Where Ideas Come From

As I am writing down topics for future posts, I decided to observe where my ideas come from. The word “idea” has a few meanings. The first most typical meaning according to Merriam-Webster is “a formulated thought or opinion”, which is close to what I mean.

When I think about what I am observing for the purpose of this post, I envision those random, surprising, out of nowhere new bits of thought. They don’t always feel all the way developed or refined, which is what the word “formulated” makes me think. However, the ideas that I’m thinking about feel like the thoughts transformed into new thoughts, and that is “formulated” enough.

Have I bored you yet? Okay, let’s get down to business. With this meaning of the word “idea” in mind, here are the conditions that help me come up with new ideas.  

Mental Space

New ideas need mental space. Ideas come to me when I am resting, taking a shower, not doing anything so that my mind is not occupied by an activity. This is the kind of space where seemingly random ideas appear. Random, because I usually do no think of the idea on purpose at the time of the idea’s appearance. Seemingly, because sometimes I do have specific questions or problems, but I cannot solve them right away.  The brain works on them in the background and then when the mental space clears, the idea arrives and says “Boom! Here I am!”.


Ideas need quiet. When ideas appear, I am often alone and am not entertaining myself with any media like smartphones, music, or TV. The brain can be working on formulating an idea while I’m listening to music, but it’s in moments of silence when I can hear the idea clearly.


Some ideas appear while I am watching a good show, movie, or anime, or read a book. I see or hear something that inspires a trail of thoughts that lead me to a new insight. A great story invites me to step into the shoes of other characters, think and feel like them. Wouldn’t trying to see the world through another lens lead you to new ideas? 

Meaningful Conversations 

Casual chit-chat that I forget about the minute I exit a conversation doesn’t inspire my mind. It doesn’t make me think, and thus, it doesn’t lead me to new ideas. However, a meaningful conversation is bound to have a story in it, problems, value crises, emotions, unique circumstances, vulnerability – you name it. Those features of meaningful conversations not only shake up my brain but also my body because of how emotional they can get. Emotions, in turn, color the ideas.

Hearing ideas from another person and trying to see the world through their glasses forces me to think like them, and that oftentimes means thinking differently. 


If my brain was a Rubik’s cube, traveling would twist the rows and columns of my brain matter. Traveling restructures my thoughts. Traveling combines the conditions described above. When I drive, sit on a train, or ride a plane, I stare into the silent natural space for hours. That is a lot of time and space to let the brain swim in the ocean of ideas until new ideas surface. When I reach a new place, the architecture, nature, and the people I meet tell me a new story. Traveling breaks me out of a routine of life and lets me create a new story of my own. I think some of the best relationships and personal reflections and insights in my life were made during travel.

This is my current list of conditions that inspire new ideas. I think that because of COVID and stay-at-home-mom isolation, I don’t participate in a lot of activities that could also generate new ideas, so they are not on my list right now. What I have here is what I can think of right now or that I can extract from my memory.

Where do your ideas come from?