Ideas Beget Ideas

When my husband and I bought our first car together, a Prius, I started seeing Priuses everywhere. When we got our first dog, a Boston Terrier, I began noticing Boston Terriers in cars passing me on the street and on the sidewalks all the time. And when I look up a word in the dictionary during what feels like my first encounter with it, all of a sudden I begin to notice that word in books and articles with notable frequency.

It seems to be a recurring fact of life that we notice the familiar; we are subconsciously on the look out for sights, sounds and smells that fit into our already-constructed mind-maps.

This is true of ideas as well as of car models and dog breeds. When I take note of an idea — and I mean that literally: when I pull out my phone to type a few sentences about a thought that’s crossed my mind, or jot down a few bullet points on a sticky-note — it opens the floodgates for new observations, opinions and thoughts surrounding that idea. Noticing an idea is almost like using the find tool on a Word document or website (oh, how I love ctlr+f). It highlights the subject in question.  

Recognizing this phenomenon has had huge implications on my creativity in both my personal and professional life. With the realization that ideas beget ideas, I’ve noticed several changes that have enabled me to more fully tap into my creativity and the abundance of information and inspiration that fills the universe. In turn, this has impacted the quality of my work and my life.

For starters, I have felt motivated to more intentionally notice and honor the ideas that cross my mind  I keep a note titled “Brainstorming” on my phone and computer, and I am constantly jotting thoughts down in it. By documenting an idea, I prime myself to notice supporting evidence and related data in the books that I read, the people with whom I speak, and the movies that I see. I’m then able to build on the initial thought documented in my Brainstorming note. This makes developing writing projects or talk topics much easier, and it ultimately makes the pieces I write or the presentations I give richer in content. 

Secondly, I am much more inclined to begin creative projects earlier than I previously did. This enables me to fully tap into the “ideas beget ideas” phenomenon. For an example, one of my primary job responsibilities is planning retreats for the teens with whom I work. Whereas I used to begin planning a retreat several weeks before the event, now I start months in advance. My first step is to identify a theme for the retreat, and then for the next few weeks, I simply hold the theme in the back of my mind. As I do so, retreat components (video clips, readings, discussion questions, and talk topics) come to me here and there, so that when it comes time to actually craft a retreat agenda, I have a much easier time with it.  

Finally, I experience much more pleasure in my work than I previously did. Paying attention to ideas has bred a deeper engagement with the world, heightening my sensitivity to images, ideas, words and perceptions. While this isn’t a quantifiable benefit, it’s a welcomed change in my day-to-day life. After all, who wouldn’t want to experience increased perceptiveness and appreciation for the sights and sounds of everyday existence?

There’s a line of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” that has always stood out to me: “You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.”  Paying attention to creative ideas and intentionally taking note of them has helped me to habit myself “to the dazzle.” It’s a practice I highly recommend! 

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Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.