Inspiration, breakthrough, epiphany, clarity – when was the last time you experienced it? Most of us want more of it, but how do we get it?
How can we have a great idea? How can we make sense of complex problems? How can we see the unseen? I’m an idea person – I like to think, to dream, and to imagine all sorts of possibilities. Most of the stuff is impractical and useless, but truth be told a world without dreams and inspiration would be a world devoid of invention, progress, and hope. Most ideas end up in a scrap heap somewhere because it often takes a lot of bad ideas to find one good one. Think of it – how many times have you had an idea only to find out someone else already thought of it? Or how many times have you had an idea, tried it, and it flopped. Now, it’s not always because the idea was too late or simply a poor idea, but you’re just not the right person for the idea. A millionaire for example is going to be able to take his mediocre idea and make it work. After all if you’re willing to invest a lot of time and money into something it seems possible that you can make a mediocre idea work to some degree. Most of us aren’t millionaires though, the best we’ve got is time and energy, and some of us don’t even have much of that.
So, if it takes a lot of bad – or mediocre ideas – to have one good one how do you make epiphany and inspiration happen? I took some time to research and read stories of inspiration and breakthrough. I didn’t find a magic formula but I did find some common characteristics that seem to lead to epiphany, breakthrough and inspiration.
- Self-reflection: Yes, this means asking yourself hard questions. Acknowledge and embrace yourself – all of you – not just the parts others like or reward. Own your weakness – then it can’t hurt you anymore. Most would rather deny a difficult truth than face it. We’d rather fight to try and become what we are not than embrace what we are – and be the best at it. Embrace your experiences, how they’ve shaped you, and how you fit into the big picture.
- Disrupt the status quo: Seek epiphany in the most unlikely place in your heart, the place where you are most comfortable. Disrupt that comfort. The most stagnate waters respond to the smallest pebble dramatically. Epiphany happens most gloriously in the still places of our heart. Force your card deck of ideas and status quo to reshuffle with a few new cards.
- Consider things deeply: We tend to glaze over big deep things because they take so much effort to consider. Instead dig in, try and grasp the underlying meaning. To capture inspiration requires that we understand the larger picture, that we open our minds to greater possibilities and to outside ideas. The two key ingredients for inspiration require thinking; curiosity plus possibility.
- Follow the trails: Dig in and follow the possibilities. In research you’re taught that the point is to become the world’s foremost expert on one narrow thing. You are to know something better than anyone else on earth. I’ve found that the surest way to this is to follow the rabbit trails and see where they lead. The trail starts broadly enough but then through the miles the trail splinters off in all sorts of directions, pick one and follow it, then follow that trails splinters, and then its splinters until you’ve followed it to where there is no more trail. That is where you begin – at the end of the trail – where there is no trail there is only possibility. At the end of the trail all questions are interesting and inspiring because they’ve never been asked before.
- Get a new perspective: The most common contributor of epiphany is considering something in a new way – peering through a new lens. Great ideas and inspiration often occur because of a simple statement or an idea which changes our perspective on something and we see new possibility. Read widely, engage in diverse conversation, learn. Consider all that you don’t see – all that is NOT there but could be. Consider whether something may be the answer to a question you have not yet asked. Often inventions and new ideas are simply ideas and tools applied in a new or unique way. Take your existing information or perspective and reframe it. Take words or data and make them into a picture, or take a picture and turn it into a story. Inspiration emerges. Connect the unconnected and see what happens when previously unconnected ideas begin to bump into each-other.
- New experiences: It is through new experiences that we learn new things, and particularly when we do something that we’re afraid of. Conquering our fears and proving ourselves to ourselves makes us realize a whole new set of capabilities and possibilities. A world of possibility opens.
Inspiration and epiphany is a process where ideas and breakthrough build on each other. A breakthrough idea you have at 20 sets the stage for a bigger and better idea you may have when you’re 30. It’s an accumulation of disruptive ideas which adds up to something profound. Often the initial idea that ignited the entire journey won’t really make sense for years, even decades since it’s hard to really understand the story until we get to the end of it. Have faith, continue on and most of all stay curious. Remember, when tossed into the stillest pools of the heart the smallest pebble is a tremendous boulder.