evaluation.
  6. Set the material aside. Let it rest, simmer, gestate for a while.
  7. Go back and review your data with new eyes and an open mind. What surprises you? What delights you? What hits you hard? What elements can be combined? Which ones are possible - and easy? Which ones generate new ones? Which ones are worth a try?

Here are some responses generated around the question "How can I make more time for myself?":

  • Get up earlier.
  • Go to bed later.
  • Unplug the phone.
  • Hire a babysitter.
  • Quit my job.
  • Eliminate one meal a day.
  • Give away the television.
  • Turn back the clocks.
  • Buy a dishwasher.
  • Hire a maid.
  • Shop by phone.
  • Go on strike.
  • Overlook the mess.
  • Organize the house better.
  • Build bigger closets.

<< Previous The Creative Process | Back to Thinking | Next >> Brainstorming Questions
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