Quick Thought Starters to Get Your Mind Running

Just a Start

The following thought starters are questions to ask yourself, ideas to ponder, and quick hacks to tinker with. It’s a compilation of what I’ve shared in my Consider This idealetter.

These ideas are intended to open your mind by:

  • sparking your curiosity,
  • getting your creativity muscles spinning, and
  • questioning your status quo.

They cover a hodgepodge of topics to give you a better chance of finding what you’re looking for or making unexpected connections. Scan through them quickly to see if one or two hits the spot to get your mind off and running.


For a few new thought starters once every ten days, join me, Kim, and a few thousand others on Consider This:

Persuasion

  • 🧪 Here’s an experiment. If you want to persuade somebody to try something new, call it “an experiment.” Experiments are expected to fail, so they seem less intimidating and more inviting for people to try. (h/t Michael Stelzner’s podcast)
  • 🤷 Do what you want with this one. Another persuasion trick: To reportedly double your chances of getting a “Yes” from your requests, say, “You are free to accept or refuse.” (h/t Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked)
  • 🏎 Is the handbrake on? When trying to change behavior, rather than instinctively push harder on the accelerator, consider releasing the handbrake. Ask, “Why aren’t they doing it already?” and “What can I do to make it easier for them to move?” (h/t MarketingWeek.)

Thinking and Learning

  • ✍️ Note this down. If you consume podcasts/blogs/books/videos/whatever because you want to learn something, does it not make sense to act like a good student and take notes? You’re fooling yourself if you think your brain will internalize much otherwise. Plus, with a good note system, like lifelogging, you create a kind of second brain.
  • 🎁 Be selfish. Try asking yourself, “What’s in it for me?” with anything—gossip, social media, news, etc.—that takes your attention. If it’s something useful, doing so will help you remember it. And if there’s nothing in it for you, asking yourself this question reminds you to stop consuming that junk. (Similarly, when sharing information with others, ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?”)
  • 📚 The true value of the books you read. If your brain were to be wiped clean of what you’ve learned from the books you read this past year, which book would you pay the most money to retain your knowledge of? For me, it’s Breath by James Nestor
  • 📐 Deal with your data issues. Don’t overreact to data you get. Don’t adapt without data, either. And be careful not to only seek data that assures you don’t need to adapt. Heed this motto I heard on a podcast about AI: “Get data and adapt.” 
  • 🎭 Should you be more of a hypocrite? As Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys said, “I’d rather be a hypocrite than the same person forever.”
  • 🤦 “That’s a dumb idea.” How often do people say that to you? If it’s been a while, either you’re ego’s getting in the way of your creativity or you need more demotivational speakers in your life.

Healthier Living

  • 🦾  Exercise less. Move more. A healthy body is like a healthy romantic relationship: You can’t overcome constant neglect and mistreatment with infrequent big gestures. Check out Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman for more.
  • 🌡 Don’t be so tepid. From David Sinclair’s book, Lifespan: “It does us little good to spend our entire lives in the thermoneutral zone. Our genes didn’t evolve for a life of pampered comfort. A little stress to induce hormesis once in a while likely goes a long way.” Exercising in the cold or walking without a jacket in the winter, he says, may be particularly helpful for longevity. (On a related note: Ditch the gym!)
  • 🚿 The problem with cold showers. Cold showers wake you up, push the edges of your comfort zone, clear your mind, and… don’t clean your body as well as hot showers. Ever since I’ve started ending my cold showers with some hot water, the gross brown shadow that formed on my bedsheets hasn’t come back. 
  • ⏰ A thought experiment to sleep on. Imagine it costs you $100 every time you set your alarm. What changes would you make to minimize that expense? (I find this reminds me not to cheat myself out of precious sleep by setting an alarm in the morning.)
  • 🐶 Exhaust yourself. If you’re feeling bummed out, get off your bum and go get exhausted. As per a saying I heard on a recent Tim Ferriss podcast episode, “A tired dog is a happy dog.” (It also makes beer tastes better.)

Amp Up Appreciation

  • 🐌 Everything’s interesting. What’s something boring and unsubstantial around you that could become mightily interesting if you paid closer attention? As the enchanting book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, proved to me, even something as innocuous-seeming as a snail can be spellbinding if look at it close enough.
  • 😘 What have you been appreciating lately? In an EconTalk podcast Daniel Haybron suggests you should choose to be an appreciator instead of a consumer. So don’t just greedily consume things (like these thought starters). Find ways to mindfully appreciate them. 
  • 🚦 Be absent-minded. Absence is harder to detect than presence, so look for negative things that are missing in your life and be grateful for it. For instance, rather than get annoyed when I seem to catch all the red lights, I’m trying to be more aware of when I get a lucky string of greens.  
  • Landmark living. Make a point of exploring whatever landmarks you see in the background of your everyday life (e.g., buildings, mountains, islands). You’ll form memories that flash back to your mind every time you look at them thereafter, just like looking at photos on your wall at home.
  • 😐 Zero expectations? An Unconventional Route reader named Werner wrote me saying he trains himself to live without expectations. Is that a good strategy? What about setting lower expectations or being more adaptable instead? I don’t expect there’s a right answer, but it’s worth thinking about.

Quick Life Hacks

  • 🍴 Chew on this. If you want to chew more to eat slower and eat less, eat your meal with a piece of flavorless gum in your mouth. To avoid swallowing the gum but still swallow the food, you need to chew every bite to a liquidy pulp. 
  • 🦴 Chew on this, too. Try chewing gum when you play a sport that requires coordination. It forces you to breathe through your nose more, which relaxes your body and mind. It’s working for my beach volleyball game.
  • Before breakfast consumption. If you have the bad habit of looking at mindless crap on your phone before rolling out of bed in the morning, consider reaching for a book and reading a few pages of it instead. It’s been working for me this past month. (Oh, and maybe rethink your news diet, too.)
  • 🤐 Reset in 60 seconds or less. Need a jolt of energy, feel stressed, or want to free your mind? Exhale normally, pinch your nostrils shut, then hold your breath as long as you can. It’ll do the trick, guaranteed. 
  • 🚽 Toilet time. To limit how often I check my email and Twitter, I’m trying to only allow myself to do so when I’m on the toilet. (PS: Maybe this is extra motivation for guys to sit down when they pee?)
  • ☕️ Trick to keep drinks warmer longer. Your mug will keep your tea or coffee hotter longer if you rinse it with hot water before filling it. 
  • ⏩ Speed up your streaming? Fellow unconventionalist, Bryan, pointed out that TV sitcoms like Seinfeld are sometimes sped up by around 9% to make space for ads. So if you’ve been raised on sped-up TV like me, why not keep it up with your streaming? Save yourself some time. You won’t even notice.

Money Matters

  •  📈 When to invest. Whenever I overhear three people independently and separately refer to something in a short time window, that’s my cue to seriously consider investing my energy (e.g., fasting), money (e.g., buying Lululemon stock 3 years ago), or attention (e.g., Exhalation by Ted Chiang). This approach has worked very well for me so far. (P.S. What have you been overhearing recently?)
  • 💸 Thrifty-living insurance. If you make a lifestyle choice partly to spend less money, consider stashing some of those savings into a physical or mental account to cover you in case something goes wrong. Example 1: Us living in South Africa then getting robbed during lockdown. Example 2: Us not owning a car, then getting hammered with a big bill on damages to our rental car last week.
  • 💰 Beware false profits. Noah Kagan’s apartment went up in value by $67k over three years (from $360k to $427). But the costs (fees, mortgage, taxes) totaled $145k. Plus 275 hours of hassle. Net: He should’ve rented. Here are his spreadsheet and 13-min podcast.

Career and Calling

  • 🏡 Does the grass have to be greener on the other side? If you believe this cliché to be true, you may not have honed in on what matters most to you. “To each their own” is better.
  • 💰 Find what you’re really good at. Ask people who know you, “What would you pay me to teach you?” Their answers might surprise you, and hint at what you might want to work on more. (This idea from Tiago Fuerte in this podcast with Noah Kagan.)
  • ⚠️ The Error of Trial and Error. “‘Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all,’ is wrong, utterly wrong,” writes Felix Dennis in his no-BS business book.”Better to have chosen a different life, a quite different path, than have placed yourself and those you love in harm’s way when early reflection and thought could have advised you differently.”
  • 👤 Uncreative success. “If you never have a single great idea in your life, but become skilled in executing the great ideas of others, you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams.” – from wild man Felix Dennis’ book, How to Get Rich.

Dealing With People

  • 🤔 Want some advice? Don’t ask for it. Ask for people’s opinions instead. Opinions take less effort and allow them to spit out whatever’s on their mind. (h/t The Charisma Myth)
  • 📞 Telephone mood booster. Answer phone calls from friends crisply and professionally, as if you didn’t check your call display. Then when they say, “Hey, it’s [your friend’s name],” respond extra warmly, like “Hey [friend]! Nice to hear from you! How’s it going?!” It’ll make them feel extra special. (h/t The Charisma Myth)
  • 📥  “Send me an email.” When Kim and I need to make a complicated decision—like whether to buy a home one day, maybe?—we do it over email. It’s less emotional, more analytical, and keeps a record of what we decided and why. Thanks to Expecting Better by Emily Oster for this idea.
  • 🎁 Surprise budget. If you earmarked a mandatory spend of, say, $100 a month for surprise gifts, don’t you think that would be money well spent? Gift-giving is an underrated way to strengthen and grow your network. (And Giftology‘s a good book on this.)

Self Helping Yourself

  • 🤝 Good deal. If you were given a 25th hour every day, what would you do with it? And if your days were shortened to 23 hours, what would you remove? Wouldn’t it make sense to maybe swap the former from the latter?
  • 🙊 Self-unawareness test. Can you make fun of yourself? Anyone who finds that difficult to do likely suffers from self-unawareness.
  • 🛋 A healthy comfort zone. Forget the cliché, “Get out of your comfort zone.” What part of your comfort zone should you be spending more time in? (See our post on this for some ideas.)
  • 🍂 Seasonal living. We’ve all heard about the health benefits of eating what’s in season. What about doing more things in life seasonally, too? Work (creative season, learning season, grinding season); exercise (strength season, sport season, endurance season); social life (solitude season, old-friend season, new-friend/networking season); etc. 
  • 👽 Don’t be pluralistically ignorant. Free yourself up to speak up and call it as you see it by learning the term “pluralistic ignorance.” The Emperor’s New Clothes is the most famous example. You think you’re in the minority because nobody else is saying what you think. But the majority of people are thinking the same as you. It happens all the time. So next time you think you’re in the minority, ask yourself, “Am I being pluralistically ignorant?” (h/t this podcast episode on the topic)
  • 🎾 Performance = Potential – Interference. The biggest source of interference? Your control freak of a mind. Distract it and ask it to observe rather than judge to learn effortlessly like a kid again. (More to on this idea from my summary of The Inner Game of Tennis.)

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Kim and Chris are fighting the status quo to win at life, then sharing their best tactics on The Unconventional Route. If you want to join, subscribe to Consider This for a fresh dose of ideas every 10 days.

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