Thrive II Preview

How to Become an Idea Machine

Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Conscious Living, Inspirational, Thrive with 0 Comments

James Altucher

The way to have good ideas is to get close to killing yourself. It’s  like weightlifting. When you lift slightly more than you can handle, you  get stronger.

In life, when the gun is to your head, you either figure it out, or you die.


When you cut yourself open, you bleed ideas. If you’re broke and close to death, you have to start coming up with ideas.

If you destroy your life, you need to come up with ideas to rebuild it.

The only time I’ve been FORCED to have good ideas is when I was up  against the wall. My life insurance policy was like a gun to my head:  “Come up with good ideas… OR ELSE your kids get your life insurance!”

At an airport when I realized a business I had been working on for four years was worthless.


Or when I was sitting in the dark at three in the morning in the living  room of the house I was going bankrupt and losing my home, my brain  figuring out how to die without anyone knowing it was planned.

Or when I was getting a divorce and I was lonely and afraid I wouldn’t  make any money again or I wouldn’t meet anyone again. Or my kids would  hate me. Or my friends would be disgusted by me.

The problem is  this: you’re NOT in a state of panic most of the time. States of panic  are special and have to be revered. Think about the times in your life  that you remember – it’s exactly those moments when you hit bottom and  were forced to come up with ideas, to get stronger, to connect with some  inner force inside you with the outer force.

This is why it’s important NOW to strengthen that connection to that idea force inside of you. This post is about HOW.

Nothing you ever thought of before amounted to anything – that’s why  you are exactly where you are at that moment of hitting bottom. Because  all of your billions of thoughts have led you to right there. You can’t  trust the old style of thinking anymore. They came, they saw, they lost.

You have to come up with a new way of thinking. A new way of having ideas. A new ways of interacting with the outside universe.

You’re in crisis. Time to change. Time to become an IDEA MACHINE.

People know what “runner’s high” is. It’s when you are running for a  long time, at the point of exhaustion, and then something kicks in and  gives you a “second wind”.

400,000 years ago people didn’t jog for exercise. They didn’t even have jogging shorts. Or sneakers.

400,000 years ago people need to eat and live. And either you’re  running to catch a prey, or you are running from a lion. You’re the  prey! And you need that second wind in both cases or you DIE.

The same thing happens in the brain. When you are about to die, a second  wind kicks in. Ideas, experiences, opportunity, and probably hidden  forces and neurochemicals we don’t understand.

But you can’t get runner’s high unless you’re ALREADY in good shape. Unless you are already able to run long distances.

This is why it’s important to exercise the idea muscle right now. If  your idea muscle atrophies, then even at your lowest point you won’t  have any ideas.

How long does it take this muscle to atrophy?  The same as any other muscle in your body: just two weeks without having  any ideas. Atrophied.

If you lie down in a bed for two weeks and don’t move your legs you will need physical therapy to walk again.

Many people need idea therapy. Not so that they can come up with great  ideas right this second (although maybe you will) but so that people can  come up with ideas when they need them: when their car is stuck, when  their house blows up, when they are fired from their job, when their  spouse betrays them, when they go bankrupt or lose a big customer, or  lose a client, or go out of business, or get sick.

IDEAS ARE  THE CURRENCY OF LIFE. Not money. Money gets depleted until you go broke.  But good ideas buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you  better experiences, buy you more time, save your life. Financial wealth  is a side effect of the “runner’s high” of your idea muscle.

Whoah! That was a big intro. Depending on where I post this, some people  will write “tl;dr” which I had to look up and it means “too long,  didn’t read.” I encourage those people to stop reading here and save  yourself the trouble. It’s ok. I’m not mad at you. I’ll write smaller  articles also. I’ll even draw cartoons.

I’ve often written  about the idea muscle as part of what I call my “daily practice”. Every  day I have to check the box on physical, emotional, mental, and  spiritual health.

And I get a lot of questions about it so I  will try and answer them here. If you have more questions, ask in the  comments and I will answer.

Sometimes people ask, “did you only start coming up with ideas because you already had it made?

ANSWER: I was on the floor crying because I was dead broke and dead lonely and had no prospects so that’s why I had to do it.

So now, 1000 words in (“tl;dr”) The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Becoming an Idea Machine

The below is what I do and what works for me. If you have anything to  add, please add them in the comments, I need all the help I can get.

A) WHAT DO YOU MEAN – “IDEA MACHINE”?

You will be like a superhero. It’s almost a guaranteed membership in the Justice League of America.

Every situation you are in, you will have a ton of ideas. Any question  you are asked, you will know the response. Every meeting you are at, you  will take the meeting so far out of the box you’ll be on another  planet, if you are stuck on a desert highway – you will figure the way  out, if you need to make money you’ll come up with 50 ideas to make  money, and so on.

After I started exercising the idea muscle,  it was like a magic power had unleashed inside of me. It’s ok if you  don’t believe me. Or maybe you think it’s bragging. There are many times  when I don’t have ideas. But that’s when I stop practicing what I am  about to advocate.

Try it for yourself. I’m not selling  anything here. I have no reason for you to try this. I just want to  share my exerience. It’s like part of your brain is opened up and a  constant flow of stuff, both good and bad, gets dropped in there.

From where? I don’t think about it and I don’t care. But I use it.

In early 2009 was one of those times when I desperately needed to do  this. I was fulltime either trying to find a girlfriend or I was trying  to start a business or both. I was also going broke in the stock market  and losing my home  (until I personally saved the entire stock market –  see my book).

Every night, I’d have waffles for dinner and a  bottle of wine and start writing ideas down. This is before I went paleo (no waffles!) and stopped drinking alcohol (five years sober!) and I  was writing 10-20 of the most ludicrous ideas a day down.

And you know what ? It worked.

B) HOW DO I START EXERCISING THE IDEA MUSCLE?

Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational  book for ten to twenty minutes. Then start writing down ideas. What  ideas? Hold on a second. The key here is, write ten ideas.

C) WHY A WAITER’S PAD?

A waiter’s pad fits in your pocket so you can easily pull it out to jot things down.

A waiter’s pad is too small to write a whole novel or even a paragraph.  In fact, it’s specifically made to make a list. And that’s all you  want, a list of ideas.

A waiter’s pad is a great conversation  starter if you are in a meeting. Someone at the meeting will eventually  say, “I’ll take fries with my burger” and everyone will laugh. You broke  the ice and you stand out.

A waiter’s pad is cheap. You can  get about 100 for $10. This shows you are frugal and don’t need those  fancy moleskin pads to have a good idea.

Oh, and I just found  out another reason for a waiter’s pad while I was writing this. Someone  with alcohol on his breath, a bottle in hand, looking like he could  crush me with one hand, just came up to me in the cafe I’m sitting at  and asked for money. I held up my waiter’s pad and said, “Can I take  your order?” and he said, “OH!” and he walked away.

D) WHY TEN IDEAS?

If I say, “write down ten ideas for books you can write” I bet you can  easily write down four or five. I can write down four or five right now.  But at six it starts to get hard. “Hmmm,” you think, “what else can I  come up with?”

This is when the brain is sweating.

Note that when you exercise in the gym, your muscles don’t start to  build until you break a sweat. Your metabolism doesn’t improve when you  run until you sweat. Your body doesn’t break down the old and build the  new until it is sweating.

The poisons and toxins in your body don’t leave until you sweat.

The same thing happens with the idea muscle. Somewhere around idea  number six, your brain starts to sweat. This means it’s building up.  Break through this. Come up with ten ideas.

E) WHAT IF I JUST CAN’T COME UP WITH TEN IDEAS?

Here’s the magic trick: if you can’t come up with ten ideas, come up with 20 ideas.

F) BUT IF I CAN’T COME UP WITH TEN, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO COME UP WITH 20?

For the obvious reason. You are putting too much pressure on yourself.  Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle.

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